Mission and Ministry Board adopts statement on the Doctrine of Discovery

By Wendy McFadden

The Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board, meeting March 10-12 in Elgin, Ill., approved a statement lamenting the Doctrine of Discovery and recommended its adoption by Annual Conference. The meeting was led by chair Carl Fike, working with chair-elect Colin Scott and general secretary David Steele.

Titled “With Actions and in Truth: A Lament of the Doctrine of Discovery,” the statement “names the injustices of the church’s history with Indigenous peoples, invites the members of the denomination to study and understand the complex relationship between the church and Native nations, and equips the Church of the Brethren with a foundation for future action.”

The Doctrine of Discovery has been used for centuries “to justify the brutal and violent subjugation of indigenous peoples around the world and in North America.” The doctrine consists of written documents “and the pervasive ideologies that followed.”

In recent years many Christian denominations have issued statements repudiating this doctrine, which originated in the Catholic church and was then adopted by the majority of Christian groups. The Doctrine of Discovery has been used to justify genocide and enslavement of Native peoples. The Church of the Brethren statement grew out of years of background work by the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and Discipleship Ministries.

People singing in a stone chapel with a cross
Worship at March 2023 Mission and Ministry Board meeting. Photo by Kathy Mack.

Finances for 2022

The organization’s financial position remains strong, according to treasurer Ed Woolf. Expenses for Core Ministries finished the 2022 year with a surplus and did not have to make use of a transfer from designated funds that had been budgeted. Congregational giving to Core Ministries continued to decline, but individual giving rose. Giving to the Emergency Disaster Fund and Global Food Initiative Fund increased dramatically.

While investment and net asset balances declined by more than $8 million because of changes in the market, those losses were absorbed by previous gains, and balances essentially returned to 2019 levels.

Strategic plan

Marking progress on its strategic plan, the board made decisions on two initiatives:

  1. a plan for On Earth Peace to provide board members and staff with training in Kingian Nonviolence; and
  2. next steps for a committee working on racial justice. As part of this latter work, the board discussed the results of a survey to learn the experiences of current and former board members and staff who are people of color.

Other business

The board approved a position description for a new Facilities Stewardship Committee that will be a standing committee of the board. This committee will assess the church’s physical properties in relationship to the strategic plan, the current needs of the denomination, and economic considerations. In the past there have been various ad hoc committees that carried out such responsibilities when needed.

The board approved the minutes of an email action appointing the Rev. Ganeshkumar Gamanlal Patel and  Sanjaykumar Dhirajilal Bhagat as trustees to the Church of the Brethren General Board (CBGB) Trust in India.

The board approved a Global Food Initiative grant of $25,000 for a soybean project in Nigeria, and also approved the minutes of several actions handled by email: a capital expenditure of up to $63,000 for a truck for Brethren Disaster Ministries, and Emergency Disaster Fund allocations for Waverly, Tenn. ($47,250), Puerto Rico ($49,500), Kentucky ($64,625), the Democratic Republic of Congo ($41,000), and the Nigeria Crisis Fund ($240,000).

Various committees brought reports, as did ex officio members—the moderator of Annual Conference and representatives from Bethany Theological Seminary, Eder Financial, On Earth Peace, and the Council of District Executives.

At each meeting, board members spend a block of time focused on a particular professional growth topic. The session this time was led by Bob Smietana, national reporter for Religion News Service. Drawing from his book Reorganized Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church and Why It Matters, he provided data on the state of organized religion and described churches that are choosing how to decide their future in difficult times.

Sunday morning worship was led by students from Bethany Theological Seminary, who attended the meetings as part of their ministry formation class.

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