This is written as we are learning of the discovery of 93 potential burial sites associated with the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School that operated at Williams Lake First Nation, B.C., from 1886 to 1981. Many of us feel a grief painfully amplified by the gradual but noticeable disappearance of residential school grave discoveries from public consideration and conversation.
We have a residual search for those we can blame and, yes, we must identify the culprits, especially admitting that the colonial churches were an animating factor in this horror. But the acts of deadly dehumanization we see here involve a much larger culture-wide reality. If we simply find a few to blame, we will never come close to understanding the fullness of the destructive and deep moral wound. There is a moral disease that is shared by the whole of the nation known as Canada and its colonizing parents.
Scripture promises the gift of repentance, the growing Spirit-led capacity to recognize wrong—corporate and individual—and to live in the opposite direction. The persecutor becomes the apostle; the tax collector becomes the philanthropic evangelist to the poor; the nation that commits genocide commits itself to costly and sacrificial justice. There is only one vocation permitted to a people who have perpetrated crimes against humanity. They must become a shining city on a hill, a foretaste of the World to Come.
Scripture also warns of a bewitchingly attractive false adoption of a style of repentance: play acting—corporate and individual—in which a hideous evil hides, dripping with bold hypocrisy. We are told that those of us who have the form of religion must be particularly on-guard for this deadliest moral disease.
We do grow in our understanding of evil, over time, and in our responsibility to live its opposite. The bold sermons of last summer may disappear from our pulpits but the Spirit still places the ember of repentance in our hearts. Mercy is still promised in an abundance that makes an entirely new life possible, even among the reluctant. Jesus promised us overwhelming love and forgiveness, but he warned us not to run from this new life in empty expressions of good will, a practiced stance of deep listening that justifies our lack of commitment to the right. Today, our corporate and communal existence as a body of believers is called to a goodness and sacrificial love that will bring untold joy, a reality that can only be described as resurrection. Pray God the mercy to find it, to live it.