You cannot discover lands already inhabited.

Injustice has plagued American society for centuries. And we cannot move toward being a more just nation without understanding the root causes that have shaped our culture and institutions.

In this prophetic blend of history, theology, and cultural commentary, Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah reveal the far-reaching, damaging effects of the "Doctrine of Discovery." In the fifteenth century, official church edicts gave Christian explorers the right to claim territories they "discovered." This was institutionalized as an implicit national framework that justifies American triumphalism, white supremacy, and ongoing injustices. The result is that the dominant culture idealizes a history of discovery, opportunity, expansion, and equality, while minority communities have been traumatized by colonization, slavery, segregation, and dehumanization.

Healing begins when deeply entrenched beliefs are unsettled. Charles and Rah aim to recover a common memory and shared understanding of where we have been and where we are going. As other nations have instituted truth and reconciliation commissions, so do the authors call our nation and churches to a truth-telling that will expose past injustices and open the door to conciliation and true community.

"With thorough research, Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah share the foundational truths of American history and theologies that have influenced us for over five hundred years, correcting the purposefully hidden erasure of what actually happened on this land and why it continues to this day. Unsettling Truths is a righteous and integral narrative that must be heard and absorbed if we are to move forward with any sense of national dignity and morality. Rah and Charles are courageous in this scholarly telling of these historical truths; the question is, Are we courageous enough to listen?"

Randy Woodley, Distinguished Professor of Faith and Culture at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, author of Shalom and the Community of Creation

"Unsettling Truths is a must-read for all Christians and should become a staple of seminary education. There is virtually no other book targeted toward a biblically centered audience that explains the theological significance of the doctrine of discovery and its legal progeny for not only Native peoples but for Christian settlers. In addition, there are virtually no books that so adeptly analyze the relationship between settler colonialism and indigenous genocide with the history of racialization of other people of color in the United States. Through their masterful and extended analysis of the ideological and legal foundations of the United States, these authors force to us to wrestle the unsettling truths of the foundations of US democracy. As the same time, they provide us the resources to imagine biblically based possibilities for new forms of collectivity and governance beyond settler colonialism. This book provides not only critically needed information about the generally misunderstood political and legal status of Native nations, it provides a paradigm-shifting approach for how to understand the United States (and other settler nations) from a biblical perspective."

Andrea Smith, cofounder of Evangelicals 4 Justice and board member of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies

"Why should I endorse a book when I do not agree with some of its historical judgments? Answer: for the same reason you should read it. Charles and Rah attack a pernicious principle (the Doctrine of Discovery), review an evil history (the United States' treatment of Native peoples), challenge a persistent stereotype (American exceptionalism), and psychoanalyze white America (in denial about the nation's history). The entire book, even when you think things could be evaluated differently, will make you think, and think hard, about crucially important questions of Christian doctrine, American history, and God's standards of justice."

Mark Noll, author of The Civil War as a Theological Crisis

"In this era of racial tension in the United States, Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah offer a corrective lens that brings into sharp focus the seed of Euro-American exceptionalism along with its enduring effects through history up to this present day. Unsettling Truths examines the racially charged yet unrecognized theology that unleashed the slave trade in West Africa and the dispossession of indigenous peoples' lands in North America: the Doctrine of Discovery. The United States' two original sins find their roots here, and the racial tensions that grow from them continue to overrun the American cultural landscape. These Unsettling Truths lead us to self-examination and offer hope for conciliation. This is the true American story."

Gene L. Green, professor emeritus of New Testament, Wheaton College and Graduate School

"If you're Native, you have been waiting for this book. It tells truths that we didn't learn in school about how the ideology of Christian discovery resulted in the dehumanization of the indigenous people of Turtle Island, and how those principles continue to oppress. If you are Native who follows Jesus, you have been hard pressed to explain the difference between your faith and the dysfunctional theology that birthed an exploitative Christian worldview that cultivated genocide and slavery. This book explains the concealed history and theology of truths that this country has not been able to own and shows how we might move toward a restoring narrative."

Lenore Three Stars (Oglala Lakota), cross-cultural facilitator in racial reconciliation


Introduction: Who We Are and What We Bring
1. The Doctrine of Discovery and Why It Matters
2. The Power of Narratives and the Imagination
3. The Kingdom of God Is About Relationship Not Empire
4. The Rise and Defense of Christendom
5. A Dysfunctional Theology Brought to the “New” World
6. Exceptionalism and the Founding Documents of the United States
7. Dysfunctional Theology and the Spread of Settler Colonialism
8. Genocide, the Impact of a Dysfunctional Theology
9. Abraham Lincoln and the Narrative of White Messiahship
10. Abraham Lincoln and Native Genocide
11. The Complex Trauma of the American Story
12. The Christian Worldview and the Failure of Re-conciliation
Conclusion: Truth and Conciliation
Author Index
Subject Index


Mark Charles, a man of Navajo and Dutch American descent, is a speaker, writer, and consultant on the complexities of American history, race, culture, and faith. He is the author of the blog Reflections from the Hogan and was the Washington, DC, correspondent and columnist for Native News Online. He has served on the boards of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and the Christian Reformed Church of North America. He and his family live in Washington, DC.

BY Mark Charles

Soong-Chan Rah (ThD, Duke Divinity School) is Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Prophetic Lament, The Next Evangelicalism, and Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, as well as coauthor of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith and contributing author for Growing Healthy Asian American Churches.

In addition to serving as founding senior pastor of the multiethnic, urban ministry-focused Cambridge Community Fellowship Church (CCFC), Rah has been a part of four different church-planting efforts and served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Boston. He has been an active member of the Boston TenPoint Coalition (an urban ministry working with at-risk youth) and is a founding member of the Boston Fellowship of Asian-American Ministers. He serves on the boards of World Vision, Sojourners, the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and the Catalyst Leadership Center.

An experienced crosscultural preacher and conference speaker, Rah has addressed thousands around the country at gathering like the 2003 Urbana Student Missions Conference, 2006 Congress on Urban Ministry, 2007 Urban Youth Workers Institute Conference, 2008 CCDA National Conference, 2010 Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) National Preaching Conference, and the 2011 Disciples of Christ General Assembly. He and his wife, Sue, have two children and live in Chicago.

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