LETTER: The church cannot excuse its harms

‘I speak as a committed Christian who served as a Christian pastor’

The church cannot excuse, or may never live down the part the institutional church played in the trauma inflicted on Indigenous communities.

I speak as a committed Christian who served as a Christian pastor for many years and now retired. I respond to this tragedy from a different view point, that is, in my most recent friendship with the Indigenous people. I had the privilege of serving with my church, Sardis Community Church, working hand in hand together with the folks of the Cheam First Nation. Regularly we worked together helping build personal and community garden boxes, planting trees, working with their children, conducting day camps, assisting them in every way possible but most significant was building toward a lasting friendship. We became a welcomed part of the community. I stress welcomed, because they truly over the years accepted us and sincerely appreciated our presence and friendship. Never once did I feel any animosity toward me or the church. We ate at each others table and worked, as I said, hand in hand to make a difference for good in the Cheam community.

I give much credit to Don Klassen of our church and Chief Ernie Crey for their joint working together to establish this wonderful boots on the ground reconciliation work. I quote the following from an article by Pastor Tom Mei of West Point Grey Baptist Church who himself has an intermarriage relationship with the indigenous people: “The mission was clearly and apologetically laid out by Bishop Vital Grandin in 1875 when he wrote these words: ‘We instill in them a pronounced distaste for the native life so that they will be humiliated when reminded of their origin. When they graduate from our institutions, the children have lost everything native except their blood.’”

No one with any sentiments toward the gospel of Christ could with clear conscience sanction this mandate and agree to the vilification of the Indigenous people.

I trust those who read this response will weigh the contrast of what was done, with what could have been done. When we sincerely in love and kindness, with integrity, work with our Indigenous friends, the seeds of reconciliation are sown and can produce a positive, lasting effect. That being said, we must recognize that the road to reconciliation is a long and difficult one. The hurt, anger and bitterness caused to the Indigenous people will be a monumental task for them to work through and to emotionally overcome.

In our brief encounters with our Indigenous friends may we listen with respect and feel with them the pain of their grieving hearts.

Let me conclude with these important words from pastor Tom Mei: “If the Christian faith has any meaning for the future, we must guard ourselves against vilifying the ‘other’ and embrace one another as children of God. We may not look the same or even believe in the same thing about God but we are all His children, created in His image. And marred as that image is, it remains, and is worthy of respect and dignity.”

Doug Johnston

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