What Then Must We Do?
SERMON: April 29th, 2018
Glenn A. Robitaille, MDiv, DMin, RP, MPCC
Scripture: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
TITLE: What Then Must We Do?
Today is Mission Sunday in the Presbyterian Church with an emphasis on the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
- like many with French heritage in the Penetanguishene area, I have Metis ancestry (likely on both sides of my family).
I have been aware of this fact all of my life without thinking too deeply about it until I was asked to share an office with Pierre Cascagnette—a Metis man who worked with us at Waypoint—who was filling a pilot position for a Coordinator of Aboriginal Spiritual Services.
- it was Pierre who first enlightened me about the sixties scoop that saw indigenous families ripped apart and their children adopted out to well-meaning non-native parents.
I watched a documentary about this recently, and it is clear that many of these adoptive parents were well-meaning and generous people.
- others were, of course, abusive and cruel and adopted children for reasons other than compassion or concern or the desire to have a child, like to be farm hands or for more insidious purposes.
- I have worked with a number of the victims of the sixties scoop at Waypoint, and it has had a devastating impact on many.
The scoop itself was just the tail end of the John A. McDonald solution that began with putting indigenous children into residential schools run mostly by faith groups, and westernized.
- the thinking was, get them away from their families, teach them English (or French), educate them in the ways of the European and they will be integrated.
- few, if any, stopped to think about how they would feel if their children were being taken from them by an invader to be reprogrammed in the ways of the conqueror.
Again, considering the way of the world at that time and the lack of cultural awareness and the parochial views of Christians at that time (that any way of thinking other than our way of thinking would land someone in hell) it is possible to conclude many were doing what they thought was right, even though with the benefit of time and post mortem analysis, it was fully and unarguably wrong.
- it was the cherry on the top of one of the single greatest acts of cultural genocide in recorded history and, until recent times, hardly represented a blip in the awareness of the average Canadian who could not connect the dots of the present extreme poverty, crippling social problems and intergenerational dependence that has crippled those living on Canadian reservations to this day, often in conditions many would find hard to imagine, with those earlier abuses.
I didn’t know any of that until I shared an office with Pierre, and later with John Rice—a third degree Midewiwin Healer from Wasauksing Community in Parry Sound—and Austin Mixemong—also 3rd degree Midewiwin—from the Chimnissing Community, more commonly known as Christian Island, or the Beausoleil First Nation.
- at first I was shocked, and then a little angry; but then it occurred to me for the first time: That this didn’t just happen to them. Relatives of mine experienced and are experiencing the impact of these actions.
- and let me tell you, it has a whole different importance when it’s close and personal.
For instance, this past Monday a deranged individual in a rental van drove up on the sidewalk on Yonge Street and killed 10 people and injured 15 more.
- this has been a common occurrence around the world for some years now and sad, each and every time.
- all of these acts made me shake my head and say, “What a world.”
But this one happened within blocks of where my son works.
- my heart went up into my mouth and I texted him saying, “Wow, strange day in Toronto, are you okay?” and then sat there fixed on my screen waiting for that reply that said, “Yes, all is good.”
- it was much different when I had personal vulnerability in the act and a stake in its outcome.
- it’s much different when it affects me.
That doesn’t make me a bad person.
- obviously I care about the families in Humboldt and in Syria and in other areas of the world where great tragedy has struck recently and people are being affected.
- I just care more when it affects me or mine…as does everyone.
- otherwise, with all of the suffering and injustice in the world, no one would ever have leave to take pleasure in anything.
The question that faces us when we consider the injustices of the world is What Then Must We Do?
- Leo Tolstoy wrote a book with that title, as did Frances Schaeffer (How Should We Then Live?), and a host of others.
- Google the phrase and you will see everything from Bible passages to websites, philosophers to theologians all jumping off the question into a variety of conversations and considerations.
But that really is the question: What then must we do?
- the sixties scoop and residential schools happened, as did the horrible abuses committed in Indian Hospitals as they were called (experiments conducted on them similar to the atrocities committed by the Nazis).
- Indigenous communities all across the continent still suffer the consequences of being ghettoized and marginalized, and a strong belief still exists that the present circumstances are of their own making.
And without question, just as with any social group, individuals do exist who throw gas on the fire of existing disadvantages and exacerbate things; and others rise above and excel, like a phoenix from the ashes.
- but if the die was cast during colonization with the effect of “clipping the wings” of an entire culture, how do we as Christians respond to the perception that many of our indigenous friends now simply refuse to fly?
- how do we respond to the question, “What then must we do?”
Two of the passages read this morning spoke to me in differing ways.
- I was particularly struck by the reaction of the Ethiopian in Acts 8.
- probably because I identify with his learning style.
I am going to assume that his chariot was stopped while he was reading from Isaiah, although I have passed people on the highway with books and magazines on the steering column who were reading while they were driving.
- and hardly a day goes by that I don’t pass someone who believes they are the one person who can text while driving and not kill somebody.
What resonates with me is the reading and reflection—the mulling of ideas and the spirit of curiosity.
- he wanted to know what the passage he was reading meant, and he was obviously interested enough in the answer that he was willing to accept feedback from an absolute stranger who had nothing but the good fortune to notice what he was reading going for him.
- curiosity and a willingness to engage on the subject at hand was present with both individuals.
Here in Penetanguishene and area, we are within close proximity to seven First Nations communities and are living on land that was once given to these nations.
- we are here as the result of broken treaties and promises that occurred well before our time, and I would think most of us are not even aware that these abuses occurred.
We hear about land rights disputes on the news (very recently, the Coldwater Treaty was a focus), and about how indigenous women shut down site 41 by fulfilling their roles as keepers of the water by protecting the world’s purest aqua fir that runs under Springwater Township.
- we hear our politicians say things at public gatherings like, “I would like to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Anishinabek, which includes the Odawa, Ojibwe and Pottawatomi Nations, collectively known as the Three Fires Confederacy, the Haudenosaunne and Wendat nations, and the presence of other First Nations, Métis and Inuit residing in the Simcoe/Muskoka territory,” and perhaps wonder why they are doing that.
- it’s part of the reconciliation efforts that you can read about at reconciliationcanada.ca if you are interested with the goal of improving relationships between Canadians.
In the words of Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, “Our future and the well-being of our children rests in the kinds of relationships we build today.”
- and I suspect that is why the Presbyterian Church in Canada chose this as a focus for this missions Sunday.
- change begins with curiosity and a willingness to dig a little deeper into the larger story and to do something constructive in response.
In 1 John 4:20-21 it says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
- What does loving our brother (or our fellow human beings in the intended context of this passage) mean when it comes to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s promise to Indigenous people?
- I believe the first and most important thing we can do is embrace the opportunity to learn about the impact of colonization and the challenges our First Nations Communities are experiencing, and make whatever small shifts we can in our own thinking and practice.
In 1994, the 120th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada believed it began with adopting the following statement, which both owns the abuses of the past and calls for practical remedies.
- I find the statement, written well ahead of the curve where reconciliation is concerned, deeply profound and transparent and among the best I have read:
It will take a minute or two, but I am going to read it; and I have hard copies available for those who would like to read it more closely:
1. We, the 120th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, seeking the guidance of the Spirit of God, and aware of our own sin and shortcomings, are called to speak to the Church we love. We do this, out of new understandings of our past not out of any sense of being superior to those who have gone before us, nor out of any sense that we would have done things differently in the same context. It is with humility and in great sorrow that we come before God and our Aboriginal brothers and sisters with our confession.
2. We acknowledge that the stated policy of the Government of Canada was to assimilate Aboriginal peoples to the dominant culture, and that The Presbyterian Church in Canada co-operated in this policy. We acknowledge that the roots of the harm we have done are found in the attitudes and values of western European colonialism, and the assumption that what was not yet moulded in our image was to be discovered and exploited. As part of that policy we, with other churches, encouraged the government to ban some important spiritual practices through which Aboriginal peoples experienced the presence of the creator God. For the Church’s complicity in this policy we ask forgiveness.
3. We recognize that there were many members of The Presbyterian Church in Canada who, in good faith, gave unstintingly of themselves in love and compassion for their Aboriginal brothers and sisters. We acknowledge their devotion and commend them for their work. We recognize that there were some who, with prophetic insight, were aware of the damage that was being done and protested, but their efforts were thwarted. We acknowledge their insight. For the times we did not support them adequately nor hear their cries for justice, we ask forgiveness.
4. We confess that The Presbyterian Church in Canada presumed to know better than Aboriginal peoples what was needed for life. The Church said of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, “If they could be like us, if they could think like us, talk like us, worship like us, sing like us, and work like us, they would know God and therefore would have life abundant.” In our cultural arrogance we have been blind to the ways in which our own understanding of the Gospel has been culturally conditioned, and because of our insensitivity to Aboriginal cultures, we have demanded more of the Aboriginal people than the Gospel requires, and have thus misrepresented Jesus Christ who loves all peoples with compassionate, suffering love that all may come to God through him. For the Church’s presumption we ask forgiveness.
5. We confess that, with the encouragement and assistance of the Government of Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada agreed to take the children of Aboriginal peoples from their own homes and place them in residential schools. In these schools, children were deprived of their traditional ways, which were replaced with Euro-Canadian customs that were helpful in the process of assimilation. To carry out this process, The Presbyterian Church in Canada used disciplinary practices which were foreign to Aboriginal peoples, and open to exploitation in physical and psychological punishment beyond any Christian maxim of care and discipline. In a setting of obedience and acquiescence there was opportunity for sexual abuse, and some were so abused. The effect of all this, for Aboriginal peoples, was the loss of cultural identity and the loss of a secure sense of self. For the Church’s insensitivity we ask forgiveness.
6. We regret that there are those whose lives have been deeply scarred by the effects of the mission and ministry of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. For our Church we ask forgiveness of God. It is our prayer that God, who is merciful, will guide us in compassionate ways towards helping them to heal.
7. We ask, also, for forgiveness from Aboriginal peoples. What we have heard we acknowledge. It is our hope that those whom we have wronged with a hurt too deep for telling will accept what we have to say. With God’s guidance our Church will seek opportunities to walk with Aboriginal peoples to find healing and wholeness together as God’s people.
On this Missions Sunday 2018, let us remember the kinds of unconscious biases that made the abuses of the past possible and the existence of such unconscious biases today that are capable of creating other abuses.
- such unconscious biases exist in all of humanity and continue to create massive suffering across the world and perpetuate that suffering in our own country.
Let us also determine to love our fellow human beings, whom we have seen, as evidence that we love God, whom we have not seen.
- and let us love all people as they are in hope that we will all better reflect the loving nature of God as we increase in our understanding of ourselves and of those with whom we share our world.