SoulStream Doctrine of Discovery zoom meeting

SoulStream and the Renunciation and Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery

Note: We have used “renunciation” and “repudiation” almost interchangeably, but they do have different meanings. To renounce means to give up or surrender, while to repudiate means to reject the truth or validity of something. Both meanings are valid in this context.

On June 11, 2020 close to 30 Partners participated via Zoom in a Liturgy for the Renunciation of the Doctrine of Discovery. Originally, the liturgy was to have taken place at the 2020 SoulStream Annual Gathering in Sorrento, B.C., but due to the COVID-19 pandemic the liturgy took place virtually.

To view a copy of the written liturgy, please see this PDF.

We would like to thank Brayton Shanley, Co-founder of Agape Community in Massachusetts, and the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Missioner for Creation Care, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, Mass. Conference, United Church of Christ, for allowing us to adapt their Doctrine of Discovery Repudiation liturgy.


The SoulStream community chose to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery after a period of study and reflection. In the Fall of 2018, a group of Partners decided to read the book, Speaking Our Truth by Monique Gray Smith. The group was facilitated by Susan DeLong who used an Indigenous “learning circle” model for the book discussion.

Speaking Our Truth has been used as a textbook for junior high school students and describes the Indigenous experience of residential schools in Canada. Smith sensitively writes about how Indian children were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools. Many of the children were abused emotionally and physically and some also endured sexual abuse. The intent behind the establishment of residential schools was to remove the “Indian from the child”, and facilitate the assimilation of Indigenous people.

Partners were shocked and saddened by this history, yet were grateful for the awareness. Other Partners wanted to read Speaking Our Truth, and a few more book discussions were organized. Much of the content of Speaking Our Truth is based on the work of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools System with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences. When the TRC concluded its work in 2015, it released 94 “calls to action” regarding reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

Call to Action #49 stated, “We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery.” The Doctrine of Discovery was declared by a fifteenth century Pope and used to justify the invasion and confiscation of lands “discovered” by European explorers. Indigenous people were deemed less than human and therefore could be subjugated or eradicated to claim the land. This doctrine provided the justification for genocide and for establishing residential schools to cut off children from their families and rid them of their language and culture.

At the beginning of Lent in 2019, SoulStream’s Board and Leadership Team wrote an open letter to Partners, wondering whether SoulStream should consider repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery as a community. The SoulStream Board and Leadership Team stated that “they believed the declaration and implementation of the Doctrine of Discovery to be evil”. Further, “it was contrary to the way of Jesus and has had a very negative impact on Indigenous people”. The issue was discussed with Partners at the 2019 SoulStream AGM, and out of 36 Partners participating, 35 were in favour of moving ahead with repudiation.

In September 2019, Partners were advised that they would vote on repudiation at the AGM on May 30, 2020, and were given some background information. On May 30, Partners overwhelmingly accepted the following motion:

In keeping with the basic commitments and values of SoulStream to create a welcoming space for others without distinction, to act with compassion for justice and peace within the whole of creation, and to seek the courage to witness to and act against injustice, exclusion and exploitation, as Partners of SoulStream we make the following statement:

We repudiate and renounce the Doctrine of Discovery/terra nullius as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.

We will prayerfully foster learning about and awareness of the reality and legacy of this doctrine and explore, with the Spirit, new ways forward to seek reconciliation and justice.