(This article was first published in the November issue of the Anglican Journal.)
Each night before putting our son to bed, we read a few stories from our children’s Bible. There are stories of Adam and Eve, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of Deborah and Ruth, of Jesus, Mary, Martha and the other disciples.
This particular collection positions itself as a book of timeless children’s stories, but as an adult reader I am aware of what’s not included. Absent, understandably, from the text are some of the trickier elements of our Christian story-the stoning of Stephen, the voices of the prophets, and the passages where God’s people commit rape, murder and genocide.
In late September, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) came to Vancouver. Along with representatives from Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and United churches, many Anglicans played an active role in the various aspects of the TRC, from the All Nations Canoe Gathering to the Walk for Reconciliation and everything in between.
On the second afternoon, listening to the stories of survivors, I found myself overwhelmed by the gravity of it all. I was shaken by the brutality of the abuse doled out in the name of Jesus. I was overwhelmed by the failures of our church to practise the gospel we proclaim with our lips, and overwhelmed by my own implication in these grievous sins. I stood convicted in my ignorance of these shameful stories, which I did not know nearly as well as the stories of glory and triumpth we’re much more likely to tell.
While some survivors shared stories that appear to be resolving with hope, many more continue to find themselves walking through the valley of the shadow of death. “Residential school is where I learned about hatred, anger and rage,” one survivor related. Rather than teaching and practising the fruits of the spirit, we sowed seeds of another kind-seeds that continue to bear fruit to this day.
During the gathering, I was captivated by the bravery of one young woman whose parents were both residential school survivors. As the churches gathered to listen to survivor stories, and to offer apology, this woman shared: “The things that my mom and dad couldn’t do for me, I want to do for my children: tell them I love them.”
For those of us who are settlers, and the descendants of settlers, we have a long way to go as we walk for reconciliation. A part of that requires that we own the complex, inexplicable and shameful aspects of our story. We must move beyond the childish ways of telling stories that glorify the church and its history while ignoring the trickier parts. If we are to move forward, together in reconciliation, we must own our history, acknowledge our complicity and seek to walk in repentance and reconciliation.