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In our second Anabaptist Witness Book Forum, we want to share with you four responses to Sarah Augustine’s book The Land Is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. In this work, Augustine unpacks the harm of the Doctrine of Discovery—a set of laws rooted in the fifteenth century that gave Christian governments the moral and legal right to seize lands they “discovered” despite those lands already being populated by indigenous peoples. Legitimized by the church and justified by a misreading of Scripture, the Doctrine of Discovery says a land can be considered “empty” and therefore free for the taking if inhabited by “heathens, pagans, and infidels.” Augustine, a Pueblo woman, reframes the colonization of North America as she investigates ways that the Doctrine of Discovery continues to devastate indigenous cultures, and even the planet itself, as it justifies exploitation of both natural resources and people. Augustine’s work is a powerful call to reckon with the root causes of a legacy that continues to have devastating effects on indigenous peoples around the globe and a call to recognize how all of our lives and our choices are interwoven. What was done in the name of Christ must be undone in the name of Christ, Augustine claims. The good news of Jesus means there is still hope for the righting of wrongs. Right relationship with God, others, and the earth requires no less.

Sarah Augustine, who is a Pueblo (Tewa) descendant, is the founder and cochair of the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery and the executive director of a Dispute Resolution Center in central Washington state. She is also the co-founder of Suriname Indigenous Health Fund (SIHF), through which, she has advocated for vulnerable Indigenous peoples since 2004. She has represented the interests of Indigenous community partners to their own governments, the Inter-American development bank, the United Nations, the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the World Health Organization (WHO) and a host of other international actors, including corporate interests. She employs shuttle diplomacy and group decision-making strategies to de-escalate conflict and establish common ground between Indigenous communities and external interests. She has written for Sojourners, The Mennonite, Anabaptist Witness, and Response Magazine. Augustine is currently a columnist for Anabaptist World and co-hosts the Doctrine of Discovery podcast with Sheri Hostetler. She and her husband, Dan Peplow, as well as their son, live in the Yakima Valley in Washington state.

The three responses to Augustine’s book, offered by a diverse group of scholars and pastors, will be shared online during May 2022. Wes Howard-Brook will provide the first response, followed by the responses of T.J. Smith, Kristina Schlabach, and Randy S. Woodley. This book forum will conclude with a response from the author herself. We are grateful to Wes Howard-Brook, T. J. Smith, Kristina Schlabach, and Randy S. Woodley for giving us the opportunity to share their reflections on Augustine’s book, and we are especially grateful to Sarah Augustine for offering this important work for dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery.

Luis Tapia Rubio – Online Content Editor

Purchase at MennoMedia – The Land Is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery by Sarah Augustine.

Purchase at Amazon – The Land Is Not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery by Sarah Augustine.


Response to Sarah Augustine by Wes Howard-Brook

Response to Sarah Augustine by T.J. Smith

Response to Sarah Augustine by Kristina Schlabach

Response to Sarah Augustine by Randy S. Woodley

Concluding response by Sarah Augustine