Saturday, June 21, 2008

Post-Regent Post 1

Here are some of my musings regarding Christian missionaries and cultural imperialism. I recognise that some of what I say is overly simplistic and generalistic but this is a blog post and not an essay so please be generous as your read this if your understanding of Christian history is broader than mine.

While I was in Canada there was a formal apology from the leading political parties regarding the residential schools that were started by churches and funded by the government. Children from the age of six to sixteen were taken from their native Indian homes and placed into one of the boarding schools. They were beaten if they used their native language, and many children were both physically and sexually abused. Many of the children never saw their families again. The schools operated for some 80 years with the express intention of to "kill the Indian in the child".

I am not quite sure why but being in Canada I felt a need to apologise too. I have previously resisted being held accountable for the actions of previous generations, after all they were nothing to with me, I wasn't even born! But this time I came to realise that I need to recognise and where appropriate apologise for actions committed by my people. Not that I am in any way personally responsible for what happened, but as the representatives of those who have gone before we need to recognise the damage that our ancestors inflicted and respond appropriately. My changed reaction also highlighted to me how I identify myself: I am firstly a Christian and secondly English. The fact that it was primarily English settlers that started the schools did not grieve me as much as the fact that is was Christians who started these schools. It was primarily as a Christian that I am sorry for what happened. It was at least mildly encouraging that the churches in Canada had formally apologised some ten years previously.

The same day the apology was issued we reached chapter 15 in the book of Acts which is the council of Jerusalem where the early church leaders met to discuss whether the Gentile believers should be required to be circumcised. The council agreed that it would be wrong to require the Gentiles to continue a practise that was primarily Jewish and had no value regarding salvation. My mind immediately skipped forward nearly two thousand years to the early Christian settlers in Canada (and New Zealand and Australia for that matter) who arrived with the view that in order to be a Christian you had to basically abandon all indigenous cultural practises and practise Christianity as the settlers did. Now this is not to say that all Christian missionaries held this view, and I recognise that the missionaries did much to help the Aborigines that they encountered, and I recognise that there are various practises that the indigenous peoples who became Christians would have to break from (same as when the council of Jerusalem reminded the Gentiles to abstain from the sexual immorality that was common place at that time). But the language of "kill the Indian" shows that then as now Christians still wrestle with a number of issues as to what Christianity should look like in different cultural contexts. Makes me wonder how much of what I see as Christian practise is cultural and how much of it is biblical. Bearing in mind the Jerusalem council and that Christians have struggled with this in the last one hundred years we would be foolish to think that any of us are beyond making similar mistakes.

An editorial in a Canadian newspaper the following day was very striking. The title was "Apology meaningless without atonement". The understanding of Christ atonement on the cross has come increasingly under attack (I suppose it always has been in some way or another but I am particularly aware of it at present) from various Christian leaders and academics. The view that Jesus took the punishment for the sins of those who put their faith in Him seems objectionable to some. I find it interesting that inbuilt into the way the world thinks is that where someone is wronged there is a price to be paid. The editorial in the newspaper recognised that it was not enough for the government to apologise, there was a price to be paid in order to make things right with the Indian peoples but that it still would not undo what had been done. In the same way there is a price to be paid in order for sin to be dealt with. It is not enough to only apologise to God. Jesus death on the cross pays that price. Because the one who committed no sin died in our place, God no longer sees what we have done as what we have done. He sees us as being right with Him.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:11 - 21
Thinking about how I cannot atone for what was done in the name of Christianity has made me realise in a new way again how amazing it is that Jesus death on the cross atones for all of my sin.

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