Last week I received a phone call from a church member. “I want you to know Black lives matter,” he said, “And Asian lives matter.”
I’ve written elsewhere on Naming Anti-Asian Racism in response to increasing verbal harassment, physical assault, and other acts of discrimination against Asian people. And for the last two weeks the news has been dominated by the horrific killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with massive protests in the United States, Canada, and around the world crying out for George Floyd, for justice, for the end of racism. With all of that happening plus the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, that phone call was such a relief, and those words brought tears to my eyes.
While others have been protesting in the streets, publishing statements, making videos, and expressing their outrage and solidarity in other ways, that day a simple phone call lifted my spirit. Words of care and justice, a genuine conversation and human connection, an expression of community in the midst of turmoil and division—that’s just what I needed that day, what I hope to pass on, and what I hope all of us can offer one another as we seek the things that make for justice and peace.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for the freedom of peaceful protest. I value a well-worded statement. I know that video communicates powerfully. But we also need the kind word, the small opportunities to tell our stories, the personal encouragement that shares our burden and helps us carry on. We need each other.
While the death of George Floyd has brought renewed public focus on racial injustice, anti-black racism itself is not new—not new in the United States, and not new in Canada. While just 3% of the general population in Canada is Black, they make up 10% of the federal prison population. A commission on systemic racism in the Ontario criminal justice system identified systemic racism in policing, the court system, and in correctional institutions. In Toronto, black people make up 70% of police shootings resulting in death, even though they were 50% less likely to have been armed with a gun. As Robyn Maynard notes:
Certain lives—black lives—have been marked as disposable centuries ago, when black people in pre-Confederation Canada were enslaved and sold, at markets and alongside livestock, for over two hundred years. All of us living in Canada are beholden, still, to a past that is not yet in the past. – Fast Facts: Black Lives Matter in Canada As Well
Given anti-black racism in Canada, how are churches responding? Is the church anti-racist? What is our responsibility?
In wrestling with these questions, below are some links that I find helpful. Some address anti-black racism, others include racial injustice against Indigenous people and others. Some of these resources were developed prior to recent events, but continue to apply. I’ve included some brief excerpts, but please follow the links for the larger context and other prayerful, practical materials related to undoing racism in our worship and life together.
Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA Nationwide Call to Prayer
Yesterday Mennonite churches in Canada were asked to join their sister churches in the United States in “a call for the church to boldly stand against racism that rips apart the social fabric of both of our countries.” The nationwide call to prayer included a number of resources, including “A Psalm for George Floyd” by Carol Penner excerpted here:
God gathers the souls of the murdered,
their blood cries out from the ground.
God hears the cries of the oppressed,
and comes to their aid.
Jesus kneels with the protesters,
he stands in solidarity with the downtrodden,
he cradles the broken bodies of the persecuted.
The Holy Spirit broods over the bent world,
blowing the winds of change,
propelling the rushing winds of hope.
Rev. Paul Douglas Walfall, President of Alberta and Northwest Conference
The United Church of Canada
We are all made in the image and likeness of God. So Black lives matter. Aboriginal female lives matter. The lives of any group in our country facing discrimination or threat also matters. Any attempt to generalize the situation so as to ameliorate the perception only serves to add to the discrimination.
In his address above, Rev. Walfall continued, “As a church we have a prophetic responsibility,” and in an interview last year, he said, “The main way the church can be prophetic is by getting its own house in order.”
Christian Reformed Church
Racism looks different in Canada. Anti-racism resources that work for U.S. churches don’t always translate well into the Canadian context–but that doesn’t mean the call of the Church to be ministers of reconciliation in the Body and in wider society is any less important. ORR Canada offers contextualized resources to resource and support churches and ministries in the work of racial reconciliation in Canada.
Dr. Monetta Bailey, Associate Professor of Sociology at Ambrose University
Flourishing Congregations Update
Think about this, thus far this year in Canada we have seen national anti-Indigenous racism during the Wet’suwet’en protests, anti-Asian racism in response to COVID-19 and now the reality of anti-Black racism. Racism sits as an ever existing backdrop upon which the dominant group draws and galvanizes to their benefit. WHERE IS THE CHURCH POSITIONED?
Read the rest of this article for five practical considerations for churches, including examining policies and preaching; considering the impact of our actions; engaging in conversation, practicing humility.
Joint Letter of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada,
the Anglican Church of Canada, and the United Church of Canada
Written for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which was observed March 21, 2020:
Churches have been a part of perpetuating injustice and violence, both directly and indirectly, to people of African Descent. The churches’ role in the enslavement of people of African Descent is a significant part of this history and there is much to learn about the ongoing impacts of this history. White privilege and power is one of the ongoing legacies of enslavement that continues to affect societies and prevents churches from fulfilling God’s call to be caring, respectful communities.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
We call upon churches to combat racism and its related attitudes and injustices. We join in the collective grief and lament of so many that this problem, with its horrible implications and impact on the lives of so many, continues on.
This is not only an American and Canadian problem, but is universal. Racism has impacted Canada and continues to plague us, as we are reminded by current demonstrations in Canada and the legacy of racism told in the pages of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the lived experience of our sisters and brothers of colour.
The Rev. Amanda Currie, Moderator of the 2019 General Assembly
The Presbyterian Church in Canada
I am not saying that “all lives matter,” because that’s another thing that I have learned. Of course, all lives matter, but all lives are not being threatened. Some have explained it by saying, “If your friend gets a cut on their arm are you gonna wait to give all your friends a Band-Aid because all arms matter? No, you would help your friend who was bleeding because they are in pain and in need. Or if a person’s house was on fire and someone was trapped inside, are you gonna make the fire department go to every other house on the block first because all houses matter? Obviously not.”
The Canadian Council of Churches
Education, worship, and preaching resources for undoing racism, including this prayer written for Canadian Churches’ Racial Justice Week:
O God, we confess our evasion and silence:
We allow our fears to control us.
We have allowed evil to go unchallenged.
We try to confront the world’s evils without
Confronting our own heart.
Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison
Forgive us, Holy One.
Help us to walk out a road of justice
That will lead to paths of peace
In ourselves and for the world.
O God hear our prayer. O God hear our prayer.
When we call, answer us.
O God hear our prayer. O God hear our prayer:
Come and listen to us
for more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better,