Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery


On Wed. Aug. 10, 2022, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly received a presentation on the “Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People” adopted by the ELCA Church Council last September.

Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery

In 2016, 19 ELCA synod assemblies passed a memorial that would charge the triennial ELCA Churchwide Assembly to consider repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. With a vote of 912 to 28, the representative assembly adopted the memorial, making the ELCA the second major denomination in the United States to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

According to the Doctrine of Discovery Project, “The Doctrines of Christian Discovery (DoCD) originate with 15th century Papal Bulls that were issued by the Vatican and implemented by Monarchies, sanctioning the brutal Conquest and Colonization of non-Christians who were deemed ‘enemies of Christ’ in Africa and the Americas.” You can learn more at

Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery

Churches Beyond Borders: Healing From the Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery

Learn More

What is a repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery?

Each denomination’s repudiation statements/resolutions include various admissions of complicity in multiple damaging convictions for which they agree to repent. The ELCA has adopted a list of actions to accomplish the same.

The ELCA’s social policy resolution “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery” explains the church’s commitment to repudiation with the following pledges:

  • “To acknowledge and repent from this church’s complicity in the evils of colonialism in the Americas, which continue to harm tribal governments and individual tribal members.”
  • “To affirm that this church will eliminate the doctrine of discovery from its contemporary rhetoric and programs, electing to practice accompaniment with native peoples instead of a missionary endeavor to them, allowing these partnerships to mutually enrich [Indigenous] communities and the ministries of the ELCA.”

Read the ELCA’s “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery” here.

Task Force

In 2021, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton commissioned the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force, composed of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders from across the church who are responsible for leading the work to realize the repudiation.

Efforts by the Task Force thus far include:

  1. Establishing four sub-task-force groups: Churchwide Assembly, Settler Narrative, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People. These groups will change and develop as the work continues.
  2. Repudiation of the Doctrine of DiscoveryIn September 2021 the ELCA Church Council adopted “A Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People,” announcing this on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The declaration can be read here.
  3. Encouraging the ritual practice of land acknowledgement at the beginning of every church meeting or gathering, in all expressions of the church.
  4. Researching and developing an appropriate settler narrative that reflects the Lutheran participation in colonizing Turtle Island and in genocidal acts toward Indigenous people over the past 500-plus years.