(This article first appeared in the October issue of the Anglican Journal)
Statements of condemnation have been issued. Prayers have been said and rallies for peace attended.
Now what? Many people have been asking this question after the violent clashes between white supremacists and counter- protesters turned deadly August 12 in Charlottesville, Va.
The emerging view is that it cannot be business as usual. Not when it hits so close to home. Not when “the stain of bigotry has once again covered our land,” as Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael Curry said in the aftermath of that violence. Not when the corrosive power of hatred diminishes the value of human life and destroys our belief as Christians that all people are made in the image of God, and that as Jesus commanded, we must love our neighbours as ourselves.
Canada, not just by reason of proximity to the U.S. but through its own history of colonialism and discrimination toward minorities, is not immune to racist violence and hate, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself has acknowledged.
Sadly, racism is not a thing of the past. Hate crimes in Canada rose by 5% in 2015, due mainly to an increase in criminal incidents motivated by hatred of a race or ethnicity and by hatred of a religion, says a Statistics Canada report.
It would not be far-fetched to predict an uptick in hate crimes since then, with more incidents being reported after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in 2016. American police officials have acknowledged that Trump’s hateful rhetoric and policies have encouraged anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/ Questioning) incidents in the U.S.
Today, there are about 100 white supremacist/neo-Nazi/far-right groups in Canada, and like their U.S. counter- parts, they too have been coming out of the woodwork. Far-right groups like the Canadian branch of Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee network founded in Finland, have been making their presence felt with “park and street patrols” in Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta since last year. After Charlottesville, the anti-immigration, anti-Islam far-right group La Meute staged a highly organized rally in Quebec City.
Some Canadians have been quick to dismiss them as fringe groups, but Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume has urged political leaders to “open their eyes” to the rise of far-right groups in Canada.
In response to these incidents, 54 faith groups and community organizations, including the Anglican Church of Canada, have issued a joint statement of solidarity and call for action against hate. The statement urged all levels of government to review laws and policies pertaining to hate and hate crimes.
This concerted effort is to be commended and must be followed through. But more can be done. In the U.S., at least 400 Christian leaders from various denominations have issued a statement that goes beyond condemning white supremacy. They also ask that all Christians examine and learn about “ways in which the church
both legitimated and resisted white supremacy throughout the last several centuries.” Black clergy have urged “dialogue and honest conversations about the history and reality of racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism and white supremacy in this nation.”
We can do the same in our churches.
In 2015, the late Archbishop Terry Finlay, then co-chair of the Primate’s Commission on the Doctrine of Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice, noted that while General Synod had passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, the church has not fully addressed the institutional racism that resulted from this ideology. “Our colonial church is woefully inadequate in terms of its knowledge of the Doctrine of Discovery and the implications of it,” said Finlay, as he urged “the education of our own institution.” His prescription has never been more urgent than now.
But discussions must also address issues of class, inequality and poverty— material and spiritual—which cut across racial lines. In some instances, support for white nationalism and scapegoating of minorities, whether here, in the U.S. or in Europe, have been triggered by a sense of lack, despair and rage at having been le behind in society.
One crying need, according to civil rights legend and African-American theologian Ruby Sales, is a public theology in the 21st century that raises people up “from disposability to essentiality” and for those who have been told “that their whole essence is whiteness and power and domination,” redefines what it means “to be fully human.”*
* Ruby Sales: Where Does It Hurt (On Being podcast with Krista Tippet)