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Arguing the Doctrine of Discovery’s Impact on LGBTQI Folk

In Doctrine of Discovery, Peace & Justice, Theology on May 7, 2017 at 10:00 am

During this last decade, the Doctrine of Discovery has become the underpinning on which to build an understanding of Indigenous history and modern reality.  Long in the coming—Vine Deloria Jr spoke to the need of academics and theologians to engage the Doctrine of Discovery nearly 50 years ago—the Doctrine of Discovery is a rubric to apprehend past genocidal practices and current Indigenous tragedy.

The full impact the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD) on the worlds Indigenous people is complex.  However, when it comes to the United States and Canada, the DoD caused a spectrum of hurt which effects Indigenous and non-indigenous people alike.  Recognizing the DoD impacts non-indigenous people raises the complexity of the DoD and alters the conversation.

While it is important to have a conversation on how the DoD has and does impact non-indigenous people in the United States (US) and Canada, it is equally important to say no group has known DoD caused hurt to the extent of Indigenous peoples.  Recognizing that reality is important to say when exploring DoD inflicted hurt upon non-indigenous people because some folk prefer to find arguments that might allow a community to ignore and forget past atrocities.  Developing such amnesia weakens and conceals the impact of the DoD in today’s context and ignores any though of Indigenous racism.  One such path toward forgetfulness is to create a construct where the DoD damages White non-indigenous people to the same extent of Indigenous peoples.  Therefore, it needs saying that while this writing explores the DoD’s damage to a community of people who are both Indigenous and non-indigenous, it is equally important to remember the genocidal impact inflicted by the DoD on the Indigenous people of the Americas is like nothing else.


Similar to how the Doctrine of Discovery developed US racism, so is it the foundation on which homophobic mindsets—policies and laws—were constructed against Native and non-native LGBTQI folk of the Americas.  Recognizing homophobia plays out a little different in each region of the Americas, this writing focuses on its advancement in the early US.  The core of this proposal is when US homophobia is stripped bare, the remaining causation is the Doctrine of Discovery.

A simple explanation as to how the Doctrine of Discovery caused LGBTQI suffering in the United States is recognizing it influenced the development of 18th century US laws and legislation to benefit a specific ruling class.  That class in simple terms were white, free, Christian, landowning men.  The 18th century assumption was those men were (at least publically) heterosexual.  To appreciate this premise, it is important to consider Christendom’s colonization efforts leading up to the American Revolution and the first 100 years afterward.

As a Christian construct the Doctrine of Discovery is birthed in Christendom Europe in the 15th century.  Developed in a time when there is little separation between Church and Empire, the ethics of the Church naturally become the DNA of the Doctrine of Discovery.  For example, Pope Nicholas V’s 1454 bull Romanus Pontifex was written on behalf of King Afonso V of Portugal.  In his bull, Nicholas V

bestow[s] suitable favors and special graces on those Catholic kings and princes, who, like athletes and intrepid champions of the Christian faith, as we know by the evidence of facts, not only restrain the savage excesses of the Saracens and of other infidels, enemies of the Christian name, but also for the defense and increase of the faith vanquish them and their kingdoms and habitations.

This bull gives King Afonso V’s empire a theological tool to know non-Christian people (Saracens/Muslims specifically in this case) as savage and less than human.  Thanks to Nicholas V’s Romanus Pontifex, 15th century Christian values become entrenched in Europe’s developing colonization effort.  The question therefore, is what Christen sexual values are embedded in those 15th century colonization efforts?

During the 13th century Thomas Aquinas writes his Summa Theologica.  As part of the Summa he writes about what he calls Natural Law, we he lays out and argument that becomes the Church’s normalized view on sexual ethics by the 15th century.  In Article 1 Of The Natural Law he writes, “that the natural law is something appointed by reason.”  On that base, he argues in Article 3,

“Therefore, since the rational soul is the proper form of man, there is in every man a natural inclination to act according to reason, and this is to act according to virtue.  Consequently…all acts of virtue are prescribed by natural law.”

The leading question then is, what is virtuous?  Aquinas answers, in part, by pondering what is not virtuous and non-natural (against nature).  For Aquinas, the “proper man” is one who is rational.  That being the case, sins are those acts which go “against reason [and] are also against nature.”  Taking that thought, Aquinas amps it up by reasoning there are a special set of sins that oppose nature—nature being that which are “common to man and other animals.”  Special sin(s), Aquinas argues, is that which is “contrary to sexual intercourse (male and female), which is natural to all animals, is unisexual lust, which has received the special name of the unnatural vice.”(1)  That sin which receives the special naming of being an “unnatural vice” is the polar opposite of virtuosity.  Aquinas’ unnatural vice, unisexual lust, becomes the Christian theological argument to condemn LGBTQI folk in the next century.  By the close of the Middle Ages this unnatural vice is the homophobic sexual value of Christendom.  Therefore, as Christian empires subjugate land and peoples, and develop new communities in those “new found” landscapes, the religious, political, and business mindset is based in a homophobic sexual ethic.

As American colonies develop in the landscape that will become the United States, they create laws which reflect Aquinas’ natural law construct.  Leaders of Massachusetts, for instance, asked the protestant Rev. John Cotton to consider what essential laws might govern the colony.  Cotton writes,

Unnatural filthiness, to be punished with death, whether sodomy, which is carnal fellowship of man with man, or woman with woman, or buggery, which is carnal fellowship of man or woman with beasts or fowls. (2)

His thoughts were not enacted as written at that time, but his death penalty thoughts are reflected when the Massachusetts legislature passes An Act for the Punishment of Buggery in 1697:

For avoiding of the detestable and abominable Sin of Buggery with Mankind or beast, which is contrary to the very Light of Nature;…That the same Offence be adjudged Felony…as in Cases of Felony: And that every Man, being duly convicted of lying with Mankind, as he lieth with a Woman: and every Man or Woman, that shall have carnal Copulation with any Beast or Brute Creature, the Offender and Offenders, in either of the Cases before mentioned, shall suffer the Pains of Death, and the Beast shall be slain and burnt.(3)


Laws threating the death of LGBTQI people continued after the American Revolution.  Virginia, who had not yet addressed homosexuality, did so with their 1792 Revised Code saying, “sodomy was made a capital offense ‘without benefit of clergy,’ that is, carrying a mandatory death sentence.”  These death penalty laws slowly went by the wayside over the next 81 years.  South Carolina has the distinction of being the last State to do so when in 1873 State law was changed to imprisoning the LGBTQI offender for up to five years.(4)

Recognizing the Doctrine of Discovery impacts many people and landscapes does not diminish the appalling impact it has had on Indigenous Tribes and people.  Rather, understanding this complexity helps for a better understanding of how government structure too often serves a few at the expense of many.  Delving into the complexity of the Doctrine of Discovery not only allows for a better understanding of the evil played out against Indigenous people, but also allows for thorough conversations that recognize the interconnected evils of US racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Indigenous genocide.   Should such conversations be risked, then the first steps on a path to end vile hurtful structures begins.

(1) The Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Volume II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1952.
(2) Homosexuals and the Death Penalty in Colonial America by Louis Crompton, Ph.D, found and accessed on 3/17/17 at
(3) ibid.


Water Holes

In Reflections on February 12, 2017 at 9:00 am


“A man that travels horseback needs to remember where the water holes are, but a man that rides in a train can forget about water holes, because trains don’t drink.”  Woodrow Call on attributing Charles Goodnight’s bad memory to his riding of trains—from Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurtry]

I returned to the rental car after having supper.  Belinda and I were visiting her mother.  Though we knew this landscape well some thirty-five years ago, the population is three times greater today.  My landmarks are gone, so I chose to use the GPS on my phone to get us to the restaurant.  As we loaded in the car after supper, I pulled out my phone to use the GPS to get us home.  I tried to do that without bringing attention to myself—I didn’t want to admit I had only listened to computer spoke directions and hadn’t paid attention to how I got there.  However, my mother-in-law is not one to let much go and way too attentive.  She asked, “What are you getting that out for?,” with that smirky smile she saves for when she knows she’s got you.

“I need it to get back home,” I said.  That gave her the fodder she was looking for.  From parking lot to home, I was on the receiving end of ribbing concerning phones and a society that no longer knows how to pay attention to the world around them.  I looked in the rearview mirror a few times, but Belinda gave no shrift either, she smiled and laughed all the way home. My ribs hurt by the time we got back.  Not so much from the poking, but because I agreed.


A few days of good mountain weather opened up toward the end of the summer.  I grabbed hiking gear and headed to the Goat Rock backcountry.  While Mount Rainer and Phato get most of the attention from the lowlands, the Goat Rocks are a dynamic, assessable land that speaks to the everyday.  The Pacific Crest trail gives wonderful mountain(s) views around one bend or another, but off trial you are sure to run into elk, mountain goats, and more than a chipmunk or two.  One never has to go far from the trail though to find an outcropping view of a lower valley that gives the feeling the Creator made this place just for you. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tussle of Blankets

In Reflections, Theology on January 1, 2017 at 5:03 pm


A dozen folk journey this Tuesday to gather at water’s edge.  Each have their own “why” to stand on the Missouri River bank at the border of the Standing Rock Reservation.  Their whys are as broad as their ages—teens to seventies—walking an expanse of personal to spiritual.  As vast as those reasons are, the bedding of most are in Creational relationship.

When it comes to engaging the tussle of blankets under which Creation playfully crafts relationship and imagination, it is apparent we Church folk have failed to aspire high enough.  Rather than birthing wonder, we people of this era have segmented creation.  In that segmentation, we have separated ourselves from creational wonder in as real a way that the 1896 Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson segregated people.  Unlike our (great) grandfolk at the turn of the century who knew a deer track, the turn of soil, the back of a horse, walking a mile to visit a neighbor, or the location of the countryside’s water holes, our children seldom know the taste of dirt, and afternoon of catching pollywogs, or spending a night under the stars with only a sleeping bag.  When one losses the taste of dirt or the feel of a tadpole squiggling in hand, so do they lose the imagination and the revelation that one is not alone.

To lose the earths saltiness is to know loneliness and loss of community, which only leaves the air of individualism.  Mindsets settle into believing “I am the only one who can…” and the absolute need of neighbor is relegated off to some bygone era.

Life is much easier when putting the idea of rugged individualism off to the colonial settler rather than this era.  However the rugged individual was of books and folk lore, which served the power structure of government, business, and Church well.  But seldom true.  Rather than fools of individualism, settlers were families of communities.  However, their lives might have served the wealthy and powerful, they were not wholly unlike their ancestors or the people on whose land they were occupying—these folk were far from individualistic in nature. Read the rest of this entry »