The Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada is an important step in coming to terms with the painful past of how the First Nations people of Canada have been treated. It is a process that the Presbyterian Church in Canada has been involved with for over twenty years. As Christians we are called to confession for our denominations past wrongs. This includes how we have treated First Nations peoples.
Truth & Reconciliation
Ahab, king of Samaria goes down as one of the worst kings we read about in scripture. In the passage from 1 Kings Ahab wants to own Naboth’s vineyard. He wants to turn it into a vegetable garden because it is close to the palace. Ahab makes a reasonable offer, he will provide another vineyard that is better or will pay whatever the vineyard is worth.
Naboth is unwilling to sell because the land belonged to his ancestors. This sends Ahab into a bit of a tizzy. We read he was depressed and angry because he didn’t get what he wanted. Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, develops a plan. She sends out letters asking the elders of Naboth’s city to bring false charges against him.
The story continues beyond our reading today. The elders indeed bring false charges against Naboth, who is stoned to death. When news reaches the palace, Ahab goes and claims Naboth’s vineyards as his own.
However, as he arrives so does God’s prophet Elijah. Elijah says to Ahab, “… You have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
Take a moment and consider this story. Ahab wants something that isn’t his, he and his wife develop a scheme. The result is the death of a man and Ahab getting what he wanted. But God sees.
Ahab and Jezebel were corrupted by their power. They abused that power and it resulted in a disregard for human life. Their greed distorted their understanding of God’s justice. They took something which was not theirs to take.
Consider the reading from Galatians this morning. It is a remarkable piece of scripture that speaks to our equality before God. Consider what the passage says and what it does not say.
In writing this passage Paul does not say that we can forget the law. That the law is or is not instructive. That there are no differences between Jews and Gentiles or men and women. This passage does not say that slavery will end. What this passage says is that Jesus Christ is the great equalizer. That in Christ Jesus we are all one. In other words, all the distinctions of socio-economic class, race, culture, gender, sexuality, nationality and whatever else you can think of that humanity has constructed to divide people don’t matter to God. In Christ, we are one. As far as God is concerned we are equal.
When we stop and look at things, many of our human constructs of class and gender prejudice are incompatible with the values of Jesus.
Hearing these two passages in light of the Truth and Reconciliation Confession reminds us that those early settlers or colonists who came to the land we call Canada may not have acted in the First Nations people’s best interest. In many instances, through our modern lens, we know that they didn’t. Treaties were signed that were not understood and treaties were signed which were broken.
In addition, the Doctrine of Discovery gave those early explorers carte blanche to do as they wanted. Issued on May 4, 1493 by Pope Alexander VI this proclamation holds that ‘when European nations ‘discovered’ non-Europeans lands, they gained special rights over that land, such as sovereignty and title, regardless of what other peoples live on that land (reference).
When I was taught history in grade school it was always of brave explorers and colonists searching for new lands. It was always noble and very factual. Consideration for the First Nations point of view was never given. I suppose in the next few years as my own children go through the school system I will learn if Canada’s history is being taught differently.
The Residential School system and its legacy demonstrates that the actions of the church and the government were wrong. Taking children from their homes to Christianize them was wrong. Other abuses that happened, sexual and violent, were also wrong. As a church we have apologized and repented for our actions and we continue to work with First Nations communities towards healing.
The passage from 1 Kings with Ahab and Naboth demonstrates how relationships can break down. How our own actions distort our understanding of God and the relationship we hold with one another in Jesus Christ. Galatians reminds us that in Christ we are all equal.
I want to share a story from Linda Patton-Cowie. Linda is the minister at St. Mark’s in Orillia and is the convener of the Healing and Reconciliation Advisory Committee.
Cindy Blackstock is the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. She is a member of the Gitxsan First Nation in British Columbia. Cindy is an advocate for the rights of Indigenous children. She works to keep children and families together and to ensure they have every opportunity to be happy and healthy. This includes identifying discrimination and fighting against it.
In 2007 she and the Society took their landmark child welfare case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. In 2016 the Tribunal found that the Government of Canada racially discriminated against 163,000 First Nations children by denying them the same funding for child protection, education and health as other Canadian kids. Indigenous children receive between 22 and 34 percent less funding than non-Indigenous children.
Cindy is determined to make sure discrimination is made visible, and to stand up against it. She says it’s our job as adults to stand up for kids. I agree. The prophet Isaiah spoke poetically of a time when “a little child shall lead them…” (Isaiah 11:6). We should listen to the voices of all children, so we can recognize the gift that all children are. We should not ignore Cindy’s wisdom: “Children are the keepers of the possible and they are experts in love and fairness so when a weary country cannot find its way forward, it need only grasp the hands of the young children to be guided lovingly and firmly forward.”
Our passages from both 1 Kings and Galatians demonstrate that God has a desire for justice and equality. As we consider our relationships with one another and with First Nations people let us remember that in Christ Jesus we are one. Amen.