Since 1995 when South Africa initiated its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the world has been abuzz with this new word “reconciliation” generally in the context of conflict resolution. According to wikipedia, 17 other countries including Canada have since initiated their own Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. That list does not include efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, Britain and Northern Ireland, Tutsis and Hutus, Serbs and the Muslims in Bosnia, Blacks and Whites in US, rich and poor, etc..
So what has reconciliation to do with us living in the “The Best Place on Earth”? Is Canada not already known for its human rights, peace keeping and multiculturalism? Indeed for those enjoying BC’s layback life style and post card like cityscape, it is tempting even for Christians to agree with that political mantra and that this is close to being in heaven.
Let us reason together
Start from where we all can agree: that despite our covenant to manage the creation as recorded in Genesis 9, all man have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The extent of our mismanagement have been both personal and communal. Despite the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, most evangelicals still focus on personal sins and piety but miss out on broader communal sins and ethics. By missing our general calling, we unconsciously participate or support environmental destruction, economic exploitation, racism, militarism, gentrification, etc.. Yet Roman 6:1-4 reminds us we cannot continue to live in sin and mismanage the creation. While God will finally deliver the creation from being held in bondage to man's depravity, sin has been, and is, the cause of all sufferings and groaning of the creation.
As the above may be too general a statement to prove the need for reconciliation in BC, we will highlight two people groups who suffered much injustice in BC: both disenfranchised until late 1940’s, both excluded from given free tracks of land for homesteading in 1875 and both subjected to at least a century of racism.
The truth regarding aboriginals
Their heart-wrenching truth is so well-hidden that most Christians accept politicians’ answer: the government is spending billions on the aboriginals annually but they choose to live their own life style (in abject poverty). To make such more believable, our government even have a ministry renamed Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation (MARR), in addition to creating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) in 2008 to tell the crimes committed within native residential schools. However such liberal uses of the word give two false impressions about reconciliation. One is that reconciliation is a top down effort and we as grassroots are just bystanders to a reconciliation show. The second is that forgiveness is expected from victims while repentance is not demanded from perpetrators. That is reflected by TRC not requiring the perpetrators of crimes to meet their victims and admit their guilt, and by the unrepentant MARR which continues to ignore aboriginal titles and rights.
From two decades of sojourning with aboriginals, I see the truth as far from closure and the ending of enmity implied by the word. Recently I ran into a distraught native mom whose 3 day old baby was taken away by Ministry of Children & Family Development (MCFD). That is the 6th children taken from her to foster homes, with the six costing MCFD at least $10,000 per month! More shocking is that four generations of her family were apprehended as children: her grandmother and mom into residential schools, herself and all her children into foster homes. The excuse for removing her baby is her lack of “intellectual and psychological capacity”! So instead of healing and empowering their traumatized victims, our government chose to re-victimize them resulting in natives representing 60% of BC's fostered children population!! Such defacto continuation of the residential school system flies in the face of TRC and is one of the many reasons why reconciliation with aboriginals is desperately needed.
What historic backdrop molded attitudes towards Chinese:
It should surprise no one that the rise of the British Empire came at the cost of many countries they tried to colonize. When China lost the Opium War to stop the imposed opium trade by Britain, it ceded to Britain the colony of Hong Kong and $21 million in reparations. Towards end of the 19th century, China’s coastline was cut up into spheres of influence for eight foreign nations including Britain and US. The pillage of ancient, cultural artifacts and the looting of Beijing and the Forbidden City by Eight-Nation Alliance just added to the misery, distrust and tension.
The powerful Church of England missed the church’s prophetic role and chose to bless what England did including its colonial expansion. Had it been faithful to the Kingdom of God rather than to that of men, the Church could have prevented massive colonial injustice.
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1858 also nurtured the illusion that western culture was more highly evolved and so should survive. This fueled the superiority complex among BC’s white settlers who needed but did not want the Chinese to build the white colony.
Racism was also buoyed by Eugenics, the study and practice of selective breeding to improve the human species. Although made notorious by Nazi Germany, Eugenics was enforced by law in British Columbia and Alberta. In February 1935, 65 Chinese “lunatics” were shipped back to China using their mental state as an excuse. In BC such related Act was not repealed until 1972.
The above together with the late withdrawal of all discriminatory legislations against Chinese in 1967, may explain why Trudeau’s new policy of Multiculturalism in the 70’s with no accompanying apology was a hollow response to a century of racism towards Chinese-Canadians.
Why do Christians need to get engaged?
For Christians charged with the care of the creation, we need to realize we live in the shadow of an Empire which colonized this province we call home now. Like Paul the apostle who was a Roman citizen living in a Roman colony, we can either claim all the privileges of the Empire’s citizenship or we declare its irrelevance by submitting ourselves to the higher demands to citizens of God’s Kingdom. Our challenge is to consider whether the sad history and conditions of others should be acknowledged and reconciled in this colony, whether the brokenness that marred our relationships with each other should be healed, and whether the perpetrators be restored to whole again.
In a time when false prophets are saying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace, Christians need to be reminded that we have all been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), with redemption being the restoration and fulfillment of God’s purposes in creation (cosmos) and not just in individual man. It is God’s will that in all things he might have the preeminence. And continuing in Col 1: 20 “….. by him to reconcile all things …… whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven”.
Shalom is not just an absence of war. The biblical drama of the chosen people reveals the reign of God manifested within the chosen people’s history and culture. So God’s people today must reflect God’s justice, mercy and peace likewise within our history and culture. To avoid the criticism that Christianity is “the opium of the people”, God’s people need to acknowledge man’s sins in ALL culture and history so that ALL man can be humbled to a collective desire to heal, to honour, to restore and to reconcile.
Bill Chu is the Chair of Canadians For Reconciliation Society, member of Missionsfest board of reference, founding member of China Graduate School of Theology's Canadian Board. Canadians For Reconciliation is a peaceful non-partisan grassroots movement committed to developing a new relationship with Aboriginal people, one that signifies a deep apology for past injustice, a willingness to honor truth now and a resolve to embrace each other in the new millennium. That role may surprise even himself since he is a first generation immigrant from Hong Kong arriving with no idea of what happened between the Indigenous nations and Canada. Over the years he is responsible for listening to many Aboriginals, for founding CFR in 2001, for taking approximately 1500 non-Aboriginals to Mt. Currie, for inviting natives to participate in the Chinese New Year parade for the last 13 years, for writing or responding to some Aboriginal issues and for initiating the 2004 historic banquet attended by 600 aboriginals, Chinese and Canadians. In 2006, Bill was one of the three representing Vancouver in a Toronto meeting with the Harper Government representatives which resulted in the Chinese Head Tax settlement.