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Watershed Discipleship as Home Mission: Toward a Constructive Paradigm of Repentance

Author: Katerina Friesen
Published: August 2014

MD 5.2

Article Type: Peer Reviewed Article

This essay extends a commissioning home into our watersheds as a way of replacement and repentance of the rootlessness affecting North American Christians today. The author traces this rootlessness to the Christendom church and certain destructive theologies that sanctioned colonialism. “Watershed discipleship,” as set forth by theologian Ched Myers, offers a constructive framework for mission within a paradigm of repentance for sins perpetuated by colonial theologies.

During a college internship program, I lived with an Ikalahan-Kalanguya host family in the Sierra Madre Mountains of northern Luzon, the Philippines. I often accompanied my host mother to tend her family’s subsistence farm, where she grew many varieties of sweet potatoes, peanuts, beans, squash, garlic, and ginger. My host father worked as a pastor and community forester, maintaining the dipterocarp, pine, and cloud forests and protecting the people’s traditional “Ancestral Domain” against illegal loggers and other intrusions.

Legal recognition of the Ancestral Domain, also called the Kalahan Forest Reserve, resulted from a secure land tenure agreement, the very first of its kind, between the government of the Philippines and the Ikalahan-Kalanguya people in the 1970s.1 A watershed centrally defines the approximately 36,000-acre Ancestral Domain.2 Flowing into the Magat River, the watershed serves as a sanctuary to more than 150 endangered species of plants and animals.3 The people have decided collectively to protect their watershed, which means that those who live near the sources of water cannot expand their farms, raise livestock intensively, or use chemical pesticides on the land. As a society, they have limited their own potential growth for the sake of the wellbeing of the whole watershed, including those who live downstream.4

My host mother, Aunti Noemi, told me that when her parent’s generation converted to Christianity in the 1960s, they decided to expand their faith instead of their gardens.5 She contrasted their decision with that of the communities outside of the Ancestral Domain who have denuded their once-forested slopes to make room for mono-crop farms for distant markets. This kind of farming has created drastic erosion and mudslides, and local people attribute an increase in cancer in those areas to the heavy use of synthetic chemical inputs.

United Church of Christ missionaries in the Philippines lived and shared a deeply incarnational gospel with the Ikalahan-Kalanguya; importantly, they affirmed and learned from indigenous cultural and ecological values. The Christian gospel resonated with certain Ikalahan-Kalanguya concepts like li-teng that led them to care for their watershed. The Hebrew word shalom is the nearest equivalent to li-teng, a deeply ecological word signifying abundant life for all.6 Because the Good News strengthened certain indigenous cultural and ecological practices, the Ikalahan-Kalanguya have become a model throughout Southeast Asia for their community-based forest management, indigenous educational programs, and their ongoing systems of restorative justice through the tongtongan, or council of elders.

During my six months living with the Ikahlan-Kalanguya, I became increasingly aware of a significant gap in my own life. By age twenty-one, I had already moved ten times, having grown up in a missionary family turned highly mobile family. I became accustomed to the intermingled pain of leaving friends and place and the tingle of excitement at traveling somewhere new. I envisioned myself working overseas someday, living the exhilarating life of a global nomad. No place held any claim over me. I had no desire to limit my life to one place until living within the Ikalahan-Kalanguya Ancestral Domain. There, the people’s love for their particular home opened my eyes and exposed the placeless dreams that scripted my own life goals.

Historically, the Spanish, Americans, and Japanese have all colonized or occupied the Philippines. Over the years, the Ikalahan-Kalanguya people have resisted—in addition to illegal logging—land grabbers, plans for exclusive golf courses set forth by wealthy politicians in Manila, cell phone company satellite towers, and most recently, Australian mining companies.7 Love for the naduntog nakayang, the high mountain forest where the clouds settle in mist around the trees, compelled their resistance.8 Their home was worth defending with their lives. I had to ask myself, what place on earth would I ever put my life on the line for? Sadly, I did not know the answer.

Before I left the Philippines, my host family held a prayer service attended by local elders and friends from my time there. The pastor stood to give me a commissioning: he prayed that I would return home to the US to apply what I had learned with them. This simple and profound “co-missioning” changed my life. It initiated my journey of recognizing my own dangerous rootlessness, and turned me toward home.

Commissioned toward Home

Returning from the Philippines, I felt disturbed by the fact that my own sense of home seemed as distant from me as a foreign land. My own condition, I believe, is not unique, but perhaps reflects the preeminent social-spiritual malady facing North American Christians today. This condition poses a real threat to the church’s cross-cultural witness and mission.

Cross-cultural mission historically has been the “life-blood of the church,” and is necessary for its ongoing transformation.9 Mission from and to all places radically de-centers Christianity from Christendom, and from any one cultural or social group instating their own form of Christianity as a totalizing gospel for all.10 Alan Kreider writes, “After Christendom, missionary sending no longer follows imperial patterns; it no longer goes from Christendom to heathendom; it is, as Samuel Escobar has put it, from everywhere to everyone.”11 However, if the missionary has no sense of belonging to any particular place, mission from everywhere becomes mission from nowhere.

Rootlessness threatens the good news of cross-cultural mission. This rootlessness, observed in the pattern of colonial cross-cultural encounters, defined not only much of Christian mission, but also political conquest, early anthropology, and international commerce to this day. Indigenous people have theorized that what drives this colonizing characteristic for either the nineteenth-century missionary or the twenty-first-century businessperson is the “original trauma” of European displacement and alienation from the land in the colonial era.12 In short, because of this colonial trauma, mission from those who have no sense of home can become a displaced and displacing mission. How can those who do not know a home ever understand or stand with other people’s struggles to defend and protect their homes?13 How can we share and embody a gospel of incarnation if we ourselves have never lived “incarnationally” in any one place?

Christian mission as missio Dei, God’s mission in the world, is not necessarily long-distance or cross-cultural. Alan Kreider writes that the word “missionary,” with its cross-cultural and long-distance connotations, “restricts and limits” our understanding of the missio Dei that sends all Christians into our own lives as witnesses to the Good News of reconciliation in Christ.14 The field of home missions has often applied the logic of long-distance, cross-cultural mission to church work domestically, seeking to share the gospel in ways ranging from short-term mission trips to forming relationships with other cultural groups in a given area. These expressions of mission have emphasized human reconciliation to God in Christ. Yet the fullness of God’s reconciliation also extends to all of creation. As Colossians 1:19–20 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”15

How might the idea of home missions be expanded to encompass this biblical vision of reconciliation of all things in Christ, a vision that necessarily entails facing our own need for reconciliation with our home places? What if, in awareness of historic colonial patterns of displacement, we expanded the traditional meaning of “home missions” as also a “mission home”?

A renewed conception of home mission as a “mission home” necessitates a commitment to a geographically defined place, an understanding of the impacts of sin there, a discernment of the ways God is at work in that place, and how we may join in God’s work for the reconciliation of all things through discipleship of Jesus. For the sake of this essay, I will define home place ecologically as the watershed to which we belong and where our discipleship can be rooted. This watershed may or may not be where we were born or even have lived for most of our lives. The point is that we all live in a place, and so any place, whether in North America or abroad, can be considered a starting place for our mission home.

I believe that the geographic reality of a watershed can provide helpful boundaries for our commitment to home mission as mission home. Whether or not we know it, our lives as humans, along with the lives of all other biota, are inextricably dependent upon watersheds. Mission home into our watershed involves becoming reconciled to a home place. In order to fully commit to our watershed as home mission, however, we must face the sins of the past and present with clear sight, and take on the active work of repentance for the far-reaching devastations of the Christendom theologies that deny any place as home.

Christendom, the Doctrine of Discovery, and Watershed Conquest

Theologian Ched Myers sees Christendom as actively underwriting three harmful theological errors at the root of the crisis of placelessness:

  1. A docetism that privileges spiritual matters over social and ecological ones.
  2. The presumption of human domination over creation.
  3. A theology and politics of presumed “divinely granted” entitlement to land and resources.16

These three main dangerous theologies undergird missionary, colonialist, anthropological, and economically driven projects of exploitation of both people and land. Below I explore the destructive outcomes of one of these theologies, specifically the theology and politics of entitlement encapsulated in what is called the “Doctrine of Discovery.”

The Doctrine of Discovery and its resulting “watershed conquest” provide an exceptionally relevant case study of the tragic outworking of Christendom theologies. Any work toward reconciliation as mission must take into account these exploitative theologies, and begin with repentance as metanoia. Metanoia, translated from Greek as repentance (e.g., Mark 1:4), carries a connotation of changing both mind and action. Thus, repenting of the theologies of placelessness that persist today means recognizing their error, and actively changing direction by seeing a place as home.

Within the Christendom paradigm, mission and colonialism were interdependent forces. David Bosch writes that the word “mission” is “historically linked indissolubly with the colonial era and with the idea of a magisterial commissioning.”17 The mission and dominion of the Christendom church accompanied, furthered, and was furthered by the dominion of Empire. The fifteenth-century church’s Doctrine of Discovery, known as the “law of Christendom,” exemplifies how political and religious conquests were sealed together.18 The Doctrine of Discovery is defined as, “The logic of fifteenth-century Christendom that endowed European conquerors with self-assumed divine title over all ‘discovered’ land and peoples.”19 Through “discovery,” then, land and people were subjugated and their resources served the church and crown.

During the fifteenth century, the Vatican issued numerous papal bulls, official religious decrees that document the “genesis of competing claims by Christian monarchies and states in Europe to a right of conquest, sovereignty, and dominance over non-Christian peoples, along with their lands, territories, and resources during the so-called Age of Discovery.”20 Two papal bulls in particular, Dum diversas (1452) and Romanus pontifex (1455), provided the legal and religious justification for the conquest and subjugation of both indigenous peoples and lands. In fact, Dum diversas explicitly declared the need to convert not only indigenous peoples but also, crucially, the need to convert the land.21 Through conquest and robbery, the forced conversion and “salvation” of people and land were bound up together.

Through the Doctrine of Discovery, the death-dealing theology of entitlement was preserved and enshrined through doctrine and law, and continues today. I will focus on its impacts in the US, though this Doctrine legally legitimated the destruction of land and peoples worldwide. Law professor Robert J. Miller has shown how the Doctrine of Discovery provided justification for the very establishment of the United States. It is directly connected to Manifest Destiny and the “principle of contiguity” that claimed major territories as if they were unoccupied or undefended. The Doctrine of Discovery appears in government documents providing legal basis for the annexation into the US territory of Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and other states.22 In the 1823 Supreme Court case Johnson v. M’Intosh, the US Senate actually cited the 1493 papal bull Inter caetera as justification for dominion.23 Through the Doctrine of Discovery, the US government repeatedly denied Native Americans full title to their land, making it easier for their impoverishing displacement and loss of land.24 As recently as 2005, legal cases involving Native American land loss can be traced to the Doctrine of Discovery.25 Therefore, the Doctrine of Discovery shapes not only our church history as Christians, but also what it means to be a US citizen today, since the doctrines and theologies of Christendom have been encoded in our nation’s laws.

The Doctrine of Discovery’s “principle of contiguity” is a classic case of entitlement theologies expressed politically, through which watersheds became part and parcel of the conquest of the United States. The principle of contiguity used the geographic scope of large watersheds to expand the scope of colonialism. Robert J. Miller summarizes contiguity as follows:

Under Discovery, Europeans claimed a significant amount of land contiguous to and surrounding their actual discoveries and settlements in the New World. . . . Moreover, contiguity held that the discovery of the mouth of a river gave the discovering country a claim over all the lands drained by that river; even if that was thousands of miles of territory. For example, refer to the boundaries of the Louisiana Territory and Oregon country as defined by the United States.26

Contiguity explains why Lewis and Clark raced to discover the mouth of the Columbia River. Rather than the expedition of the heroic, morally neutral explorers I learned about in public education, theirs was a race to take the Northwest.27 Through contiguity, the discovery of the mouth of a river created a claim over the entire drainage system of the river and adjacent coast.28 At the heart of the practice of the Doctrine of Discovery, then, was watershed conquest, as exemplified in the seizure of the Louisiana Territory (the entire western drainage system of the Mississippi) and also Oregon country (the drainage system of the Columbia River).29

What does the Doctrine of Discovery and its resulting watershed conquest have to do with us as North American Christians in mission today? I would argue that Christendom’s theological and legal frameworks continue to hinder our moral vision, blinding us to the importance of place. Especially for those of us who have benefitted historically from European conquest, land seizure, and settlement, it is difficult to see the value of land and primacy of home to other peoples. For cross-cultural and long-distance missionaries, we may unknowingly carry with us theologies of displacement that colonial-era Christendom grafted into Christianity, and upon which the US was founded.

I believe that the legacy and continued impacts of the theologies that sanctioned watershed conquest may be healed by watershed discipleship, a home mission into our watersheds and a way of living out the gospel of reconciliation there. The rest of this essay will set forth two hallmarks of watershed discipleship, repentance and re-placement.

Repentance as Missional Paradigm Shift

Many Christian denominations and faith groups have publically issued statements of repentance of the Doctrine of Discovery and have rightly lamented its effects on indigenous people and the land.30 These confessions of repentance and repudiation point the way forward for other denominations to see how Christendom theologies continue to hinder true reconciliation, and to practice the witness of painful truth-telling. An understanding of repentance as a paradigm for mission greatly aids this most necessary ecclesial process of metanoia.

Missiologist David J. Bosch draws from Hans Küng’s study of theological paradigm shifts to describe significant transitions in the church’s understanding of mission throughout Christian history. He describes the contemporary church in mission as facing a paradigm shift characterized by the loss of Christianity’s dominant position in the world, a “profound feeling of ambiguity” about the Enlightenment god of Progress, an emerging ecological worldview coupled with the necessity of working for peace with justice, and an ecumenical posture toward other faiths that challenges the superiority of Christianity, among other factors.31

In recent decades, the paradigm of reconciliation as mission has gained significant traction in response to the above changes listed by Bosch. The emphasis on reconciliation is certainly a crucial response to the missio Dei, and a corrective to future-oriented salvation narratives of mission. Matthew D. Lundberg writes:

William R. Burrows reminds us that reconciliation is actually an ancient paradigm for mission that is receiving much-needed renewal today since it improves significantly upon the de facto images of “conversion” and “expansion” that characterized most mission efforts during the past five centuries—centuries that overlap, significantly, with the age of conquest, colonization, and varied forms of imperialism.32

Lundberg sees reconciliation as the “ultimate” call of the church-in-mission, yet naïve and impossible without the “penultimate” thing of repentance.33 In order to move toward the fullness of reconciliation offered in Christ, the North American church must embrace a posture of repentance. Lundberg names the legacies of colonialism and racism as examples involving Christian culpability that require a paradigm of repentance:

In these kinds of situations where the church is not a neutral bystander but is in some way guilty of wrongdoing, the church certainly cannot demand or insist upon reconciliation. It can only take up the stance of honest and wholehearted repentance, albeit a repentance that flows from the church’s belief in God’s foundational act of reconciliation in Jesus… such a paradigm of repentance not only enables the broader and ultimate reconciling dynamic of the gospel to remain in view, but it does so in a way that is appropriate to the church’s responsibility for at least some of the world’s ills.34

The paradigm of repentance requires the church to seek not only confession of wrongdoing, but to work toward right relationship with the land and its peoples past and present. This is not a separatist project; full repentance entails a socio-political commitment to the kind of reconciliation that attends to reparations of what has been lost and stolen. Myers writes, “To concede that we are part of the problem is a crucial hedge against both self-righteousness and escapism. But it is not enough: We must also imagine how we can be part of the resolution, the healing and the reconstruction.”35

Repentance, then, as much as it is a turning away from the ways of death and sin promulgated by the Christendom church, must also involve a turning toward. To paraphrase Kathleen Dean Moore, every time we say no to a way of destruction, we say yes to something much more beautiful and life sustaining.36 We need a way to live out both an emphatic No! to what we turn away from, and a productive Yes! to the way of life we turn toward. I propose that the Yes! proclaimed through the framework of watershed discipleship can help to constructively shape a paradigm of repentance.

Watershed Discipleship as Home Mission

Watershed discipleship is an antidote to the deep sense of placelessness lying behind the Doctrine of Discovery and watershed conquest. Watershed discipleship, as set forth by Ched Myers and other animators of this vision, is a way of re-placement.37 Its framework invites Christians to re-place our theology, our readings of Scripture, and our spiritual practices in our bioregions, defined by their source of life in the watershed.

Watershed discipleship calls disciples of Jesus to also become disciples of our particular places. The watershed, what permaculturalist Brock Dolman calls “the basin of relations,” encompasses ecological, social and political realities and relationships. One might imagine a watershed as a bathtub holding the cities, land, people, animals, and the rest of creation where a particular body of water drains.38 This geographically-bound vision points to a way of seeing a place as home, a way to more faithfully live the gospel in a particular place while remaining integrally connected to all other places. Contrary to popular understandings, a “local” focus does not cut people off from a global vision. Wendell Berry writes:

There is no such thing as a ‘global village.’ No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. . . . We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.39

Living and loving within limits, then, are the narrow way toward wholeness everywhere and for everyone.

Watershed discipleship prevents Samuel Escobar’s vision of mission from everywhere from reverting to a displaced and displacing mission from nowhere. In workshops and writings on watershed discipleship, Myers often paraphrases Baba Dioum, a Senegalese environmentalist, in the following dictum:

  • We won’t save places we don’t love.
  • We can’t love places we don’t know.
  • And we don’t know places we haven’t learned.

We cannot be part of God’s work of salvation in this world without being part of the work of learning, knowing, and loving a home place. It goes without saying that we cannot claim and be claimed by a home place without long-term presence in a particular place.

Perhaps no biblical verb has been as significant for the history of mission as that of “go” in the Great Commission of Matt 28:18–20. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19a). Mission has been understood in terms of this sending out and leaving home for the sake of spreading the gospel. In order to fully live into a missional paradigm of repentance, I believe watershed discipleship offers the North American church an opportunity to alternatively interpret the commission to “go” in light of our context of rootless mobility, alienation, and displacement.

Watershed discipleship provides a way of repentance through going into our own particular places, turning away from the transmission of a false gospel that denies rootedness and incarnation. Just as Jesus was immersed into his own watershed in the Jordan River (in a baptism of repentance), I believe we must go deeper into the oft-unknown land and waters of our home places, and become disciples of Jesus through learning, knowing, and loving our own watersheds.40


I began with a personal story of a commission home I received from indigenous brothers and sisters in the Philippines. For me, answering the question, what place would you give your life for? meant seeking home in a watershed closer to my birthplace in California. A return to one’s birthplace may not be the answer that others discern. As I was writing this essay, I received word from Ikalahan-Kalanguya friends that Pastor Delbert Rice, North American missionary and cultural anthropologist in the Philippines for over 60 years, had just passed away at his home in the Ancestral Domain.41

Pastor Rice was an example of a faithful witness who poured out his life for the li-teng— the shalom—of the Ikalahan-Kalanguya. He would often recall hikes with tribal elders, learning about the forests, wildlife, and the stories and songs about their place. His work with the elders in the 1970s led to the crucial establishment of the Kalahan Educational Foundation (KEF), which successfully challenged land-grabbers in league with the Marcos dictatorship. Even in his last years, Pastor Rice worked passionately with the KEF to strengthen organic agriculture in the region and to resist foreign mining companies that continue to take indigenous lands. He modeled watershed discipleship by re-placing himself deeply within the watershed of the Ancestral Domain. We have everything to learn about this kind of discipleship from Pastor Rice, as well as the people and place he gave his life for.

In conclusion, as I have attempted to live out my own commissioning, I have begun to realize the shared roots between my own individual lack of home place and the larger historic placeless theologies of Christendom. For Christendom’s Doctrine of Discovery, the exploitative conversions of the land and indigenous people were bound together. As church, we need a framework whose transformative potential adequately counters this understanding of conversion. We need a resurrection way more powerful than the death grip of colonialism, one that sees following Jesus into our home places as a way of liberation for all people and land.42

Could it be that watershed discipleship is the commissioning that North American Christians are called to receive and to practice today—that we are now being commissioned home in a final reversal of Christendom? For people whose history is marred by placeless theologies and the erasure of memory, is it possible to repent of the ways of watershed conquest through practicing watershed discipleship? Through the power of the One who will be with us “to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20), I believe it is not only possible, it is our only way home.

Katerina Friesen currently lives in the St. Joseph River watershed where she is an MDiv student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN.


Berry, Wendell. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2003.

Bosch, David JTransforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series 16. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

DeMocker, Mary. “If Your House Is on Fire: Kathleen Dean Moore on the Moral Urgency of Climate Change.” The Sun 444 (December 2012): 6.

Dolman, Brock. Basins of Relations: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting and Restoring Our Watersheds. 2nd ed. Occidental, CA: Water Institute, 2008.

Dumlao, Artemio A. “Report: Mining Harms Nueva Vizcaya’s Resources.” The Philippine Star, September 23, 2013.

Encyclopedia of American Indian History. 4 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

Encyclopedia of American Indian Issues Today. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2013.

Escobar, Samuel. The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone. Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Finlayson, Rob. “In Memoriam Rev. Delbert Arthur Rice.” Agroforestry World. May 11, 2014.

Frichner, Tonya Gonnella. “Impact on Indigenous Peoples of the International Legal Construct Known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has Served as the Foundation of the Violation of Their Human Rights.” Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Preliminary study submitted to the UN Economic and Social Council, New York, February 3, 2010.

Howell, Brian M., and Jenell Williams Paris. Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.

Kreider, Alan, and Eleanor Kreider. Worship and Mission after Christendom. Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 2011.

Lundberg, Matthew D. “Repentance as a Paradigm for Christian Mission.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 45, no. 2 (March 2010): 201–17.

Miller, Robert J. “The Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism.” Indigenous Peoples Forum on the Impact of the Doctrine of Discovery, March 30, 2012.

________. Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny. Lincoln: Bison Books, 2008.

Miller, Robert J., Jacinta Ruru, Larissa Behrendt, and Tracey Lindberg. Discovering Indigenous Lands: The Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Myers, Ched. “From ‘Creation Care’ to ‘Watershed Discipleship’: Re-Placing Ecological Theology and Practice.” Conrad Grebel Review 32, no. 3 (Fall 2014): forthcoming.

________. Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Discipleship Queries for First World Christians. Mary­knoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994.

Newcomb, Steve. “The Doctrine of Discovery.” Video of presentation, The Indigenous Peoples Forum on the Doctrine of Discovery, The Arizona State Capitol House of Representatives, Phoenix, AZ, March 23, 2012.

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). “What is the Doctrine of Discovery? Why Should it Be Repudiated? Factsheet.” New York Yearly Meeting, 2012.

Roxas, Elizabeth. “The Ikalahan: Sustaining Lives, Sustaining Life.” Asia Good Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Practice Project. The Philippines: Environmental Broadcast Circle Association, 2006.

Walls, Andrews F. The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996.

Woodley, Randy. Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision. Prophetic Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

World Council of Churches. “Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery and its Enduring Impact on Indigenous Peoples.” WCC Executive Committee, Bossey, Switzerland, February 17, 2012.

1 Elizabeth Roxas, “The Ikalahan: Sustaining Lives, Sustaining Life,” Asia Good Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Practice Project (The Philippines: Environmental Broadcast Circle Association, 2006),

2 This essay uses the word “watershed” in its ecological sense. The most commonly used definition of watershed comes from 19th century scientist and geographer John Wesley Powell,, who defined it as “that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.”

3 Roxas.

4 Pastor Delbert Rice, ecologist and missionary-anthropologist, would often remark that the lowland peoples, who often discriminated against upland indigenous peoples, had yet to send a “thank you” note or payment for the care the Ikalahan-Kalanguya exercised over the watershed.

5 To read more about the conversion to Christianity of the Ikalahan-Kalanguya, see Brian M. Howell and Jenell Williams Paris, Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 167–68.

6 Randy Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, Prophetic Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), writes that a deeper understanding of shalom as analogous to the “Harmony Way” native to indigenous peoples around the world opens opportunities for greater reconciliation between Westerners, indigenous peoples, and the land.

7 See, e.g., Artemio A. Dumlao, “Report: Mining Harms Nueva Vizcaya’s Resources,” The Philippine Star, September 23, 2013,

8 Italicized lines come from an Ikalahan “love song” for place, the theme song for the indigenous high school, Kalahan Academy: Di naduntog nakayang, babalaw na ko-lapan. “In the high mountain forests, the clouds come down…”

9 Andrews F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), 1–25, quoted in Matthew D. Lundberg, “Repentance as a Paradigm for Christian Mission,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 45, no. 2 (March 2010): 201.

10 I distinguish Christianity from Christendom, a paradigm that came to prominence when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone, Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 73, defines Christendom as a social order that “presupposed the dominance of Christianity in Western societies, as well as a certain degree of influence of Christian ideas and principles on the social life and international policies of nations.”

11 Alan Kreider and Eleanor Kreider, Worship and Mission after Christendom (Waterloo, ON.: Herald Press, 2011), 51; citing Escobar.

12 Maori sovereignty advocate Donna Awatere observes that the “original trauma” of European displacement and alienation from the land contributed to the displacement of indigenous peoples from their lands. Ched Myers, Who Will Roll Away the Stone? Discipleship Queries for First World Christians (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), 342.

13 Ibid., 344.

14 Kreider, 44.

15 Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

16 Ched Myers, “From ‘Creation Care’ to ‘Watershed Discipleship’: Re-Placing Ecological Theology and Practice,” Conrad Grebel Review 32, no. 3 (Fall 2014): forthcoming.

17 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series 16 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 228.

18 Tonya Gonnella Frichner, “Impact on Indigenous Peoples of the International Legal Construct Known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has Served as the Foundation of the Violation of Their Human Rights,” Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (preliminary study submitted to the UN Economic and Social Council, New York, February 3, 2010), 6,

19 Encyclopedia of American Indian History, vol. 1 (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008), s.v. “Doctrine of Discovery.”

20 Frichner, 7–8.

21 Steve Newcomb, “The Doctrine of Discovery” (video of presentation, The Indigenous Peoples Forum on the Doctrine of Discovery, the Arizona State Capitol House of Representatives, Phoenix, AZ, March 23, 2012),

22 Robert J. Miller, et al., Discovering Indigenous Lands: the Doctrine of Discovery in the English Colonies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 67–88.

23 Encyclopedia of American Indian Issues Today, vol. 2 (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2013), s.v. “Indian Sovereignty.”

24 The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), “What is the Doctrine of Discovery? Why Should it Be Repudiated? Factsheet,” (New York Yearly Meeting, 2012),, states:

Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823) made “discovery doctrine” explicit in US law. The court denied individuals permission to buy land from American Indian tribes [nations]. Under the doctrine, the court assumed only a sovereign United States could acquire the land, should the Indians choose to sell. In this decision, Indians were given a limited right of “occupancy” without full title to their own land, and could thus lose their land if they could not prove continuous occupancy. The doctrine was reframed in secular terms, in which the criterion for sovereignty became “cultivators of land” instead of “Christians.”

25 E.g., the 2005 US Supreme Court case City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y.,, drew from the Doctrine of Discovery to limit the sovereignty of the Oneida Nation of New York.

26 Robert J. Miller, “The Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism,” Indigenous Peoples Forum on the Impact of the Doctrine of Discovery, March 30, 2012,

27 Robert J. Miller, Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny (Lincoln: Bison Books, 2008), 99–100.

28 Ibid., 108.

29 I credit Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary professor Dr. David Miller for first pointing out the contradictions between watershed discipleship and the Doctrine of Discovery’s version of what I call “watershed conquest.”

30 Denominations that have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery include the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, various Unitarian Universalist churches and Quaker organizations, as well as the World Council of Churches. See World Council of Churches, “Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery and its Enduring Impact on Indigenous Peoples” (WCC Executive Committee, Bossey, Switzerland, February 17, 2012),

31 Bosch, 188–89.

32 Lundberg, 201–17.

33 Ibid. Lundberg draws on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s understanding of “ultimate” and “penultimate” things.

34 Ibid.

35 Myers, Who, 338.

36 Mary DeMocker, “If Your House Is on Fire: Kathleen Dean Moore on the Moral Urgency of Climate Change,” The Sun 444 (December 2012): 6,

37 More information on watershed discipleship can be found online at

38 Brock Dolman, Basins of Relations: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting and Restoring Our Watersheds, 2nd ed. (Occidental, CA: Water Institute, 2008).

39 Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, ed. Norman Wirzba (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2003), 118.

40 It is not my desire to prescribe where a home watershed (or multiple watersheds) might be for readers. Some may not have the option of choosing where to live due to work, family ties, or other determining factors. The point, however, is to begin the journey of reconciliation with a specific place.

41 For more about Pastor Delbert Rice, see Rob Finlayson, “In Memoriam Rev. Delbert Arthur Rice,” Agroforestry World, May 11, 2014,

42 “The liberation of the people depends utterly upon the liberation of the land itself.” Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, 20th Anniversary ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 339.

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