The Declaration was a kind of “renewal of vows” to the original 1994 Indigenous Covenant and Journey of Spiritual Renewal that acknowledged the immense damage wrought on Indigenous peoples by colonization, and covenanted to creating an Indigenous self-determining community within the Anglican Church of Canada.
I will never forget that Bishop Mark responded; “this isn’t Indigenous Anglicans threatening to leave, this is Indigenous peoples threatening to stay”.
The answer hit me like a tonne of bricks and humbled me beyond measure. It has stayed with me the last 6 years and I repeat it to the many people I hear wondering about or criticizing Indigenous self-determination in the Anglican Church of Canada.
You see, in a lot of ways, it would be easier for the non-Indigenous, settler Church if Indigenous people just left. Yep, I said it. If Indigenous Anglicans left, the non-Indigenous, settler Church would wring its hands and likely genuinely mourn the departure, but would never have to directly address the racism and white supremacy that is very much at play in the Church, or put real effort into dismantling systems of colonialism and oppression within its structures. The threat to stay is a threat to power imbalances, laurel-resting, tokenism and comfort.
It might be easier, but in my opinion it would be a devastating blow to and maybe even the end of the Anglican Church’s efforts to pursue the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
I only wish that non-Indigenous Anglicans would fully experience and accept the incredible gift that Indigenous Anglicans’ “threat” to stay really is.
The gift is an opportunity for the non-Indigenous Church to become more Christ-like — in its structures, decision-making processes, treatment of those on the margins and in so many other ways. The gift is an opportunity to learn from the Indigenous Church — in formative tools like Gospel-Based Discipleship, and consensus decision-making, among others. The gift is a genuine invitation to healing and wholeness.
Instead, the most common response I hear is, “But who is going to pay for it?”.
I want to turn the question back on the non-Indigenous Church. How shall it be paid for? Because at the end of the day, colonial systems (of which the Anglican Church/Church of England is arguably the most successful, according to the Rev. Dr. Martin Brokenleg) thrive on and become prosperous based on the dispossession and oppression of the colonized — in this case Indigenous peoples. Restorative justice calls us not simply to apologise, but to become involved in a dialogue-based restitutional approach that rights wrongs, and redistributes wealth and power.
Jesus did not say “my love and grace and care are for those who can afford it”. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The early Church of the book of Acts shared wealth and made sure no one went hungry or was left without being ministered to. It was assumed that where there were fewer financial resources, there were other gifts that were necessary — in fact vital to — the community. Can we dare to imagine this?
So, to Indigenous peoples, I want to say, “Thank you for staying. Many times I am humbled that you would even want to. Thank you for the gifts you continue to bring to the community.”
To the non-Indigenous Church, I want to say, “Let’s not allow this gift to pass us by. Let’s listen hard to what Indigenous peoples are telling us, learn from them, and find creative and Spirit-led ways to support the vision so we can all heal together.”
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