Thank you to Ray Aldred for his words of invitation and challenge to the Christian church in Canada. In the wake of the Kamloops discovery and the painful reality that more such discoveries are to come, Ray summons all Settler Canadian Christians to take this opportunity to feel deeply, to stop pointing the finger at one another, and to acknowledge failure as a defining part of our Christian story on this land.
Taking these steps will free our energy for the real work of repair and healing that is the calling of our times. As a Euro-Canadian Christian, I want to offer my response to these three important invitations to action.
“Let us not miss this opportunity to feel deeply . . .” Ray Aldred
For those of us who are non-Indigenous Christians on this land, and especially if we are of European ancestry, the invitation – decades old, but set before us afresh – is clear: we must allow ourselves to feel into the pain that Indigenous peoples have been experiencing since Christians first arrived on these shores and made themselves co-collaborators in the cultural genocide that has followed.
Let us imagine with our hearts that these were our little children stolen from our homes and never returned and that this was our land, our language, our spirituality and our culture legislated and beaten out of us systematically, generation after generation.
Pause here. Breathe here. Feel what is here to feel.
I know, as a Settler Christian and fellow human being, when I dare to enter this heart territory – when I really do – I quickly experience the edges of a grief that feels too deep and wide to plumb: there is a river of grief beyond language that flows across this land. It can be accessed only through tears.
If Euro-Canadian Christians, as a whole, took up Ray’s call to feel deeply, we might just find a path forward, beyond the finger pointing, to a place of fierce love where we emerge as a collective force committed to working alongside Indigenous communities to protect Indigenous lives, lands and cultures, just as we work to protect our own.
“Is it not time for churches to stop pointing the finger at each other . . .?” Ray Aldred
The finger pointing is understandable. I know the impulse myself. Blaming helps us to not feel the pain, or the shame, that looms not far under the surface. But, with the courage we are called to in the Gospel, let us dwell here in the discomfort that Ray’s words stir up in our Settler bodies.
Let us be present to this truth: Christian settlers living on this land bear responsibility for the wrongs that have been committed against Indigenous peoples of this land in the name of Christ.
Pause here. Breathe here. Lean into the discomfort. Lay down the urge to deflect. Bring a soothing hand to the heart, if it helps.
Indigenous people have been feeling ‘discomfort’ since the birth of our nation and since the Christian church first partnered with the state to stamp out, in the name of Christ, everything that makes them Indigenous.
For those of us who are descendants of European Christians on this land, we must come to terms with the truth that the land, resources, security, cultural and religious freedom, and opportunities that were granted to our ancestors and that we now enjoy have come to us only because they were stolen from Indigenous Peoples. This is fact.
And so it is not just because we are one in the body of Christ that the sins of our fellow Christians are ours to amend, though this is true. It is also that we, as Settlers, have benefited from and continue to benefit from the colonial systems and institutions that were created to favour Euro-Canadians and our way of life while destroying and making invisible Indigenous lives.
Sitting with the truth of our guilt and responsibility in the presence of a merciful God, can move us toward action that begins to put things right. So let us have courage to dwell here a little – and not just individually, but as whole congregations, as denominations and as the body of Christ – in order to feel what is here to feel and to listen to how we are being called to action.
“The Canadian church should make the failure part of the story . . .” Ray Aldred
What if we all acknowledged, across denominations and regardless of whether our particular denomination ran a school, that in our theology, biblical interpretation and praxis on this land, we, the church, got it wrong? Really wrong.
If we were to accept this, wouldn’t we, as the church, become more like the sinner who repented and less like the religious man who thanked God that he was more righteous than his neighbour? (Luke 18). And isn’t this what Jesus was on about?
What if our response to our own failure as Settler Christians in Canada could include a deep cultural and theological humility, a humility that runs as deep as the grief that flows across this land?
What if we could lay down our need to see ourselves as bearers of the truth without fail, and, instead, acknowledge that our faith is culturally embedded and, passed down through our European ancestors and missionaries, carries blind spots in need of correction?
What if we finally, after 500 years of contact, acknowledged that Indigenous peoples have something to teach us that our own faith needs?
And what if we admitted that we, the Euro-Canadian church, have practiced our faith from a place of cultural arrogance and superiority on this land? And that wherever this sense of superiority – conscious or not – has partnered with the Canadian state’s mission to ‘civilize the savages,’ the results have been devastating?
What might it look like for every congregation, denomination and Christian organization across Canada to take up this call of deep humility and repentance? Together with the churches who are already walking this path, we might:
- listen together to what Indigenous leaders are saying they need for healing, and respond;
- strategize collectively around how to implement the TRC Calls to Action;
- make it our church’s practice to consult and learn from Indigenous theologians, elders and authors, and allow this learning to inform and reform our inherited Euro-centric theologies, practices and worldviews;
- pray together for the thriving and flourishing of Indigenous communities, cultures, ceremonies and spiritualities in their own right;
- support local Indigenous organizations in their efforts toward revitalization of language, community, culture, land rights and self-government;
- and more . .
Thank you again to Ray for his words of invitation and challenge. I write these words of response as much for myself as I do for my fellow Christians.
I am convinced that if the Euro-Canadian church as a whole fails to humble itself, repent of its sins against Indigenous peoples and take up committed action to repair the damage, then we will not only miss out on the greatest opportunity we have to join in the healing work of the Gospel on this land, but we will also steer ourselves toward moral and spiritual irrelevance in our times. We will remain, as Ray says, like the abuser who continues to live in denial and blame.
But if we take up the call that Ray has named afresh for us here, we have the opportunity to lead the church into the future with renewed integrity, mission and vision.
It is time.
This article is also published in Church for Vancouver
Jamie Spray is a descendent of English, Irish and Scottish settlers to Canada and lives on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations (Vancouver, BC). She holds an MA in Theological Studies from Regent College and a Masters degree in Counselling. She is mother to two young boys and works as a Registered Clinical Counsellor in Vancouver.
The news of the finding of the unmarked graves of what is estimated to be 215 children from the Kamloops Indian Residential School has produced all kinds of emotions.