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Why Canadian Baptist Group Apologized to Indigenous People

Editor’s note: the following column may contain material that could be disturbing to some readers.

In his book, “Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams,” Benjamin Myers tells a fascinating story.

A Scottish theologian, Elisabeth Templeton, asked a group of bishops how they would answer a stranger who, waiting at a bus stop, asks them to explain the Trinity in two minutes before his bus arrived.

“I would say, ‘You’ll have to be prepared to miss your bus,’ replied the first bishop. Williams turn was next. ‘I would ask the person where he is going, then accompany him on his journey.’”

Throughout the history of Canadian Baptists and our international mission efforts (since 1874), we have sought to faithfully walk alongside and accompany “the other” wherever we’ve been called to serve.

Often, this has meant advocating for the rights of indigenous people in those places.

One of the earliest examples of this was the influence of Canadian Baptist missionaries in Bolivia on the enactment of the Bill for Religious Freedom in 1905.

This ultimately led to significant land reform and defense of the rights of aboriginal people.

Due to Canadian Baptist Ministries’ (CBM) culturally sensitive approach, in the 1970s, two indigenous African denominations sought the assistance of CBM despite it being the height of the “missionary moratorium” in that region. These remain an important part of CBM’s work and history.

Sadly, the systemic injustice that has been historically perpetrated on indigenous people is not isolated to any one country. This is an ongoing reality in many of the places we work.

Our own country is not exempt from this tragic legacy of discrimination and racism.

The dark history of Canada reveals a story in which indigenous people have been treated as the unwanted other since the arrival of the first European explorers.

The lasting wounds that have been inflicted upon our First Nations brothers and sisters have resulted in multigenerational pain that we cannot ignore.

Throughout history, the church has often turned away and failed to engage the stranger, the other, with love, acceptance and the quest for truth. However, we must resist fight-or-flight mentality. We are called to engage.

We believe the first step is listening to one another so a deeper understanding of the pain and brokenness might be attained.

With this in mind, on October 2016, I issued a formal apology on behalf of CBM at an indigenous conference held at a church in Kitchener, Ontario.

This was in response to one of the clarion calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report that asks the faith community’s public response “to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

As Christ followers, we understand that apologizing (asking and receiving forgiveness for deeds done or not done) to God and each other is at the heart of the journeying together to reconciliation. It is something we need to do individually and collectively.

However, this particular task of drafting an apology was challenging because of our congregationalist ecclesiology and because CBM is only one of many Canadian Baptist partners in our national landscape.

I couldn’t speak on behalf of everyone, but I could give a glimpse into the feelings of regret from those with whom I shared this concern.

A resounding majority of the church leaders surveyed affirmed the need to proceed with this apology.

The final version integrates the input I received from across our country and contains the wording, direction and intention of the church leaders interviewed. I hope it helps you work through the process if God is calling you and your church to respond.

The full apology is available here.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (Aug. 9). Other articles in the series are:

Seeking True Repentance for Western Christians’ Colonialism | Jonathan Langley

Terry Smith

Terry Smith is executive director of Canadian Baptist Ministries.