Where is God in the residential schools crisis?

Published November 1, 2000

ARCHBISHOP Michael Peers, the Primate, is fond of looking at complex, sometimes seemingly hopeless situations, and then after delivering himself of a long, incisive analysis of the way things are, of pausing and wondering aloud “Where is God in all this?” It is always an apt question, yet it almost always comes as a surprise. Too often, in the midst of life’s complexities, we forget to wonder where God is; we forget to look for God.

Where is God in the residential schools crisis that is shaking the Canadian church to its very foundations? The answer may not be readily apparent, but some plausible possibilities are interesting to think about. Is it possible, for instance, that God is in the trenches with His church? Is it possible that on those days when the situation seems unbearably sad and inexorably hopeless, that the touch on a shoulder that counsels survival for just one more day is the touch of God?

And where in the myriad responses to this crisis that have come from people across the country, lies the response of God? Readers of this newspaper and of MinistryMatters have at times, expressed extreme frustration at the longevity of this crisis. Enough, they have said, talk about something else. Is this the voice of God, counselling us to get on with His work? Others have sought a somewhat facile solace in the Gospels that speak of a church to last to the end of times, and in that context, they argue that the life or death of a church, the life or death of General Synod, matters little since the work of God shall continue. Is this, perhaps, the voice of God, telling us that faith in his word will see us through? Still others, perhaps the majority of Anglican church members, may wince in pain when the subject is brought up, but remain, for the most part, silent. Is this God? Silent? Uninterested?

Where is God in all this?

In a sermon preached in Toronto recently, Archbishop Peers quoted the British poet Christopher Fry in describing the residential schools crisis as an affair that is “soul size.”

A more contemporary British writer, poet and playwright Robert Bolt once put the following words in the mouth of Thomas More: “If (God) suffers us to fall to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can and yes, then we may clamour like champions if we have the spittle for it. But it’s God’s part, not our own, to bring ourselves to that extremity. Our natural business lies in escaping.”

Are we there yet? Is it possible that God counsels escape? That God wishes the Anglican church, even its General Synod, to survive?

Complex issues, of which this is surely one, frequently have a simplistic element to them. Beyond their history and the pain and the vast human element of the residential schools tragedy is a story that, at this time and place, has become a political story, as anything does that lands before the courts or, for that matter, before Parliament.

Anglicans across the country, through their dioceses and parish clergy have recently been invited to initiate and participate in a letter-writing campaign to their elected representatives, in effect leaning on them to seek a quick, humane resolution to this problem. The church seeks a resolution that would place at the forefront the work it is already doing in healing and reconciliation. It seeks a resolution that would see its own survival, not without pain, not without cost, not without change, but its survival, so that it might continue the healing work that it does so well.

Perhaps God has placed the future of this work, of this church, in the hands of you, its members.

There is, in the Anglican church membership, the potential for the better part of a million letters arriving in Ottawa urging that the pain and suffering of this episode in Canadian history be brought to a reasonable and hopeful close.

There can be absolutely no doubt about the efficacy of this tactic, should the church membership choose the course suggested. Perhaps this course of action, affording a means to pursue in Bolt’s words, the “natural business” of survival, is where God is in this shameful, deplorable episode. Anglicans should respond. Their failure to do so, after all, will speak as eloquently to government as an avalanche of letters.

“My prayer,” said Archbishop Peers in the sermon referred to above, “is that the Spirit of God will give us courage and hope to carry on, not to weary of our Lord’s call to be converted, not to weary of doing justice. I will strive – we will strive – for justice and peace among all people.”

Courage, hope, justice, peace. . . Perhaps that is where God is.


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