Usually, I write about books reasonably quickly after I read them. I do this, not just because I like to discuss books and encourage others to read them, but as a type of public spiritual discipline where I try to write about thoughts so I can look back at them later and process books publicly as a means creating some open accountability for my Christian faith. So generally, I read a book, and within a few days, I have written at least something about it. But I first read Unsettling Truths just over six months ago, and I knew I was not yet ready to write about it. I needed to reread it.
Unsettling Truths is about the papal bulls that are referred to as the Doctrines of Discovery. Briefly, the papal bull, Romanus Pontifex, in 1452 declared that Christians (King Alfonso of Portugal) could “capture, vanquish, and subdue the Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” to “put them into perpetual slavery,” and “to take all their possessions and property.” Inter Caetera, in 1493, said Spain could claim any populated land as their territory if the population were not Christian. There is context to those papal bulls, but the background is not relevant to how those have been used later to further colonialism, white supremacy, manifest destiny, and even US legal precedent for land ownership.
I have primarily been addressing racial history and current reality through Black/White racial dichotomy and the history of slavery, Jim Crow, etc. It is not that I do not have an interest in other perspectives, but that I tend to follow the next trail on the path, and that has mostly been about issues of anti-Black racism. Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah are here to remind the church that, while those are important, they are not the only important issues in US racial history. Unsettling Truths is exactly the type of book that you need to read if you primarily or only see racial issues in the US through the Black/White dichotomy.
Unsettling Truths is also an explicitly Christian book. Both authors are former pastors. Soong-Chan Rah is currently a professor primarily focusing on global Christianity, church planting/growth, and evangelism. Mark Charles is presently an independent presidential candidate. The entire book is about Christianity.
Many of us are familiar with the rough outlines of slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights era. Many of us are less familiar with the history of Native American oppression. We can start with the early founding of the US:
While the Declaration of Independence may initially assert that “All men are created equal,” thirty lines below that assertion, indigenous people are referred to as “merciless Indian savages.” The Founding Fathers could use the seemingly inclusive term “all men” because they had a worldview informed by the Doctrine of Discovery that gave them a very narrow definition of who was actually human.