The Anti-Racism Working Group is hard at work developing a “made in Niagara” anti-racism education program rooted in our baptismal covenant aimed at our leaders, lay and ordained. We expect to present the finished program at diocesan synod in November 2022 and begin offering the training early in 2023. A parish-based program is planned for 2023, but in the meantime, many of you are asking how you can start working on anti-racism education and create change now.
Let me offer you some resources for your parish and individual journeys.
The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community by Stephanie Spellers. Spellers is the Canon for Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation for The Episcopal Church, and situates the institutional church in a time of disruption and displacement like we have never before experienced. Says Spellers, “What if we are indeed at that point where the most faithful act is to accept the cracked reality of the things we loved most? … Perhaps you and your church are the thing being broken, and your life, identity, and understanding of reality are being poured out, all so that God’s love might become the true center of your life. … I trust that nothing separates us from God’s amazing grace, even when we’ve been utterly, irrevocably cracked open.” While the American flavour of Stephanie’s foundation will require some translation into a Canadian context, the similarity of our churches, children of British Empire and new world exceptionalism inexorably moves us through “our story of choosing idols, ego and sin over God” into hope-filled glimmers of God at work in our midst. The book invites us to explore what it means to “allow our hearts and structures to crack open in deep love for God and one another” in a way that reflects Jesus’s own vulnerable turning of his privilege to restore wholeness to a broken world. The book concludes with an invitation to the reader and to the church to “release our grip on privilege, recenter on God, and live as beloved community” with practical steps that allow us as people, churches and an institution to embrace the path of Jesus and turn away from empire and power.
Equally potent and transformational is Wait—Is this Racist? A Guide to Becoming an Anti-Racist Church, whose authors, Kerry Connelly, Bryana Clover, and Josh Riddick, invite readers to engage interactively in nothing less than deconstructing the ways in which the church may be “propping up White pseudosupremacy” through our culture, our policies, our governance, and our liturgies. This challenging work helps us explore how to make systemic changes that impact our churches, our lives, and our very world. “The goal is for the world to no longer be White, with everyone else just doing their best to assimilate, but rather a beautiful coalition of cultures where everyone is valued and thriving in the authenticity of their God-given identities.” Connelly, Clover, and Riddick invite us to not just do anti-racism but to be anti-racist, which means imagining “new ways to be White in the world that not only do no harm, but also participate in collective liberation.” Walking the path laid out here invites us to co-create the kingdom of God, to walk the path of the cross, rejecting and condemning the abuse of power—and instead using the privilege that systemic racism has given White people to “lay down our false dominance, and endeavor with the collective”, to imagine and create a world where everyone flourishes.
And highlighting our commitment to truth and reconciliation, I recommend 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality, in which Bob Joseph unpacks how the lives, culture, and opportunities of Indigenous peoples in Canada are controlled by the Indian Act, “an explicitly race-based piece of legislation”.
While we may know something about residential schools and their ongoing legacy of trauma, most of us are ignorant about the Indian Act and the ways in which it shaped and continues to shape (despite significant updates) the lives of Indigenous peoples, and perpetuates the stereotypes and orientation towards forced assimilation that motivated its passage in 1876. Joseph’s book invites us to explore the history of the Indian Act and then to use our collective understanding of this history of our relationships to come alongside First Nations peoples (Métis and Inuit were excluded) to dismantle the Act as a critical first step in honouring and respecting the dignity of every human being. A Canadian society that embodies trust in and respect for indigenous self-governance points to a society that achieves reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, suggests Joseph, who is a former associate professor at Royal Roads University, a facilitator and trainer focusing on establishing better relationships with Indigenous people, and a member of Gwawaenuk tribe.
The process of becoming and then being anti-racist as individuals and as institutions is not easy. In fact, this part of our discipleship journey is challenging and messy, just like so much of what Jesus invites us into on the Way of Love. There is pain and grief and an unsettledness as we lean into an understanding that the Canadian cultural and Canadian historical perspective from which we as settlers (and as White people for those readers who are White) operate is not the lived experience of the Indigenous and non-White people around us. We have so much to learn about the perspectives and experiences of others, so much to acknowledge in terms of the ways in which settler history and culture has landed us with power and privilege to which we are often blind, and so much to give as we, like Jesus, turn away from the allure of power and privilege to embrace justice and wholeness for all of God’s people.
I invite you to read any or all of the books I’ve mentioned, explore anti-racist websites, workshops, and educational opportunities, visit sites of Indigenous and non-White historic and cultural significance, and take part in experiences that reflect cultures other than your own. Then share what you’ve learned and how that learning is changing your heart with your family, friends, fellow parishioners, work colleagues, and elected representatives. Telling our stories of transformation and coming alongside God’s anti-racism work in our midst is how we are called to help bring about God’s kingdom!
Editor’s note: we recommend checking out your local independent bookseller to track down these texts; an interactive map is available here.