Is the Anglican Church of Canada a post-colonial church?

Toronto, February 4, 2016—Syrian refugees arrive at Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport, greeted by sponsor families and organizations. Photo: Stacey Newman/Shutterstock
Published May 2, 2019
The Rev. Edmund Laldin, guest columnist

The experience of new Canadians helps separate myth from reality.

Pour out your Spirit upon the whole earth and make it your new creation. Gather your Church together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom, where peace and justice are revealed, that we, with all your people, of every language, race, and nation, may share the banquet you have promised.”

The above passage is taken from Eucharistic Prayer 4 of the Book of Alternative Services (page 203). It is a prayer to God to fulfill the promise of God’s kingdom, both temporal and eternal—in other words, to establish the kingdom of peace and justice here on earth until the second coming of Jesus, which will usher in the kingdom of God. In more than one way, this vision constitutes the purpose and mission of the Church and is integral to its discussion around colonialism.

I emigrated to Canada in 1991 from Karachi, Pakistan. My dad was a priest, and my mother was a teacher. Both of them were born in the colonized subcontinent and shared the dubious distinction of being descendants of “Rice Christians.” The term referred to lower-caste and downtrodden inhabitants of the subcontinent who converted to Christianity for a bag of rice. Like others, my parents held persons from the Western world in high regard and placed blind trust in them. I grew up with the same admiration and respect for Westerners. I distinctly remember accompanying two female missionaries to the slums of Karachi for Bible school and study. Incidentally, a Norwegian pastor was bishop of Karachi at that time.

In my early teens, I concluded that we were still a colony of the West. Socio-political and economic colonization by the Global North had replaced geographical and physical colonization. Christians were forced to denounce their cultural practices and traditions because of doctrinal and dogmatic domination of the churches of the North. Both conservative and liberal factions of the North tried to influence the church of the Global South; conservatives were successful because their theology and literal acceptance of the Bible resonated with early missionaries. My father and very few of his fellow Church of Pakistan and Roman Catholic clerics and laity tried to articulate a theology for Pakistani Christians. All of them were marginalized and, in some cases, accused of being radicals and non-believers. Communal efforts to realize the vision of the kingdom of peace and equality continue to be a distant reality for the Christians of Pakistan.

A change in perception

Sept. 15, 1991, was a day of enormous jubilation for me. I had finally landed in Toronto and arrived in the land of equality, peace and justice. I was so naïve and on such a spiritual high that I could not name a flaw in the mission and ministry of the Anglican Church of Canada in particular and Canadian society in general to my field supervisors during my first year in Canada.

My perception of both society and the church started to change after I faced both overt and covert racism and discrimination—in both the church and society. Before 9/11, I was seen as an emigrant who was expected to conform to the norms of the society; since 9/11, I am perceived as a threat to the society because of my heritage, and have been subjected to extra scrutiny at airports, highways and public places like restaurants. The modus operandi of the church mimics and is a continuation of—albeit in the guise of progress and liberalism—the evangelization and conversion of the Indigenous peoples of this land. Christian missionaries, as we know, closely followed the empire to various parts of the world to preach the gospel. The basic premise was to convert the heathens and to make them in the likeness of the state and dominant religion, which was presented as the way to eternal life. To this end, existing cultural and religious practices were condemned and presented as witchcraft, and the converted were taught to live in accordance with the moral code of the Bible.

As a result of this, affirming societies and cultures morphed into the likeness of missionaries and their interpretation of the Bible. Whether it was good or bad is a conversation for another day. Local communities of that day gave up their ways of living, religion, and moral and ethical code to believe in God and the moral code of the Bible. Incidentally, any other expressions of sexuality except for heterosexual, monogamous marriages were deemed against the will of God.

Misunderstanding the South

Anglican Communion churches of the South have reacted strongly to discussions on human sexuality, equal marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ people. Their reaction was first rejected, then criticized and presented as an objection from conservative and biblically illiterate persons and churches. Prevailing was the narrative that the South must come out of the dark ages and interpret the Bible in the same way it is interpreted and presented in most of the North. This ideological difference and subsequent argument led the churches of the South to start missions in North America, while North America continued to defend their position by appealing to the interpretation and exegetical study of the scripture.

In the midst of highly political and emotional debate, the North, in my opinion, missed the root cause of the South’s objection. Vociferous and often malicious objection by the South, I believe, was its reaction to yet another denouncement of their beliefs and moral and ethical code. Churches of the South recited everything about sexuality and other moral issues as they had been taught by missionaries. The confusing, alarming and puzzling part for them—at least those church members with whom I’ve spoken—is that Western churches once again are deriding their theology and are imposing their interpretation on the South. They resent this.

The Anglican Church of Canada continues to evolve into a multicultural and multi-ethnic church. The congregation I serve in the suburbs of Winnipeg is multiracial, to say the least. Listening to and ministering to new Canadians (especially those in a visible ethnic minority) regarding their struggle to find their voice—on issues that include but are certainly not limited to equal marriage and human sexuality—forces me to reflect on the spiritual trauma ethnic communities are dealing with in our own churches. That trauma may seem rooted purely in the way these communities interpret the Bible, along with the moral code that flows from their biblical inquiry but differs from prevailing Canadian views. Yet, it’s also grounded in the refusal by the church at large to acknowledge the existence and diversity of these communities—to create a place for them at the table.

Thus, their objection and discomfort are neither acknowledged nor appreciated by their own church. In more than one way, visible ethnic minorities in the Anglican Church of Canada feel that they have to either go along with the dominant culture or be willing to face discrimination and ostracization.

Is the church post-colonial?

Post-colonialism is the study and examination of the legacy that colonialism and neocolonialism left on colonized individuals, society and cultures. In other words, post-colonialism is a reaction to and departure from colonialism. It can be argued that post-colonial thought and practice assumes that the colonial era has come to an end and that the colonizers are ready and willing to move into a new relationship and paradigm with the colonized. Thus, a post-colonial and post-imperial church should be committed to the study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism and their effects on colonized people: the systematic and deliberate stripping and demonization of their cultural practices and beliefs through the imposition of Christian faith. It should also consider how the dignity and integrity of the colonized can be restored. A way to return humanity back to the colonized would be to let go of the parliamentary system of governance, where majority and the powerful rule, and replace it with a system where diversity of opinion, religious practices, ethnicity and cultural heritage are celebrated, preserved and allowed to prosper through mutual respect for one another.

Based on my reflection on and my experience of the Anglican Church of Canada as it relates to the treatment of visible ethnic minorities and on the church’s model of governance, structure and otherwise, I firmly believe that it is not a post-colonial and post-imperial church. Doctrinal subjugation of the masses and centralization of power and authority, predominantly among Caucasian and male members of the church, rule out a post-colonial existence.

However, it is not a colonial church, either. The Anglican Church of Canada is in a neocolonial paradigm in which it is still using its cultural, financial (such as grants) and doctrinal pressures to control and influence former dependencies.

Given the current structures of the church, the vision of the kingdom of God in the here and now—that we, with all people, of every language, race and nation, may share the banquet God has promised—is out of the church’s present reach. But we know that with God, all things are possible. Genuine efforts, through critical reflection on the church’s modus operandi with the courage to correct and change it, will move the church from the neocolonial to the post-colonial. When this happens, the church will be brought one step closer to realizing the gathering of all the nations, races and expressions of humanity in the kingdom of justice, peace and equality.

The Rev. Edmund Laldin is incumbent of the Parish of St. Saviour, Winnipeg. The primary focus of his ministry is to cultivate and nurture a culture of inclusion.


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