Rehoboth, Zuni Churches Criticize Doctrine of Discovery Synodical Report

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The church councils of Rehoboth (N.M.) Christian Reformed Church and Zuni (N.M.) CRC denounced some of the conclusions in the report going to Synod 2016 from the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force.

In that report, the task force criticized the CRC’s ministry to Zuni and Navajo people, which was established more than a hundred years ago and included mission churches and Christian schools. Rehoboth Christian School was at one time a boarding school.

The two church councils sent communications to Synod 2016 as part of an overture from Classis Red Mesa (the regional group of churches) that asks synod to withhold adoption of the report until there is further study (Agenda for Synod 2016, pp. 579-587).

The Doctrine of Discovery (DOD) was the belief that North American lands were uninhabited until Europeans arrived and placed white Christians in a position of power over non-Christian peoples and lands.

The Rehoboth council agrees with the task force’s condemnation of the DOD but refutes that the CRC ever advocated that view and accuses the task force authors of being uncharitable. “[The authors] selected some of the ugliest moments of that past in order to make their accusations against these early missionaries stick,” the council wrote. “They assigned questionable motives to the missionaries which fit the story the task force desired to tell.” The council said the historical story told in the task force’s report is skewed, out of balance, and unfair.

In its report, the task force noted that the CRC “drinks downstream” from that history and “the effects of that corporate sin linger today.” The Rehoboth CRC council said that cuts both ways. “We enjoy the blessing of Native culture and live downstream from it,” the council wrote. “Native Christians also live downstream. They benefit from the message of saving light which the early missionaries, doctors, and teachers brought them. . . . Many Rehoboth Christian School students would give thanks for their Christian education.”

The Zuni CRC council echoed many of the same concerns. It asked how the writers of the report could speak on behalf of the Zuni CRC “when, to our knowledge, no one here was ever consulted prior to the writing of the report.”

It went on to state that the doctrines of Manifest Destiny and of Discovery were not doctrines of the CRC but rather political doctrines used to justify the westward expansion of the United States of America. “Was the thinking of the church tainted by these doctrines? Maybe,” the communication said.

In 2003, at the 100th anniversary celebrations of Rehoboth Christian School, a ceremony of apology and reconciliation was held. The task force calls for further confession, lamentation, and repentance, and acknowledgement of the CRC’s trespasses against Indigenous peoples generally and, specifically, against the Navajo and Zuni peoples of the U.S. Southwest. “The DOD report leaves us with a sense that public acknowledgments of wrongdoing will never end—it will never be enough,” the Zuni CRC council wrote.

Both churches expressed concern that the report leaves the impression that the Native people would have been better off without the missionaries. The Zuni church said. “When the early Christian Reformed missionaries came to the American Southwest, they found the Navajo and Zuni people living in abject poverty. We believe that they were moved with hearts of compassion and truly came to love the people God called them to serve.”

That was echoed by the Rehoboth council. “Mistakes were made as missionaries carried out the work, but the work itself was not a mistake! It was obedience to the Lord. Therefore, we ask synod to develop a balanced report which not only articulates the sins of the missionaries but also affirms the precious biblical value of mission.”

See also:

Synodical Committee Rejects Doctrine of Discovery, Criticizes CRC Ministry to Navajo

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

See comments (5)


The letters of the Council of Rehoboth and Zuni are excellent (beginning at page 579 of the Agenda for Synod 2016 -- see link above in this article).  We really need to take care about having the denomination so easily hopping onto political agenda trains that might be promoted by certain groups or individuals, as this study committee would have us do.  

To condemn the CRCNA's entire involvement at Rehoboth, and to make some of the accusations this report makes against real people is, frankly, outrageous, especially to the many who gave large parts of their lives to do what in reality was, on the whole, a good work (not "wrong," as this report would have us believe) done when/where good work was needed to be done.  For evidence that is was in fact a good work, one only needs to check out the end result.

I'm so grateful that the Red Mesa churches so responded. In Dr. Henry Beets book, "Toiling and Trusting; 50 Years CHR.REFD.Missions", he paints a picture of mission work and missionaries being sent in response to the "Great Commission". They came to bring life and hope, not to harm or plunder.  Many other denominations are also being asked to apologize to the various "Indigenous Peoples" in their areas for bringing them the Gospel.  Since we partnering with various chuurches and organizations to advocate for the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, I fervently pray that we keep our faith and doctrine as a filter.

Thanks for raising this important discussion Gayla! Reconciliation is challenging,demanding,full of fits and starts. These comments from the Rehoboth and Zuni churches show an honest struggle with the past - a struggle and a conversation that should continue. I that spirit I also encourage Banner readers to also consider this piece posted over at the CRC Network:


Mike Hogeterp, Chair of the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force

I would like to hear from representatives of the committee exactly why they believe the reconciliation efforts undertaken by the Rehoboth community itself (about 13 years ago) should now be  "second guessed" by a body and it's committee that is far more removed from the local community.

There is a certain disrespect implied when the federal government says to a local community: "You don't know best how to deal with your own concerns.  Here, let us do that for you, even if we are coming to the game a full 13 years after you yourselves took this up quite intentionally and thoroughly yourselves."

Of course, there are times when a "higher body" needs to intervene in a "local matter," but invariably, that happens when the "local authorities" refuse to.  But the opposite is the case here, and again, about 13 years ago.

I would add that this study committee came about in a very unique way: not via the churches, whether a classes or even an individual church (including any Red Mesa church), but rather by the suggestion of another study committee, that being the committee that reported on climate care.  Huh, what?, most outside observers would ask.  That makes no sense.  Nonsense aside, the point is that this committee was not created by any normal, usual way, and is perhaps unprecedented in terms of how it came about.  Which adds to the legitimacy of the question: why?  The origin of this community suggests there is a very, very small group that has the inside political clout to second guess a local community that's seems to be quite capable of dealing with its own affairs.

So, committee members: why?


If indeed no one form this committee went to Zuni and Rehoboth/Gallup/Shiprock/Wingate and more and talked to the actual people and minsities now in place in those locales, how can this report be complete?  If the Zuni church council says--no one talked to us--that says a lot.  I think that shows an arrogance on the part of the committee--that they already know best never mind the local base.