Unsettling Truth: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery

Unsettling Truth is a book of lamentations that mourns the collective and structured evil and sin inflicted on the Aboriginal communities who lived on this continent before European settlement, and it reveals the brokenness of settlers’ ideas of colonization from this nation’s very beginning. The book explores the possibility of addressing that brokenness in order to create healing and resilience. The sincere lament of the malfunctioning society starts with truth-telling about lost or denied stories and memories and focuses on the suffering brought about by a false doctrine of discovery that has been told throughout the centuries. However, Unsettling Truth challenges readers to understand and heal wounds on both sides of this conflict, rather than simply to accuse Whites as perpetrators (176).

Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah point out the corporative sins and injustices that have been shrouded in the “dysfunctional narrative of White supremacy” and in the myth of triumphalism and exceptionalism (11). The authors reject easy conciliation and reveal that this country’s triumphalist narrative has been built on the denial of suffering and oppression. To pursue truth and healing, The Unsettling Truth begins with an investigation of the sources of racial injustice, including theological imagination, a study of the social systems and structures, and how those realities differ from the powers exercised by Jesus (chapters 1-3). The authors point out that the pioneers understood genocide as an acceptable way to claim their inheritance from God to possess their promised land (chapter 4) and the doctrine of discovery spurred imperialism and colonial ambitions and helped shape the social and political foundations of America (74). It also examines White supremacy, American Christian exceptionalism, and our legal system that contributed to the formation of a culturally dysfunctional narrative (chapters 5-7). Then, Charles and Rah tell the narrative of sorrow conveyed through the voices of the suffering indigenous communities (chapter 8). The truth-telling includes the history of oppression, slaughter, and extermination inflicted on Aboriginal communities by the administration of Abraham Lincoln, regarded as one of the greatest presidents of the United States (chapters 9-10). This story leads readers to witness the trauma caused by the dysfunctional narrative and ends with a suggestion of conciliation (chapters 11-12).

The distorted definition of “equality” has caused tremendous suffering in North American society, and the stories of sorrow whose effects continue to this day. In this respect, this book not only recognizes the possibility of conciliation with the Aboriginal communities but also expands the discourses to include and heal all racial hatred and the dysfunctional imagination that needs to be rejected. Churches need to have the courage to confess the truth and take a step into the new conversation in radical imagination that would break down dysfunctional supremacy. In order to generate the dialogue and to heal the trauma and the wounds, churches can apply the language of vulnerability, confession, and lament (183). This ongoing dialogue can help to shape a common narrative and memory which can lead to conciliation as one community that remembers the poignant suffering caused by the doctrine of discovery and the history of exceptionalism. Therefore, Unsettling Truth extends its invitation to all who live together as a community to engage in the discourse of conciliation with truth-telling and lament that will take responders to reshape the former power of practice with a new and healing and inclusive image of conciliation. Furthermore, Unsettling Truth challenges churches to be constantly told for new generations as they continue to be born and to immigrate.


Eliana Ah Rum Ku

Emmanuel College, University of Toronto

Categories: (M) Book Review

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