Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: reconciliation

But they are different from us

When I was a boy I read historical novels by Canadian and English writers. The hero was always English, honest, brave, generous and kind. Other people were shifty-eyed, dishonest, traitorous scoundrels. As I was an English Canadian, I accepted this as self-evident truth.

Later I learned to read French and found historical novels in that language were exactly like the English novels – except the kind, generous, honest and brave hero was French and the dishonourable scoundrels were English. I have learned that there is at least as much, if not more, evidence to support this latter point of view as for the first. We absorb the attitudes of the time and place we live in, and it is good to examine the attitudes we take for granted.  

Plantation owners in the southern states needed workers skilled in growing cotton, or rice in coastal areas. They found the people they needed in Africa and brought them over as slaves.

Plantation owners were Christians; to own another human being didn’t seem right. But they already had beliefs about class distinctions and it was just a short step for apologists to explain that below the lowest classes of humanity there were these animals that looked almost human, but had no soul.

Even though the Africans had skills in the cultivation of cotton and rice that their white owners lacked, the owners seized on the idea that the Africans were domestic livestock and treated them accordingly. Still, they did their best to ensure that slaves would never see poor white people or free black people. The tragic effects of these false ideas linger on in the lives of both white and black people.

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory taught that there are different races of humanity and the white race is more highly evolved than the others. He taught that the white race was destined to supplant all the other (inferior) races. Modern science agrees with the Bible that there is only one human race, yet ideas of white superiority still linger.

The people of the area that is now Rwanda and Burundi are Bantu who all speak the same language. The Tutsi were the governing aristocracy, the common people were Hutu. There was intermarriage and social mobility between the two groups. When Europeans, first Germans then Belgians, became colonial masters of this region, they saw the Tutsi as more European in appearance, therefore superior, and governed the colonies through them.

The Tutsi found this agreeable, the Hutu not so much. The upshot was a Hutu uprising in Burundi in 1972 which ended in the killing of 80,000 to 200,000 Hutu by the Tutsi army. Then came the Rwanda genocide of 1994 where the Hutu set about to eliminate the Tutsi from their country, killing 800,000 to 1,000,000. 

Both countries have made strides towards reconciliation. From the first, the distinction between the Tutsi and Hutu existed only in people’s minds, not in physical, linguistic or religious difference.

Before the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, there was little friction between Jews and other German citizens. Hitler was an evangelist, inspiring German people to believe in a revival of their nobility. From 1933 to 1939 the Nazis flooded the country with propaganda about the danger the Jews were to the welfare of the nation. Research institutes published glossy books with pseudoscientific information about the degradation of the Jewish race. Popular movies, novels, comic books reinforced those stereotypes in the conscience of the German people.

Hitler said next to nothing about the Jews during those six years. Then in 1939 he spoke forcefully about the need to eliminate the Jewish danger. By then the propaganda had taken effect on the conscience of the German people. After the war many Germans, although they deplored Nazi atrocities, believed the Jews had brought them upon themselves by being so different from other Germans. The Nazi propaganda machine created that perceived difference.

The Roman Catholic Church dominated Quebec for generations, telling people it was their protection against the hordes of Anglos around them and if anyone left the mother church, they would also abandon the French language. That was a self-fulfilling prophecy; the church ran the schools, hospitals and pretty much everything else. If someone joined a different church, the priests would ensure they became pariahs to their catholic neighbours.

That era ended with the Quiet Revolution of 1960. Church attendance in Quebec is now the lowest of any province or state in North America. Yet a suspicion of other denominations remains.

We English Canadians have no such problem, do we? Or are we just ignorant of our own prejudices and their roots?

The Orange Order dominated politics in English Canada for generations; they believed that only WASP’s (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants) were worthy of being citizens. Other people were second-class citizens, and should have no influence on government, nor any consideration from government.

After the union of Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec today) in 1841, Orangemen fomented a series of riots in Toronto to cement their influence. They were the inspiration behind the 1847 riot in Montreal that culminated in burning the parliament building.

When the prairies opened for settlement 100 years ago, Clifford Sifton, an Orangeman, was minister of immigration. He scoured Eastern Europe for settlers who would assimilate to the English language and submerge the French already settled in the west. Orangemen in government were behind the decision a few years later to close all non-English schools. French schools were the target, other schools were collateral damage.

I attended public schools at a time when the curriculum taught the Orange Order’s perception of Canadian reality. The influence of the Orange Order waned over the years and French schools were once more allowed to operate. But when a concept of the superiority of one group of people guides government policy for so many years, prejudice does not soon wither away. We are going to be suspicious of people whom we think different from us until we get to know them. We will have to step outside of our comfortable, familiar, bubble to do that, but we are apt to find that other people are pretty much like ourselves. Can we call ourselves Christians and still try to maintain ethnic and linguistic divisions?

WASPs and other Canadians

When I was young, WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), considered themselves to naturally be the epitome of all that was right and good. It was the privilege of the WASPs to grant each other entrance to the best schools, the best jobs and the best clubs. The Orange Lodge bears a large share of the responsibility for inculcating this attitude. To an Orangeman, anyone nonwhite, non-Anglo-Saxon, or non-Protestant was a threat to the good order of society.

In most of the historical novels I read as a boy, WASPs were portrayed as brave, honest, trustworthy and heroic. Everyone else was shifty-eyed, cowardly and obviously not to be trusted. Years later, after I learned to read French, I found exactly the same attitudes in French-language historical fiction for young people. Except that the roles were reversed: the French were honest, heroic and good and the WASPs were the ones who were shifty-eyed, cowardly and untrustworthy. I suspect the same self-congratulatory attitudes would be found in the literature of all peoples.

In the span of my lifetime attitudes have shifted radically. A large segment of our society wants to blame all the sins of the past on the WASPs, including many of the WASPs themselves. The WASP label is not much used anymore, the current term is White Privilege. All kinds of people are seeking reparation, thinking that punishing the representatives of White Privilege will somehow make life better for themselves.

I suppose that this might make some sense if there was any sign the other groups would then get along with each other. There doesn’t seem to be much chance of that. Blaming others, demeaning others, seeking retribution, are not ways to build a peaceful society.

Many of the abuses of the past were done in the name of Christianity. That makes the task of reconciliation difficult. Rejecting the Bible, rejecting the fundamental tenets of Christianity, leaves people with no landmarks, no shared sense of direction. Many believe they see a way forward, yet their goal constantly shifts and seems to get farther away. If nothing changes, current trends will lead to anarchy and chaos.

I did not choose the colour of my skin, my ethnic heritage or the religious affiliation of my parents. Neither did anyone else. It is not our job as Christians to defend the sins of the past, or to apologize for events in which we had no part. But it is our job as Christians to point out that reconciliation between people doesn’t work well when people are not reconciled to God. As Christians, we must believe and proclaim the whole counsel of God.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20.)

The cause of divisions

At one point in Jesus’ earthly ministry, those who doubted suggested that He performed miracles through the power of Beelzebub, or Satan. “But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:17-18)

Division is characteristic of our world today, in every area. There are conflicting ideas about nutrition and health, about child training, education, about the environment, about mental health, about the best way to help the poor and the homeless. There are conflicting truth claims about religion, conflicting doctrines among Christians. Does this mean that God is divided?

Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 7:29, says: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” That is, God wishes to lead mankind in a way that is upright and simple to understand, but we have invented innumerable alternatives to His way.

We didn’t invent those alternatives all by ourselves; we had help. The serpent in the Garden of Eden suggested to Eve that there was perhaps an alternative to God’s instruction about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since that time, Satan has made it his business to suggest to each one of us that we are being treated unfairly by others, even by God Himself. Although those suggestions come from outside ourselves, we become guilty when we accept them and act on them.

Satan is not divided against himself. Division is his stock in trade. He sows division between children and parents, husband and wife, between close friends and even between Christians. His goal is to cause division and mistrust until everyone stands alone, trusting no one but himself or herself. We see this between nations, in relations between employers and employees, between citizens and governments, between members of a congregation and their pastors.

This is not to say that there are not injustices. Those there are aplenty. But every time Satan suggests a way to alleviate an injustice he makes the situation worse. We should not think this to be an accident and that the remedy would work if only better people were put in charge. If we are listening to the suggestions of Satan, he will see to it that no permanent remedy can be achieved.

God offers a way to find peace in the midst of this chaos and to mend broken relationships. But we first have to become reconciled to the fact that we live in a broken and unjust world. We cannot expect that others will always treat us fairly; injustice is part of our lot in life. Our role is not to correct the injustices done by others, but to correct the injustices that we have done, to learn to treat others with respect and love so that we do not repeat our acts of injustice.

Jesus left us this promise in John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” One day He will return to judge all those who have been unjust in their dealings with others. May we not be found in that number.

Warfare: meteorological and spiritual

We have come to the month named after the Roman god of war.  It is not difficult to understand why, as we are in for a month long battle between the increasing warmth of the sun and the lingering power of winter.  Even little children know which force will eventually win this war, but there will be days when we see little evidence of the sun’s eventual victory.

This is much like the spiritual warfare that has been going on since the Creation.  By faith we know that the Lamb will be victorious, yet there are times when it is difficult to see much evidence of that.

And then there are days when the power of God shines brightly.  Young people who have wavered for years, the pull of the world almost more attractive than the call of the Spirit, break through to a full commitment bringing a peace that all can see.  Someone who has rebelled from God, and looked as bewildered as a deer in the headlights, suddenly radiates a sense of purpose and joy.  Brethren who have had a misunderstanding, each blaming and mistrusting the other, come to the cross and are broken and humbled, peace, confidence and brotherly love are restored.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:  (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)  Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. . . .  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  (Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 4, 5, 12 & 13)

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