“With All Your People”: On the Anglican Church of Canada’s Treatment of BIPOC People

Image: Richard Horvath, https://unsplash.com/@orwhat

Life-giving and transformative conversations and dialogues are difficult for both listener and speaker. They are difficult because they mandate honesty, vulnerability, trust and the willingness to listen to one another. For example, talking about white privilege, white fragility, and racism in the Anglican Church of Canada is arduous. The speaker in these situations can either gloss over reality and say pleasant yet misleading statements, or speak the truth. Speaking the truth, as mentioned earlier, is transformative and life-giving to both parties. This conversation has chosen the latter to enunciate racialized communities’ feelings, disappointments, remorse and angst.

Many years ago, in a course I was in on Inter-cultural ministry, the facilitator asked the participants to step onto a place which represented them. The indicated spots on the floor showed education, age, experience, and profession. Two of us, an Indigenous man and a visible minority, were standing in the most supposedly privileged and respected spot. We were above every white participant. The facilitator told us that despite our place on the grid, we are not privileged in the Anglican Church of Canada and in society. His proclamation burst the proverbial bubble and demanded further reflection from both of us.

Religious sociologists advise us that new Canadians, despite their ethnicity, are flocking to Roman Catholic churches and Evangelical churches because of the universal primacy of the Pope (Roman Catholic Church), and freedom to express one’s faith (Evangelical churches). Incidentally, new Canadians from the Anglican Communion provinces visit neighbourhood Anglican churches and most leave after a short time.

The main reason to leave is the colonization of their homelands. Christian missionaries, as we know, closely followed their empires to various parts of the world to preach the gospel. The basic premise was to convert heathens and to make them in the likeness of the state and dominant religion. It was the way to eternal life. Local cultural and religious practices were deemed witchcraft and were condemned. Those who converted followed the biblical moral code, as understood by colonial Christianity and presented as the wishes of and from God. As a result, polygamous, polyamorous, and homosexual societies and cultures morphed into the likeness of missionaries and their interpretation of the bible. Whether this was good or bad is a conversation for another day. Local communities of the day gave up their ways of living, their religion, and moral and ethical codes to believe in God and the moral code of the bible. Incidentally, any other expression of sexuality except heterosexual, monogamous marriages as valued by colonial Christian nations was understood to be against God’s will and thus understood to be purely evil.

New Canadians from the former colonies are traumatised because of doctrinal, dogmatic and theological discrimination in the Anglican Church of Canada’s churches. This trauma has shown up in the Anglican Church’s rejection of their own missionaries’ (colonisers) biblical moral code. Their Church neither acknowledges nor appreciates the objection and discomfort of many BIPOC persons. The irony is that the dominant culture’s interpretation should replace BIPOC persons’ faithfulness to the colonial biblical moral code.

Furthermore, dominant cultures ridicule BIPOC peoples’ accents, clothing, food, and mannerisms. There is no BIPOC bishop, dean or executive archdeacon in the Anglican Church of Canada. No BIPOC person was on the episcopal election ballot. Leadership, several times, has silenced BIPOC persons’ forthright and free-thinking clerics’ voices and opinions and have called them arrogant and disruptive influences. In conclusion, one can say that the Anglican Church of Canada is a neo-colonial church where roles are predefined, with white persons enjoying the privilege, believing they can speak for BIPOC persons.

The stories of Joseph and Moses are classic examples of shared privilege, authority and leadership between the captors and the captive. The salient features of Joseph’s story are as follows:

His father is Jacob; he had eleven brothers; he was his father’s favourite son; he could interpret dreams; his brothers were jealous of him; the brothers sold him to the Egyptians; his master’s wife accused him of sexual advances; while in prison, Pharoah heard Joseph correctly interpret Pharoah’s dreams; Joseph was appointed to a higher office and navigated the Egyptians through a severe famine; his family joined him in Egypt.

Whereas highlights of Moses’ life are:

The Pharoah, before Moses’ birth, had decided to kill every Hebrew baby boy; his mother hid him from the murderers; when she could not hide him, his mother placed him in a basket and committed it to the river Nile; Egyptian princess found him and hired Moses’ mother as a nanny; Moses grew up in the house of Pharoah; he knew of his heritage; he led his people out of Egypt to the promised land.

The success of Moses and Joseph is due to the Pharoahs’ acceptance and acknowledgement of their abilities. The Pharoah did not convert but allowed Joseph and Moses to live according to their values. They were confidantes, advisors and leaders of their kings.

Both stories unequivocally present the partnership model between different cultures regardless of religion, creed, gender identification, theological positions and status. In our context, the dominant culture should share authority and decision-making with BIPOC people. The Church needs to be

liberated from a few privileged, all-knowing and believing white persons. The leadership must walk the talk instead of passing resolutions and issuing charters to pacify BIPOC persons. The 2007 General Synod authorised the Charter for Racial Justice in the Church. Sixteen years later, the Church has not implemented a single recommendation. They have, however, established another commission to discuss the issue again and make changes.

Nevertheless, they have failed to hire BIPOC persons in senior management positions. In 2020, the General Synod announced that a BIPOC person should be the next General Secretary. In the end, the new General Secretary is a white cleric. When confronted, the leadership would present the desire for a BIPOC General Secretary as a significant step forward for racial justice. In reality, the message to the broader constituency is that leadership believes that no BIPOC person is qualified for the position. It is another iteration of the neo-colonial attitude and subjugation of BIPOC people.

The Book of Alternative Services’ fourth Eucharistic Prayer concludes with the following vision of God’s kingdom:

Pour out your Spirit upon the whole earth and make it your new creation. Gather your Church together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom, where peace and justice are revealed, that we, with all your people, of every language, race, and nation, may share the banquet you have promised.

The above vision’s realization depends on the multi-racial leadership and community in the Anglican Church of Canada. Otherwise, the privileged class will adopt another charter and eighteen years later, a BIPOC preacher will stand and say, “How long will neo-colonial and discriminatory reign last?”

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