History will tell stories about how this society, in this time, failed to treat every person as a person of worth. History might also tell of the ways people of faith failed to treat persons as persons of sacred worth.
It’s a matter of respecting all persons, caring for the neighbor, welcoming the stranger, accepting those who are “not like us” and affirming the image of God in every person.
This construct of faith and theology colors the way we look at life events – good ones and bad ones, like discovering mass graves containing the remains of children.
The discovery happened in May when a mass grave was discovered on the grounds of a former residential school for Indigenous children in Kamloops, British Columbia. It contained the remains of 215 children.
Canadians felt a nauseating shock. Their land had uncovered this shame. One month later, 751 unmarked graves were uncovered at a school outside Marieval, Saskatchewan.
Mass graves hold their own demoralizing oral history.
For decades, Indigenous people told stories of mass graves, in Canada and in the United States. No one believed them. So, when the 2021 graves were uncovered, people were disturbed. They demanded the truth about the residential schools.
Who ran them? What was their purpose?
Was their intent to remove the ethnicity and heritage of Indigenous children and make them more white? Were the children physically and emotionally harmed, or even subjected to long-term abuse?
People wanted answers, but how long would this emotional intensity last?
Intensity and intentionality around injustice are hard to maintain. When advocacy fatigue sets in, the work of justice sometimes fizzles out. Except in the case of the few who have the resolute perseverance to continue demanding change.
Emotions are still raw around these discoveries, but how many people possess the resolute perseverance to transform the injustice that was done?
The news about the graves resulted in speeches and promises, but, as always, once equilibrium is restored and remedies are explored, everything goes back to normal.
A past report created by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission included a lengthy section on unmarked graves, but the commission ended in 2015, as if truth and reconciliation were no longer a priority.
The discovery of graves at both sites, Kamloops and Marieval, means that 966 children are lost – unnamed.
There is evil in this, just as there is evil in every injustice borne by every person who is labeled “other.”
We cannot help but recall the tragedies of racial injustice in our own country and admit that these indignities have not ended even after centuries of wrong. As people of faith, we feel guilt in the face of unjust atrocities, but often we simply do not know what to do about it.
We may see injustice through the lens of what is right and through the passion of compassionate hearts, but even with a commitment to dismantle it, we tend to retreat into inaction. Still, our resolve to do better is part of a repentant, confessional faith. We lament injustice in all its forms. Yet, we still refuse to own the reality of the societal structures that cause oppression.
Whatever happened with those mass graves cannot unhappen. Perhaps our faith will move us to respond in tangible ways when terrible things cannot unhappen.
In a recent article, Laura Ellis writes that when New York City’s COVID-19 outbreak was at its highest, a mass grave was discovered on Hart Island. The grave contained the bodies of people who died when the city’s morgues were full.
She writes, “The bodies were unidentified and unclaimed, and most of them belonged to the lives of the poor.”
We don’t have to look far to see indignities and injustices. The poor, of course, and those living on the streets know the heavy hand of injustice. Black and Brown people know injustice, as do immigrants, refugees, trafficked children and Indigenous children who grew up in residential schools.
The list could go on, but what does this have to do with us?
People of faith will figure that out. When we lament injustice with open hearts and tender spirits, we will see before us God’s holy mandate for change. We will discover the compassionate care and the passionate advocacy we need to transform the evil of injustice.
Laura Levens writes about lament as expressed in the song, “This House.” The songwriter Aaron Austin sings these words: “They said it was history, time to move on. They said things were better and leave it be. But stolen blood still runs through these walls, and the floors still creak with captive feet.”
May people of faith lament as they hear truth, uncover evil, discern what is right and follow a God who hates injustice.
A semi-retired pastor, hospital chaplain, missionary, trauma counselor, victim advocate and nonprofit executive. She is a member of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, and is the author of two serious books, one Kindle novel (just for fun) and a curriculum on racial justice. She is currently a minister-at-large, a watercolor artist, iconographer, liberation theologian, preacher and blogger who still writes about “all things church.”