“I am sending you as sheep among wolves.”—Matthew 10:16
There are many things that can be said about the involvement of the colonial churches in the residential schools. Most clearly, that involvement was not as sheep among wolves. It is that abandonment of the Jesus way that has caused so much trouble over the years and, in this matter, has brought so much death and pain. So much has resulted from that abandonment. So much must be done to heal its wound.
It is important to remember that the children were all baptized. They were not “other.” Our most deeply held beliefs say they are “us.” Even baptism, however, did not make them human enough to be buried as our own children. That is what is now causing rage in some, fear in others, denial in some, and shame in most.
What are we to do? A society that has, as Jacques Ellul put it, the “principle of technical organization or efficiency” as its governing spirit will run for an organizational solution that apologizes, reorients, and restructures. All of this is good and I am eager to see it. We can expect to see days that memorialize these events and remind us to do better.
While I am all for it, it would seem to me that the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah offers something deeper, broader, much more urgent, and so much more wonderful. It is called repentance. And here, we are not talking about a small repentance; we are talking about the beautiful, glorious, life-changing Matthew, Zacchaeus, woman at the well, Moses the Black, Mary of Egypt, John Newton, Bill W. (and just about a thousand Indigenous brothers and sisters I’ve met) kind of repentance where a person’s past is imprinted in a new way of life—in the same way that the scars of Jesus’s crucifixion are the signs of his resurrection body. The sins of the past will not just be memorialized, but will become a new identity, a new way of life. You were going one way, now you are going the opposite way. You trusted one way, you now, trusting God, follow a new path. I pray that God, who gives us insight into this way as individuals, will also give us insight into this way as a Church.
When those little ones were laid in the anonymous earth, they were the defenceless and the voiceless. Others—institutions, authorities, churches, and governments—had all the say and all the power. Now the God of the voiceless rumbles in their name. Do we hear? Will we continue to act as those in power, or will we join the Saviour of the voiceless through repentance? Is there anything more urgent for us right now?