Truth comes before reconciliation. These words have become ingrained in my mind after hosting and attending our Canadian Baptist families’ second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation online event.
On Friday, Sept. 30, over 350 Baptists from the five time zones across Canada gathered online for a time of remembrance and reflection.
Through stories, prayer, responsive readings, songs and a sermon, attendees heard dark truths about Canada’s colonial past and present, including residential schools, cultural genocide and removing children from their families during the ‘Sixties Scoop’.
Sadly, Indigenous children continue to be disproportionately removed from their homes. According to 2016 Census data, 52.2% of children in foster care are Indigenous, but account for only 7.7% of the child population in Canada.
Admitting and taking ownership of past wrongs is a vital part of our journey towards reconciliation. Residential schools were built to “kill the Indian in the child” and integrate them into the white, Christian society. Indigenous children were abused in the name of Christ.
This nationwide policy was a sin and a gross failure to see our Indigenous brothers and sisters as Imago Dei. We must cry out forgiveness to our Creator God for how we have dehumanized the people God has made and said were “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
We may protest, saying “I didn’t do any of that” – however we, as a nation, still benefit from the stolen land and the oppressive systems that grew this country at our brothers and sisters expense.
Facing the truth must lead us to lament.
“To lament is to join with those who are suffering,” said Danny Zacharias of Acadia Divinity College, who shared a reflection during the Sept. 30 service.
“We must lament for children lost, communities destroyed, lands stolen, acts of cultural genocide,” he said. “Lament that discrimination was and, in some cases, still is national policy.”
Lament is a spiritual particle that we need to be nurturing, and Zacharias reminded us that the psalms are not just praise, but protest, questioning and lament.
In fact, psalms of lament make up the largest type of psalm in the psalter. Depending on who is counting, between a third to half of the psalms are laments.
Yet, in many faith contexts, lament is a foreign word or is quickly brushed over in favour of praise. What does this say about us as people of faith?
Are we afraid of the intense emotions and pain that comes when we truly lean into lament?
Lament is a transformative experience that allows us to cry out to God as we wade into the depths of despair. Yet, Jesus meets us at our darkest with the open arms of the cross.
We are also encouraged to “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Lament can be a corporate act of worship that becomes a catalyst.
Without lament, repentance and change is not possible. Grief can push individuals and communities toward compassionate acts that foster justice and bring about peace. When we take the time to grieve, we can begin to move forward and imagine new worlds where peace and justice reign.
I believe we caught a glimpse of new life emerging at the start of our service on Sept. 30.
We had the honor of witnessing an Indigenous woman, along with the youth of her church, pray with smoke. She explained the meaning and intention behind the ceremony and shared how she is a residential school and “Sixties Scoop” survivor, who also tells her story at local schools.
This was such a moving moment for me to see because in many faith spaces, there is a lot of fear and distrust of faith practices that are unfamiliar.
I am grateful to all those who leaned into the discomfort that comes with hearing harsh truths about us as a nation and as Christians.
I am grateful to those who came to the service with open hearts and minds and with a posture to listen to the Spirit nudge them to walk the path of justice.
I am grateful to our Baptist denominations who came together to form a committee to plan the service.
Finally, I am grateful to our Indigenous brothers and sisters that shared words and music with us and challenged us to continue seeking the truth as we walk towards reconciliation.
Author’s note: CBM issued an Apology in October 2016 at an event held at Highland Baptist acknowledging our failures and shortcomings as a community of God’s people. At the event we affirmed our commitment to walking together in a better way. Our apology and other resources can be found here. You can watch Danny Zacharias’ sermon and take further action steps here.
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series this week to call attention to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the U.S. The previous article in the series is:
Who First Discovered America? | Machaela Murrell
Communications and Social Media Specialist at Canadian Baptist Ministries. She is passionate about justice issues, particularly in the areas of Indigenous justice, creation care and racial justice.