Method in Theology: Simple, Complex, Contested

The following is a continuation of the first draft of my dissertation Unsettling Theology. It probably needs more footnotes and a lot of rewriting.

peanuts-theology

Contemporary theological method is relatively straight forward. Determine the topic or problem to be discussed. See what others have said about it. Determine the most important voices, and describe their positions, arguments, and evidence. Critique those positions, arguments, and evidence from a variety of well chosen perspectives, using well established criteria for evaluation. Summarise, describing the significance of what has been discussed. Suggest further avenues of study and discussion.

Canadian Catholic theologian Paul Allen describes contemporary theology in another way:

If I were to sum up in a single sentence what theological method is, I would say that it is a set of comparisons, contrasts and correlations – involving plenty of analogous language at certain stages of judgment – regarding four sources of theological content. Those sources of content are: scripture, reason, tradition and experience.[1]

That said, theological method is varied, and contested ground.

Throughout history theologians have used various genres to put forth their thoughts. Justin Martyr (2nd century) adopted the form of Platonic dialogues. Origen used commentaries on scripture to put forth his speculations, and this carried down to Martin Luther and Karl Barth, who both wrote theologies in the form of commentaries on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Augustine wrote commentaries, an autobiography, polemical treatises, letters, and sermons. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa adopted the disputational model then used in universities in which a topic is named in the form of a question, arguments against a position are named, the position is argued for (starting with a quotation from scripture) in a series of brief arguments, and then the objections are answered. Aquinas also wrote hymns, which are another way of doing theology. Perhaps the most detailed modern exposition on method in theology is that of Method in Theology by Bernard Lonergan.[2]

One might think that the discipline of theology, which arguably has been around for at least two-thousand years (and as much as three thousand if one if one starts with Judaism), would have a clear methodology. It does not. Like philosophy, because it is concerned with basic human principles and “the meaning of life” it is constantly going back to first things. Dogma, doctrines, and schools of thought get established, only to be critiqued in the next generation; those bringing the critique are then likewise challenged by those holding to the older modes of thought. These schools reinvent themselves, and argue amongst themselves. Ancient texts are read anew, and old readings are found to be less than satisfactory. Every consensus is provisional, and scholars and theologians regularly transgress doctrinal norms, sometimes to ecclesiastical punishment, but as often as not with significant regard.

Unlike philosophy theology is not a “pure” discipline. Arguably it is divided into several interacting disciplines that overlap and influence each other. In the Divinity School in which I first studied there were four broad areas: Biblical Studies, History, Theology, and Pastoral Theology. These all bleed over into each other. A study of a New Testament text is necessarily an historical study of First Century Christian authors and communities interacting with Jewish and Gentiles. That same text has an explicit and implicit theology which a theologian may use as a central part of a systematic approach, as Luther made use of Romans. New Testament scholars write theology, as Rudolf Bultmann did. Liturgical studies are both historical and practical (if not experimental), and they have explicit and implicit theologies around the reading of scripture in the church, preaching, the meaning and purpose of prayer, the significance of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and expectations around what happens to the people of God when they are dismissed. Theology becomes anthropology becomes ecclesiology becomes historiography becomes tactics and strategy in the community.

Furthermore, theology draws on other disciplines. It is deeply influenced by philosophy, and for almost every major philosophical movement there is a corresponding theological trend. In the Middle Ages theology was philosophy, and vice versa. Plato and Plotinus was read through the lens of the Cappadocians, Augustine, and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and Aristotle through Aquinas and the Scholastics (and later on they were read through the filter of Neo-Scholasticism). Platonism, Aristotelian categories, Neo-Platonism, Aristotelian metaphysics, skepticism, Kantian morality and religion, Hegelianism, Marxism, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Feminism, Post-Modernism and a plethora of other systems have all had their effect.

But it is more than just philosophy. As is apparent to any sociologist, American fundamentalism took science as the model for doing theology, and then took a literal interpretation of the Bible as the primary evidence. As much as Marxists predicting the inexorable progress of humanity to harmonious anarchy, some Fundamentalists worked out a theory of dispensations that structured history and predicted events such as the Rapture and the Tribulation. This in turn has affected politics (especially in the United States) and politics has reciprocated by co-opting previously marginalized evangelicals into becoming advocates for low taxes, less government, opposition to climate change, and a strong military. In some ways this parallels earlier exchanges between politics and theology, such as the encounters of Christian thought with liberalism and socialism.

Events also influence the various disciplines of theology. The Holocaust challenged Christians to reassess how they read their scriptures, how they did their theology, how they worshipped, and how they did evangelism. In the post-war era the various denominations, largely anti-Jewish, became supportive of Judaism and suspended efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. The granting of full electoral and legal equality to women in many countries has led to their economic emancipation and a corresponding growth of women in leadership in many denominations; this has also been paralleled by a growth of LGBTQ2 explicitly present in various churches and their leadership. Not surprisingly, this means that two current hot areas of theological study are Queer Theology and Feminist Theology. The departure of colonial powers from colonies around the world has led to the rise of post-colonial theology, and in nations in Latin America where economic policies historically meant the impoverishment of the majority Liberation Theology has emerged. Black Theology and Womanist Theology grew in the United States out of the experience of African-American men and women, respectively. All of this new theology emerges out of lived experience of oppression and marginalization, and challenges the male dominated Divinity Schools in Europe and North America which project a supposedly objective approach to the various theological disciplines, and which resist politicization.

A particularly challenging issue is that theology no longer seems to be the respected discipline it used to be. Many academic institutions do not have faculties or departments of theology. In older universities where faculties or schools of divinity exist there is a push to suspend theology as a faith-based activity and to transform the places into centres for the study of religion (for example, the University of Chicago Divinity School, but also Harvard Divinity School, and the old McGill Faculty of Divinity which is now the School of Religious Studies). Some mainline divinity schools are closing or merging into more financially stable bodies: Andover Newton is moving from Massachusetts to the Yale campus, Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge MA has suspended operations, and Heythrop College in London is likewise ending its teaching.

Was in reaction to this marginalization of theology that John Milbank developed his Radical Orthodoxy? Radical Orthodoxy calls into question the relevance of Kantian metaphysical critiques and secularism to theology. Rather than being subject to various social theories, Milbank argued that theology, envisioned by him as “a postmodern critical Augustinianism”, was self-sufficient and needed to purge itself of these influences and rightfully and righteously critique those same systems of thought. In an era when governments are cutting back on funding the liberal arts and promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), it is exactly the kind of fighting back one might expect from a brilliant up-and-coming theologian in a provincial university.

In my experience the best theology is always aware of its context in history and its manifold influences and manifestations. Rather than start in the abstract it is better to start in the concrete, and then work towards abstraction, and then work back to the concrete. In this sense it is a complex maneuver, a hermeneutical circle that takes up the whole life of the one doing theology. It is very much an exercise of the incarnation, in that theology can never be divorced from the theologian who lives and dies. Theology is inherently subjective and objective, in that the subject is always present in the statement about God, but the theology is also an object for others to consider, critique, and make their own. Theology is inherently talk by humans about God, and the human quality is inescapable.

If good theology is then incarnated in historical individuals, then it also seems to be the case that good theology is created by concrete crises. Paradigmatically, the Council of Jerusalem was convened by dissension caused by Paul’s evangelism to the Gentiles. The orthodox canon of scripture was a reaction to Marcion’s limited one. Monasticism was a reaction to the lowering of expectations of Christians in 3rd century Egypt. The increasing significance of Christianity in the Roman Empire and the divergences about the nature of Christ within the church led to the calling of the oecumenical councils. Augustine wrote The City of God in defense of Christianity after the sack of Rome and the pagans blaming Christians for it. Aquinas sought to assist in the propagation of the gospel to newly conquered Moors in Spain by writing the Summa Contra Gentiles. Luther posted his 95 theses in reaction to corruption in the church, and developed his hermeneutics of sola fide and sola scriptura to found Christian authority in scripture, and not the institution of the church. Anglicanism emerged out of a conflict around royal succession. Liberal Christianity emerged in the 19th century as a reflection on the application of historico-critical methods to scripture. Bernard Lonergan wrote Method in Theology to orient theologians to the multiple forms of historical sciences that were challenging traditional Catholic theology in the 20th century.

Theology, then, is complex. It resists abstraction because of its carnal nature. It is a discussion, but after two-thousand years there are too many discussion partners. The intertexts are beyond the comprehension of any one individual. It takes decades to have read enough to say something that is well grounded. Rabbit holes that lead to Wonderland are everywhere.

In the next chapter I will state what I understand to be the method being used in this dissertation, as well as the biases underlying the method.

[1] Taede A. Smedes , “Does Theology Have a Method? An Interview with Paul Allen” at https://tasmedes.nl/does-theology-have-a-method-an-interview-with-paul-allen/ accessed June 3, 2017. Paul Allen, a theologian at Corcordia University, Montreal QC Canada, is the author of Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T&T Clark International/Continuum Books, 2012).

[2] Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: The Seabury Press, 1972).

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Canada and the Refugee Crisis: Part Two

This is the second part of a talk I gave on Ascension Day 2017 at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, on Canada and the Refugee Crisis. The first part was where I give an overview of the history and current situation in the world today; this part zooms in on Canada’s response to refugees in the past couple of generations. I was the Refugee Coordinator for the Refugee Program of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia from February 2015 until April 2017.

Canada’s Refugee Policy Evolves

Vietnamese Refugees

Vietnamese Refugees receiving their visas and plane tickets to Canada, late 1970s.

Up until the mid-1970s the immigration policy of Canada was based on quotas for countries of origin, and many of those quotas were racially and religiously based. In 1975 the Trudeau government introduced legislation that came into force in 1976, the Immigration Act. It abolished the quotas and created four categories of immigrants:

1.Independent immigrants were selected on the basis of the points system;
2.The Family class which included the immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents;
3.Refugees as defined by the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees; and
4.Persecuted and displaced persons that did not qualify as refugees under the convention definition but could be admitted on humanitarian grounds.

This was the first formal recognition of refugees as a class of immigrants – before then they had been admitted on an ad hoc basis, and frequently with a calculation as to how well they would integrate into Canadian society and contribute to the economy. Refugees and persecuted & displaced persons would now be admitted on humanitarian grounds. At first the assumption was that these persons would be supported by the government as Government Assisted Refugees (“GARs”). However, in the late ‘seventies large numbers of refugees from South Vietnam were seeking permanent solutions in Western nations. The Canadian government was overwhelmed by the need to rapidly settle so many people, and so allowed for private Canadians in groups and for community organizations (often churches and other religious bodies) to sponsor refugees, providing virtually all the financial resources necessary for a year for an individual or family. Ultimately some 110,000 Vietnamese came to Canada between 1975 and 1985.

A major influence on this decision by the Clark government and carried on by the Trudeau government was the circulation in draft and the publication of the book None is Too Many.

None is Too ManyThis book, by Irving Abella and Harold Troper, detailed the problematic history of Canadian governments with regard to the immigration of Jews into Canada. Politicians and immigration officials became aware of the true history and swore that it would not happen again. The welcoming of refugees would be based on humanitarian grounds, not political expediency or economic advantage.

The program for Private Sponsorship of Refugees (“PSRs”) is so far unique to Canada. Most other countries continue mainly along the GAR route. While this is often subcontracted to settlement houses and religious organizations, Canada remains alone in allowing its citizens and residents to sponsor individuals and families. Sponsorship may be done by any group of five citizens or permanent residents, or by any community group, but they must apply and be accepted by the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship of Canada (“IRCC”). While this happens, most PSRs are now admitted through groups that have made permanent arrangements with IRCC to sponsor refugees. These are called Sponsorship Agreement Holders (“SAHs”, pronounced “sawz”), and the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia is one of them. There are over 100 SAHs across the country.

Another aspect of Canadian policy is that we admit people as refugees who have not necessarily been assessed as such by the UNHCR or their host nation (i.e. at best, they are registered asylum seekers). The IRCC and its officials make their own determination. This is the category of persecuted and displaced persons who do not qualify as refugees but
+ are outside their home country, or the country where they normally live, and
+ have been seriously affected by civil war or armed conflict, or
+ have been denied basic human rights on an ongoing basis.
On that basis any person fleeing the war in Syria and makes it to another country qualifies prima facie.

Myanmar Refugees

A Refugee from Myanmar

Originally government  policy observed the Principle of Additionality, which asserted that the Canadian government would determine how many GARs it would support, and that PSRs were to be in addition to this number. Historically this turned out to be roughly 1:1. However, as time went on and successive governments reduced funding to IRCC’s predecessor ministries, a backlog of applications began to build up. The Harper government began including the PSRs in its calculations of total refugees to be admitted, and started putting caps on the numbers of refugees each SAH could sponsor (the only notable exception being that there was no cap on the number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees a SAH could sponsor). In particular, applications that would be processed by certain visa offices in high-risk areas – Cairo, Islamabad, and Nairobi, for example – were also “sub-capped”. SAHs complained about the restrictions, but worked within them.

Suddenly It All Changed

On September 2, 2015 there were over 4,000,000 refugees from the Syrian war. Not a few had relatives overseas, and one family, that of Abdullah Kurdi, submitted an application to the Canadian government for sponsorship by a group organized by Kurdi’s sister in Vancouver. For mainly bureaucratic reasons the application was rejected by IRCC’s predecessor ministry, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC”). After the rejection Kurdi decided to try to migrate to Europe and paid human smugglers to be taken from Turkey to Greece. However, they never made it – the boat capsized, and Kurd’s wife and two sons both died. The dead body of three-year old Alan Kurdi was photographed on a Turkish beach just before a police officer removed it.

The photograph was widely published in various media that day and went around the world in social media. In particular, because of the Canadian connection and the rejection of the application the then federal government and its minister, the Honourable Chris Alexander, questions were asked as to whether Canada could do better. As Canada was in the midst of a federal election, it became an issue, and indeed, it dominated the news media for a solid week, which is an eternity in politics. New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair said that he would bring an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees to Canada if elected. Prime Minister Harper defended the refugee process and the numbers being admitted, grudgingly suggesting that he could also bring 10,000 Syrians if re-elected.  Eventual election winner Justin Trudeau promised 25,000 by Christmas (later revised to the end of February) and, on this issue, effectively ran to the left of the NDP.

Sabine Lehr and Me

Dr. Sabine Lehr of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria answers a question on refugee sponsorship in the Q&A after my presentation, September 8, 2015, St. Matthias Anglican Church, Victoria BC Canada.

Meanwhile rallies were held and people came together to form groups to sponsor refugees. I stood up at one rally in Victoria and announced that if anyone wanted to learn how to sponsor refugees they could come to my parish church on Tuesday, September 8. 350 people showed up at St. Matthias (I will never see that church so full!). I invited Sabine Lehr of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (the city’s oldest and largest immigration settlement agency), to help out, as they had just become a SAH also. Over 250 people volunteered to come together in groups. ICA and the Refugee Program of the Diocese of BC split the list of volunteers, and each of us then proceeded to form sponsorship groups to raise money, prepare and submit applications, and get trained to welcome refugees.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes some of the first refugees from Syria being airlifted and expedited by the Canadian government.

Let us fast forward to the end of 2016. As we know, the Canadian government flooded the Middle East with visa officers and arranged charters to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.  After twelve months over 47,000 refugees had come to Canada, at least 25,000 of whom were GARs. There was a spill over effect as many groups agreed to sponsor non-Syrian immigrants. According to the UNHCR, the top five countries of origin in 2016 were:
Syria: 33,266
Eritrea: 3,934
Iraq: 1,650
Congo: 1,644
Afghanistan: 1,354
To put this in context, there were 320,000 total immigrants in 12 months 2015-2016, of which 14.6% were refugees. This was three to four times as many refugees as would normally have come in a twelve month period.

GARS

The new Trudeau government did a remarkable thing in bringing in so many refugees so quickly. In particular, it looks far better than the United States, which took in only 10,000 Syrians. However, this needs to be put in perspective. At the same time that Canada took in 47,000 refugees (and processed a further 23,895 inland refugee claimants), Germany welcomed and processed over one million refugees. If Canada had processed a similar proportion it would have taken in 490,000, seven times the number that it actually did. As well, as the chart above shows, the Trudeau government has reverted to older levels of support for GARs. They also placed caps on the number on refugees any SAH could sponsor, arguing that they needed to further reduce the backlog of applications in the visa offices. The financial taps were turned off abruptly after the 25,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada, and the 500 semi-retired visa officers sent out in November 2015 were brought home. They also removed the exception for Syrians and Iraqis, including them under the caps for the first time, something not even Harper had done. Thus, arguably, right now the refugee process in Canada is even more restrictive than it was under Harper.

Inland Refugee Claimants

There is a distinction between overseas refugees and inland refugee claimants. Overseas refugees are not allowed to board a plane to Canada unless they have a visa. Because we are surrounded by oceans on three sides patrolled by the Coast Guard, and have a stable neighbour to the south, we do not get massive numbers of people migrating by land and water, as European countries do. Nevertheless, we do get a number of people entering Canada on visitor visas or student visas and then claiming refugee status. Under Canadian law the responsibility of the federal government is to hear the claim and to adjudicate it – and these are the Immigration & Refugee Boards that you sometimes hear about. The Board’s decisions can be appealed and they are also reviewable by the courts. As you can see from the numbers above from Statistics Canada, there was a rise in 2016, but nothing out of the ordinary compared to previous years. There will be more in 2017 because of migration by people from the United States over the undefended border as they live in fear of the new US federal government. IRCC will hear their claims and put the claimants through the same security and medical checks as overseas refugees, as well as use the same criteria to determine if they are legitimate refugees; roughly one in three is rejected and deported.

Diocesan Refugee Ministry

Diocese of BC Refugee Program

The Anglican Diocese of British Columbia has over 45 churches and a variety of non-parochial ministries all over Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. We have been a SAH since the late ‘seventies and have helped settle hundreds of people over the decades. We typically work through parishes, building up sponsorship groups to sponsor individuals and families.

Zack & Hind

Selfie of me with Zack and Hind, two newcomers from Iraqi

In early September 2015 we were not actively sponsoring anybody, although we had submitted several applications and were waiting. Since then we have, in total, settled or applied for 350 individuals through 75 sponsorship groups and well over 500 volunteers. We have raised over $2 million dollars. We will work with anybody, not just Anglicans, and so many of our groups are Roman Catholic, some are from other Protestant churches, many are basically groups of secular people who just want to work with us, and we even have a group through the Islamic Centre of Nanaimo. Without intending to, we have become the biggest outreach of the Anglican Diocese of BC.

Two Anglicans and Lama

Lama, who arrived from Syria in February 2015, standing between two Anglicans. On the right is Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich and the Gulf Islands, whose efforts to assist Lama and her family were great!

  • As of March 2017 we had completed the sponsorship of 58 people, representing six families in Victoria, five in Nanaimo, two in Ladysmith, and one in Comox.
  • We are actively settling 75 people, fourteen families in Victoria and five north of the Malahat. This includes 42 Syrians, 9 Colombians, 8 from Myanmar, 4 Liberians, 2 Iraqis, 1 Ethiopian, and 1 Gambian.
  • We have submitted applications for 145 more refugees, and they are being processed by IRCC. This represents 52 families or individuals, of whom 60 are Syrian, 45 Iraqi, 29 Eritrean, and the rest are from the Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and one stateless. 31 of these families will be settled in Victoria, and 21 in the middle part of Vancouver Island.
  • IRCC has allocated 83 spots for individual refugees for us to sponsor. All of these will be used, and we are currently preparing 18 applications for 72 persons, mostly Syrians.
  • We have a waiting list of over 115 people who have asked us for sponsorship. We may get further spots allocated to us later in the year.

When I became the Refugee Coordinator in February 2015 I could never have imagined that the program would grow this large. This was supposed to be my contribution to the Diocese, as part of my work in the parish, perhaps five to eight hours a week, done in addition to my regular work. As the program grew it became apparent that it needed to move from being an amateurish organization (in the best sense of that word) to one with professional support. In October 2015 the Diocese hired Tony Davis to assist with sponsorship groups north of the Malahat and Rebecca Siebert to do the same in Victoria and the Gulf Islands, as well as assist me in the general oversight of the Refugee Program. Although I put in many hours in the Fall of 2015 and the first half of 2016, it gradually became clear to me that it was time to hand over the leadership in refugee program coordination to Rebecca; I resigned my role in April of this year.

I behooves me to state that while I had a role in all of this, I simply was the Refugee Coordinator at a time when tens of thousands of Canadians suddenly wanted the skills, knowledge, and training that the Refugee Program could provide them; we were in the right place at the right time. While I was fairly aggressive in taking advantage of the situation – one that comes only once in a generation – the hard work was really done by Rebecca and Tony, as well as Professor John McLaren as the Chair of the Refugee Committee. The Refugee Committee transformed itself from a listening group for the Refugee Coordinator into a working group where everybody had a responsibility and the whole established policies. Things changed every other week, it seemed, and the work of training and designing the training was massive. Our over-five hundred volunteers were the ones who really worked hard, selflessly giving hundreds of hours of volunteer time to help raise money and then help to settle the newcomers. Sometimes this was far more challenging than anyone had anticipated. Kudos to everyone in the program! As well, we had help from the politicians at the federal, provincial, and municipal level, and people working in various ministries and non-governmental agencies. ICA led the way in best practices for settling refugees as they received hundreds of GARs in addition to some 75 PSRs. The Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (“VIRCS”) complemented the work of ICA and helped many of our sponsees in Victoria, as did the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society in Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley Intercultural & Immigrant Aid Society. God bless you all!

Being part of the Refugee Program has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I’ve had people – and not just refugees – come up to me and say, “You’ve changed my life!” I believe that as a Christian I and all who follow Jesus are called to work with others in being hospitable and caring, and that being so is indeed life-changing. I am grateful for the two-and-a-half years I had working in this ministry, and I pray that it may continue. When things are not going well I can always tell myself, “Well Bruce, there are over 350 people who will not be washed up dead on a foreign shore, and you had a hand in it.” My hope is that you might be inspired to sponsor refugees, if you are not already doing so, and help change people’s lives.

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Canada and the Refugee Crisis: Part One

I gave a talk on Ascension Day 2017 at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, on Canada and the Refugee Crisis. Here’s the first part where I give an overview of the history and current situation in the world today; I’ll post Part Two in a bit. I was the Refugee Coordinator for the Refugee Program of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia from February 2015 until April 2017.

Refugees from South Sudan

Refugee Children from South Sudan 2017

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to speak to you about Canada and refugees. I’ve been asked to give the general overview, and I hope that it provides a context for speakers and discussions in the weeks ahead.

It’s Nothing New

Let’s begin with the fact that the current refugee crisis is another manifestation of a central fact of human nature, which is that we move. Humans moved out of Africa and migrated into Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Movement is caused by many things – a search for new resources, the following of animals, the discovery of fertile soil. Movement is also caused by more negative things, namely war, famine, and disease. Those of us who are of British and Irish descent (and we are Anglicans, so I assume many of us qualify) and the descendants and heirs of the stone and bronze age peoples who built stone circles, who then were transformed by the Indo-European Celtic speaking peoples who arrived in the First Millennium. Then came the Romans, then the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, then the Vikings, then the Normans. In the heyday of the British Empire millions of people left to colonize other lands. More recently peoples from the old Empire and the European Union have come to settle in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Movement is not an anomaly, but normal and natural.

Ukranian orphans

Ukranian Orphans

A major part of this movement is refugees. There is nothing new about Canada welcoming refugees. Before the First World War Canada under Clifford Sifton (Minister of Interior under Wilfrid Laurier) welcomed Ukranian settlers to the Prairies. After the Great War Ukranians attempted to establish an independent state, but the Soviet Union invaded and there was civil war. Some 70,000 Ukranians came to Canada seeking refuge and a new life.

SS-St-Louis

The SS St. Louis 1939

With the rise of National Socialism in Germany in 1933 Jewish Germans were persecuted and encouraged to leave the country (provided they paid to do so, and left virtually everything behind). Many sought to emigrate from Europe, but were turned back by antisemitic governments and officials in the United States, Cuba, and Canada. A Canadian immigration official was asked in 1939 how many Jewish refugees Canada would take, and his reply has become legendary: “None is too many.” One of the ships that attempted to land these immigrants was the SS St Louis in 1939, sailing from Hamburg with over 900 passengers, most of whom were German Jews. Ultimately it returned to Europe with its Jewish passengers. The captain sought to find refuge for his passengers, but ultimately many of them were in countries that were conquered by the Nazis.  A quarter of them did not find a safe refuge, and died in the Holocaust.

Post WW II

Refugee Camp, Europe 1946

After the Second World War there were millions of refugees in Europe – the survivors of the Holocaust, ethnic Germans forced from their historic homelands, and millions of others (Poles, Russians, Ukranians) obliged to move because of border changes and displacement during the war. Canada was reluctant to accept Jewish Holocaust survivors (and only changed the policy after the establishment of the State of Israel, when the pressure to take Jewish refugees lessened), but after 1950 it welcomed some 400,000 German refugees. It also welcomed some 150,000 Dutch immigrants, many of whom were fleeing floods.

primer2

Palestinian Refugees, 1947

The creation of the state of Israel by the United Nations and its establishment in the Israeli War of Independence resulted in some 700,000 Palestinians fleeing or being expelled from their homes; this represented some 85% of the Palestinian population. As the war involved Arab countries attacking the new state, some 700,000 Jews were expelled from countries throughout the Arabic speaking world, nearly all of who settled in Israel. While the Jewish refugees became citizens of Israel, the Palestinian refugees remained stateless; through population growth they now number 4.2 million in the West Bank and Gaza; the total number of registered and unregistered Palestinian refugees is about 5.5 million.

The Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe resulted in the establishment of Soviet-friendly regimes that repressed the local populations. Hungarians revolted in 1956 and Czechoslovakians in 1968, but both revolutions were put down bloodily. As a result Canada took in 37,000 Hungarians and 11,000 Czechs and Slovaks. The dictator Idi Amin expelled Asians from Uganda in 1972 and Canada welcomed over 7000 refugees, over 4000 people arriving in specially chartered flights.

What is a Refugee?

UN Convention Refugees 1951

The signing of the UN Convention on Refugees, 1951

In 1951 the United Nations Convention on Refugees was agreed upon; it originally dealt with European refugees from the Second World War, although at the discretion of contracting nations it could be extended to other situations.  In 1967 it was extended by the Protocol, which had no geographic limitations. The Convention and Protocol consolidates and establishes the standard definitions of who qualifies as a refugee and the responsibilities of the contracting nations. The first article defines a refugee as:

A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

One needs distinguish between those who may qualify for refugee status and those who are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) as such. The latter have been evaluated by UNHCR staff, whereas the former are called asylum seekers and the UNHCR has not yet determined their status.

As one can see from the graph below, there are some 16.6 refugees – including both those registered and seeking registration. The biggest jump is with the Syrians, which has almost tripled from under 2 million refugees to almost 5.5 million in 2016. The next biggest source of refugees is Afghanistan, followed by Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Eritrea, and Colombia.

Refugee Sources

By definition refugees are people who have fled their home country and are now in a second country. That second country may give them refuge but they may not be able to or want to give them a permanent solution to their situation. Thus, as can be seen from the map below, millions of refugees from Syria are in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, but they are not immigrants to those countries and do not have the right to stay, work, and become citizens. The “permanent solution” to these refugees dilemma is for them either to return home when peace is declared or the source of their persecution is removed, or they are settled in a third country, such as Canada or the United States.

Where are they now?

As can be seen the war in Afghanistan has resulted in large numbers of refugees coming to Pakistan and Iran. The war in Somalia and persecution in Eritrea has resulted in large numbers of refugees in Ethiopia and Kenya. Venezuela and Ecuador still has large numbers of Colombia refugees despite the peace agreement in that country.

What is not included in these numbers, charts, and maps is the number of internally displaced people  (“IDPs”) – people who would qualify as refugees except for the fact that they are still in their home country. This describes many Syrians, 11 million, or one out of three who have seen their homes destroyed.

IDP

There are now over 34 million IDPs – more than two for every each refugee/asylum seeker. Not included in these numbers are the 5.2 million Palestinian refugees; they are governed by a separate UN agency that dates from 1948, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (“UNRWA”). By the time one adds up all of the refugees and displaced persons one has something like 65 million people – the largest number of refugees since 1945.

In my next post, Part Two, I’ll describe Canada’s response to refugees in the recent past an say a little bit about the efforts of the Refugee Program of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia. If there are any errors or omissions in the information provided, please note them in the blog below. Thank you for reading!

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Is the Legacy of the Indian Residential Schools an Issue for Theology?

The following is a continuation from my previous post and part of the serialization of the first draft of my dissertation Unsettling Theology.

I was thirsty

Window from the Parish of St. Mary the Virgin, Oak Bay, Anglican Diocese of British Columbia

One might argue that while the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools is an issue for the Church in Canada, it is not really an issue for theology as an academic discipline. The IRS were efforts attempted with the best intentions and largely by good people, even though the outcome was tragic and to be regretted. But this is not due to theology, or should not be assumed to be due to it. Rather, the issue was in the tactics and methodology of the people operating the schools at the behest and support of the federal government. Core doctrine is not affected by condemning what happened in the schools, and what needs to be considered is just a better way of bringing the good news in word and deed.

In any case, no one is asking the churches or theologians to change their theologies. The TRC issued 94 Calls to Action.[1] Most of these calls are to the federal and provincial governments in Canada on issues such as child welfare, education, the preservation of indigenous languages and cultures, health, and justice. The Canadian Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, has committed himself to implementing these recommendations. Some of the Calls to Action were addressed in part and directly to the churches; they are worth reading in full and are collected in Appendix A. The Calls to Action ask the churches to support certain national and indigenous endeavours and, in particular, to respect aboriginal spirituality and customs. They do not presume to call the churches to examine themselves and their theologies, other than to review the history of the churches’ complicity in colonialism, and the necessity for full apologies. To these calls the churches have agreed.

As well, the churches that were involved in the schools have all offered apologies, and these are catalogued in the TRC Final Report. Further, as it is often pointed out, this is not just between settlers and indigenous peoples. The lines between indigenous and settler often get blurry as many people have mixed heritage and may identify primarily as one or the other or both. Within the churches are many mainly indigenous congregations and judicatories, with native clergy at various levels of responsibility. For example, in the Anglican Church of Canada there is a National Indigenous Bishop and many indigenous priests and deacons; the Diocese of the Arctic is largely Inuit and the Bishop and people of a diocese in Northern Ontario, the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, are Cree and Ojibway. On the whole these indigenous Christians and their ordained leadership are conservative in their theology and are not looking for transformation and reflection.

But does theology not influence the way one lives as a Christians? And if one admits that things went wrong with the IRS, should one not also wonder whether the thinking of the people who set them up and enthusiastically supported them come into play? If ideas influence events, is it not incumbent upon us to consider what theological ideas were in play in the century in which the schools were operated?

Indeed, given the grave results of the IRS, it is incumbent upon the church and its theologians to consider what went wrong. This was a terrible lapse in ethical behaviour, described by the former Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Most Reverend Michael Peers, as a kind of idolatry: “we tried to remake you in our image”. Perhaps the time has come for theologians and the church to reorient theology to ethics and concern for the oppressed and disadvantaged, and let go of issues of metaphysics and ontology.

But, “when has Christianity ever paid attention to ethics?”

This objection was made to me by Conrad Brunk, retired Professor of Philosophy at University of Victoria, past Director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society there, and himself the son of a Mennonite bishop. And the challenge has a bite that is more than rhetorical. Throughout history, Christians and Christian theology have been complicit in or indifferent to mass murder, slavery, genocide, cultural assimilation, colonialism, imperialism, discrimination of every type, censorship, xenophobia, and the retardation of progress in science. While this is undoubtedly also balanced by good works by saints and leaders in every age (one’s thoughts run to Patrick, Augustine of Canterbury, Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, and modern saints such as Martin Luther King, George Bell, and the Berringer brothers), it is an undeniable history.

Also, despite the current appearance of certain groups of Christians arguing for certain understandings of moral behavior, morality and ethics always seems to be secondary or derivative of “core” theology.   This remains a current problem. John Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology (1966)[2] which was used as a textbook for a generation, leaves an explicit discussion of ethics to his twenty-first and last chapter.   The more recent Oxford Readings in Philosophical Theology (2009)[3] presents learned essays by a variety of authors on the topics of Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Providence, Scripture, and Resurrection, but “ethics” is not even an entry in the indices of either of its two volumes.

In many Divinity Schools there is a four-part division in study between theology, biblical studies, history, and pastoral studies (this last one being very much a poor cousin of the other three). Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza comments that “Biblical studies appear to have progressed in a political vacuum, and scholars seem to have understood themselves to be accountable solely – as Robert Funk put it – to the vested interests of the “fraternity of scientifically trained scholars with the soul of a church.””[4] Schüssler Fiorenza quotes a letter of 1926 from Rudolf Bultmann, who dominated much of 20th century theology and biblical study, as characteristic of this lack of concern:

Of course, the impact of the [First World War] has led many people to revise their concepts of human existence; but I must confess that this has not been so in my case . . . So I do not believe that the war has influenced my theology. My view is that if anyone is looking for the genesis of our theology he will find that internal discussion with the theology of our teachers plays an incomparably greater role than the impact of war or reading Dostoyevsky.[5]

In their discussions Christian theologians, biblical scholars, and even Christian historians seem to be impervious to what is going on around them. If they have concerns related to the institutional church or the academy they are too often more about doctrinal purity and institutional growth than problems of conduct and evil. The result is an inability to deal with the horrific legacy that Christianity has gathered over the past two millennia.

So, if Christianity up to now has always made ethics a secondary or derivative matter, then, given its history, should it not be made more central?

But this is not so much as a re-centering of modern theology as a return to Christian origins in Judaism. First century Judaism was concerned with issues of justice because Judea, Samaria, and Galilee were all areas of the Jewish peoples under Roman occupation. Jewish leadership in the institution of the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees was in the uncomfortable position of being collaborators with the occupation. The New Testament reflects the perspective of an oppressed people, and there is a growing scholarly consensus that much of the New Testament embody a non-violent subversive opposition to the Roman rule.[6] Following the legalization of Christianity and its patronage by Constantine, this political dimension was submerged, and ceased to be read out of the New Testament. Has Christian theology so removed itself from its Jewish roots that it fails to see the centrality of justice as a major theme in its doctrine. Is this why for the past 500 years, if not longer, that salvation has been individualized and spiritualized?

At the core of the Christian faith is Easter. The resurrection of Jesus, as with all resurrection, is a moment of God’s justice, a fulfillment of God’s promise. That this was a theme in Jewish narrative is evident from the horrific story in 2 Maccabees 7. The story tells of devout Jews who refused to eat pork, as it was against the Torah. The Selucid authorities torture them with scalping and fry them on a large pan. Seven sons and their mother are successively executed in this way. They encourage one another by expressing their hope in the resurrection: “ . . . the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.” They say, “”The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song that bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, ‘And he will have compassion on his servants.’ “[7]

The resurrection of Jesus inaugurates the time of justice, the time when God has compassion on all who have suffered, and the responsibility of Jesus’ followers is to live in that way of justice and compassion, and to proclaim it to the world in word and deed. The incarnation and the death of Jesus can be seen, in a Jewish context, as acts of God’s justice in the world.[8]

If the New Testament and the origins of Christianity can be read as being concerned with justice and that it shows how to act now that the re-creation of the world has been inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus, then it should be possible to recover this emphasis in Christian theology. The doctrines of atonement, incarnation, providence, and revelation need to be seen in the light of the resurrection as God’s justice, and ethics is not a concern to be left to the last chapter, but where one might begin.

The problem of the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools is thus very much a theological one, and to address it one must begin with God’s justice and the ethical behaviour of the people of God.

In this respect, it is not much different from other theologies of liberation. Liberation theology, feminist theology, Black theology, Womanist theology, and post-colonial theology are start with various concrete examples of injustice. Where a Latin American Liberation theologian begins with economic inequity and an analysis of the exploitation of poor, I am suggesting that theologians reflection on the IRS begin with the genocide of indigenous peoples in Canada. Where a Black theologian begins with the fact of entrenched discrimination against African-Americans in the United States, Unsettling Theology founds itself on an acknowledgement of racism in Canada and the ongoing trans-generational trauma still at work in reserves and with urban indigenous.

[1] TRC Final Report Vol. 1, pp. 319-337.

[2]          John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, 2nd Edition (New York: Charles Scribners & Sons, 1977).

[3]          Michael Rea, Editor, Oxford Readings in Philosophical Theology, Volumes 1 & 2 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009).

[4]          Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Rhetoric and Ethics: The Politics of Biblical Studies (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), p. 23.

[5]          Ibid.

[6]           This view is endorsed by such diverse New Testament scholars as N. T. Wright, Richard Horsley, Helmut Koester, and Dominic Crossan.

[7]           2 Maccabees 7.9 and 7.6, quoting the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.36.

[8]           There is a growing literature by Jewish academic historians who are appropriating the New Testament as noncanonical first-century Jewish literature. The leader in this is probably Daniel Boyarin, who reads the Prologue of John as a Jewish midrash of Genesis 1 and Proverbs 8 in “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John” in Harvard Theological Review 94:3 (2001 ) 243-84 and in The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (New York: The New Press, 2011). See also Pamela Eisenbaum Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2009).

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The Indian Residential Schools: Yes, It Was Genocide

The following is a continuation from my previous post and part of the serialization of the first draft of my dissertation Unsettling Theology.

extract-article

Two issues arise immediately. First, was the operation of the Indian residential schools really genocide? After all, the term “genocide” is pretty strong, and one wants to use it correctly and only when justified. In common culture it is associated with the Holocaust, and there is a tendency to emphasise the unique nature of that horrific episode in world history. The second issue is whether this is an important issue for theology, in the sense that it calls into question the way we do theology now.

I answer both questions in the affirmative. First, the operation of the IRS is justifiably described as genocide. To understand what genocide is one needs to look at the history of the term and the UN Convention on Genocide (1947). Article 2 states:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.[1]

The statement by Duncan Campbell Scott in chapter one suggests that there was intent on the part of the Canadian federal government to destroy indigenous peoples as such, mainly by absorbing them into the dominant colonial population. The chief means was through the Indian Residential Schools, and, as noted, the Indian Act enabled the legal apprehension of children from their parents for this purpose; this would seem to be a clear fulfillment of 2.e, “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” As well, there appeared to be a callous indifference to mortality among the children apprehended, leading to their deaths; this would seem to satisfy 2.a, “Killing members of the group.” It might be argued that the government and churches did not try deliberately to kill the children, but the impression created is that the project was one of “assimilate or die trying.” It is clear that both physical and mental harm was inflicted on the children by the unchecked use of physical punishment and indifferent control of sexual predators, thus contravening 2.b. It is more debatable whether 2.c or 2.d apply, but the schools were part an overall trajectory of domination by colonists that marginalized the indigenous peoples and did result in considerable physical destruction by the loss of their lands and systemic discrimination.

LemkinThe term “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) in 1944 in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Lemkin was born a Jewish Pole in the Russian Empire and as a young man studied philosophy in Germany and law in Poland, becoming a prosecutor. Fascinated by atrocities, he sought to understand from a legal perspective the mass murders he knew took place against the Armenians in the Great War and afterwards, and the human-created famine in Ukraine in the 1930s. He escaped Poland to Sweden after the beginning of the Second World War, and made his way to the United States in 1941 where he taught and consulted with the US government. While not fully aware of the Holocaust at that time (although he lost 49 members of his family in it), he had read Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and was aware of his desire to destroy the Jews and to expand German settlements into Ukraine and Russia. He wrote:

Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group: the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain, or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization of the area by the oppressor’s own nationals.[2]

In the wake of the Holocaust it is sometimes assumed that genocide means the complete eradication of a “race”, as Hitler intended towards the Jews, but in fact as originally contemplated by Lemkin and written up in the Convention it involved destruction “in whole or in part”. Lemkin had an expansive understanding of genocide, and gave as an example of religious genocide the persecution of Polish Catholic clergy by Nazi Germany.[3] He wrote:

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killing of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.[4]

Lemkin drafted the original convention and sought to include linguistic and cultural groups as protected groups – note that the final text only covers a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group” – but this was negotiated out by the diplomats.[5]

There is now an entire academic field concerned with genocide studies (Yale University, Clark University, and the University of Minnesota, for example, all have programs). Recent literature has considered the relationship of colonialism and genocide and its applicability to the Indian Residential Schools.[6] The conclusion is that it probably does, although it is unlikely that any legal case could ever be successfully brought against any party at this time.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the Indian Residential Schools were cultural genocide. The commissioners wrote:

The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.”

 Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.

In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.[7]

There has been some pushback against this kind of language. Payam Akhavan, professor of law at McGill University and a former United Nations war crimes prosecutor pointed out in 2013 that cultural genocide was not included in the UN Convention on Genocide, and so using it outside of that well-established legal usage is not helpful. On the other hand, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Right Honourable Beverley McLaughlin, approvingly used the term in a speech just prior to the publication of the TRC Final Report.[8] Eminent columnist Lysiane Gagnon critiqued the Chief Justice’s terminology on several counts: first, she felt that in using “inflammatory language” that McLaughlin presented a possible bias that would be problematic when cases involving aboriginal issues came before the court; second, that “the colonization was actually less brutal and cruel in Canada than in the United States and Latin America, or many other parts of the world” and so the word “genocide” is inappropriate; and third, that, condemning our colonial forbears is a kind of presentism, “an intellectual bias by which past events are analyzed outside their historical context, in the light of today’s values.” [9] In her defence Ken Coates, Professor at the University of Saskatchewan defended her use of the term, writing:

the Chief Justice is only stating what is clearly in the minds of judges, lawyers and aboriginal people across the country. There is no use sugar-coating Canada’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples and communities. The country did mean, aggressive and destructive things – albeit often after convincing itself that it was moral, just and forward-looking in doing so.[10]

Regardless of whether or not McLaughlin’s comments are prejudicial, Lysiane Gagnon’s other two criticisms do not stand up. First of all pleading that “Canada was nicer to the Indians than the Americans were” suggests an ignorance of recent historiography. Yes, the history is different, and Canadians prided themselves on being a kinder, gentler nation, but this was a self-serving narrative that ignored demonstrable facts. Second, the accusation of “presentism” is only accurate if no one at the time pointed out the injustice. In fact, numerous individuals did challenge the IRS system and the apprehension of children, beginning with: a) the children who ran away, sometimes at the cost of their lives; b) many of the First Nations parents themselves who hid the children from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; c) missionaries who criticized the requirement that children live away from their parents and were also aware of the cultural loss, and physical and sexual abuse; and d) medical officers who were horrified at the high mortality rates. These voices, however, were disregarded and marginalized, as they did not fit the dominant narrative.

This dissertation takes the view that it is appropriate to call the Indian Residential Schools a form of genocide. It is qualitatively different from other recognized genocides. It was not the industrialized mass murder of the Jews in the Second World War with paramilitary death squads and death camps, grounded in Hitler’s belief that Jews were a genetic plague upon humanity. It was not the sudden, intense ethnic conflict of neighbor upon neighbor in Rwanda of 1994, the mass murder by the Hutus against the Tutsis. In some ways it is closest to the Holdomor, the famine in the Ukraine in 1931-32 created by the Soviet Union. It is similar because while one may debate the intentionality of the Soviet leadership, the reality is that it was indifferent to the death of millions as it followed its ideological goals. This was compounded with a tendency to see Ukrainians as the same as Russians – any ethnic, cultural, or linguistic differences were ignored, and those who advocated for them were persecuted and murdered. Likewise the Canadian federal government considered indigenous cultures, languages, and spiritualities to be of no moment, and worked towards complete assimilation regardless of the cost in suffering and death.

[1] http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html accessed on May 22, 2017.

[2] Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation – Analysis of Government – Proposals for Redress (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), p. 79, quoted in Haifa Rashed & Damien Short “Genocide and settler colonialism: can a Lemkin-inspired genocide perspective aid our understanding of the Palestinian situation?”, The International Journal of Human Rights, 16:8, (2012), pp. 1142-1169; p. 1143.

[3] David B. MacDonald & Graham Hudson, “The Genocide Question and Indian Residential Schools in Canada” in Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique 45:2 (June/juin 2012), pp. 427-449; p. 433.

[4] Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, p. 79, quoted in Haifa Rashed & Damien Short, “Genocide and settler colonialism”, p. 1143.

[5] David B. MacDonald & Graham Hudson, “The Genocide Question and Indian Residential Schools in Canada”, p. 434.

[6] See David B. MacDonald & Graham Hudson, “The Genocide Question and Indian Residential Schools in Canada” in Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique 45:2 (June/juin 2012), pp. 427-449; Leslie Thielen-Wilson, “Troubling the Path to Decolonization: Indian Residential School Case law, Genocide, and Settler Illegitimacy” in Canadian Journal of Law and Society/Revue Canadienne Droit et Société Volume 29, no. 2, pp. 181-197; and Andrew Woolford, “The Next Generation: Criminology, Genocide Studies and Settler Colonialism” in Revista Critica Penal y Poder 2013, No. 5 (September) pp. 163-185.

[7] TRC Final Report Vol. 1, p. 1.

[8] Joseph Brean, “Cultural genocide’ of Canada’s indigenous peoples is a ‘mourning label,’ former war crimes prosecutor says”, National Post, January 15, 2016, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/cultural-genocide-of-canadas-indigenous-people-is-a-mourning-label-former-war-crimes-prosecutor-says accessed May 22, 2017.

[9] Lysiane Gagnon, “McLachlin’s comments a disservice to her court, and to aboriginals”, The Globe and Mail, Jun. 10, 2015 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/mclachlins-comments-a-disservice-to-her-court-and-to-aboriginals/article24879482/ accessed May 22, 2017.

[10] Ken Coates, “McLachlin said what many have long known”, The Globe and Mail, May 29, 2015 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/mclachlin-said-what-many-have-long-known/article24704812/ accessed May 22, 2017.

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Unsettling Theology: Introduction

20160803_170606

Map of the Anglican Church of Canada, 1960

How do good people wind up doing evil things? How are Christians to deal with an evil legacy? Behind these simple, very general questions, is an actual story, and a very real theological legacy.

Between the 1870s and the 1970s some 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children in Canada attended what were then known as Indian Residential Schools (“IRS”). These institutions were organized and funded by the federal government of Canada with the explicit purpose of assimilating these children into mainstream settler society – to get rid of the “’Indian problem’ forever.” As Duncan Campbell Scott, deputy superintendent general of Indian affairs, reported to the Special Parliamentary Committee on the Indian Act of the House of Commons:

I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone . . . Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill. [1]

The schools were almost entirely staffed by missionary teachers, lay, ordained, and religious, from the various Christian denominations in Canada, primarily Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Canada. These schools were prominently featured as ministries of these churches,[2] and the hierarchy and many clergy and laity were enthusiastic about them.

Detail

This is not a story that is well known outside of Canada, but the legacy of the Residential Schools has been recognized by contemporary Canada as a stain upon its history. Europeans, mainly French and British, settled in what became Canada from the 17th century through to the present day, and effort to educate and help aboriginal peoples adapt to the European societies seemed peaceful and beneficial. Indeed, many aboriginal leaders asked for help in education, and this was written into numerous treaties. However, in conception and implementation the results were horrific. The results of this policy included:

  1. the deliberate and forced loss of language and culture by a majority of attendees;
  2. legally mandated apprehension and separation of children from their parents, as if they were abusive;
  3. physical abuse by teachers and staff at the schools;
  4. sexual abuse by a number of staff;
  5. a failure to inculcate parenting skills;
  6. the exploitation of children for labour;
  7. experimentation on the children for nutritional studies; no consent was ever received from the children or their parents;
  8. the failure to provide basic necessities of food and shelter, and disregard for the prevention of disease, resulting in death rates of up to 60% in some years; and
  9. the failure to actually train the students with useful skills.

The ongoing consequences of the Residential Schools continues. To this day indigenous populations experience in comparison to the Canadian population as a whole greater unemployment, higher poverty, a higher rate of incarceration, and a higher rate of alcoholism and addiction. Although the schools closed in the late 1960s and ‘70s, the trauma of the IRS continues to affect the lives of aboriginal peoples today.

The history of the IRS and the ongoing effects only came to be well known in the 1990s when the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples met and then issued its Final Report. A key report submitted to the Commission in 1996 was John S. Milloy’s A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System 1879-1986.[3] Milloy, a professor at Trent University, Peterborough Ontario, was the first academic to comprehensively catalogue the suffering of children in the schools. Subsequently lawyers, on the principle of vicarious responsibility, began suing the federal government and church entities on behalf of thousands of former residents. When, after a couple of settlements, it became apparent a) that this threatened the continued existence of most of these religious bodies, and b) that the law courts were not the best means to achieve a quick resolution to the suits, the government, churches, and lawyers acting for the plaintiffs arranged for a comprehensive settlement which was finalized in 2006. It arranged for CAN$2 billion compensation for some 86,000 former residents. It also required the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“TRC”) of Canada , which over six years held many events and heard testimony from former students and some staff. The TRC Final Report[4] confirmed and expanded the evidence presented in Milloy’s A National Crime. As well, a national archives for the TRC was established in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the Prime Minister of the day, the Right Honorable Stephen Harper, gave a heartfelt apology on the floor of the House of Commons in 2008. The churches and other political bodies have at various times since the 1990s offered apologies as well.[5]

All of this is progress. However, it must be observed that the churches were proud of their involvement in the Schools at the time. Why did they see the schools as a positive good in spite of the evidence of harmful consequences? Could it be due to their theology of mission? And if it was theological, are we in danger of repeating their errors in different contexts?

One might argue that this was simply the result of colonialism and imperialism of the time – that it was not really theological. What theology was involved, it might be thought, was simply subsumed into the general approach of the colonizing peoples. This is the same approach that describes the history of settlement in Canada as generally benign, especially in contrast to the wars with “Indians” in the United States in the 19th century. However, this is largely a self-serving history that is not well documented by the facts. In truth Canada repeatedly made and broke treaties with indigenous peoples, and reacted with violence whenever First Nations and Metis attempted to revolt and assert their rights. By the time settlement began on the west coast of British North America even the need for treaties was dispensed with, and First Nations were forced by gunboat diplomacy to reserves.

By the time I was in high school in the 1970s the story of indigenous peoples seemed to stop somewhere in the mid-19th century. After having been important allies of the British against the American revolutionaries in the War of Independence and the War of 1812, First Nations such as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) were given large reserves that were steadily encroached upon and taken away until they were shadows of themselves. The revolts of Louis Riel in Manitoba and Saskatchewan were described in terms of how they affected settlement, the building of the national railway, and the creation of provinces, but the horrific repression of First Nations and Metis that followed were left undiscussed. Canadians of colonial and settler background grew up knowing a history of relatively benign expansion, where First Nations were pushed aside as being inconvenient occupiers of the land and inefficient stewards. It was, as we now know, a very partial truth.

In her book Unsettling the Settler Within (UBC Press, 2010) Dr. Paulette Regan, director of research for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada asks:

How can we, as non-Indigenous people, unsettle ourselves to name and then transform the settler – the colonizer who lurks within – not just in words but by our actions, as we confront the history of colonization, violence, racism, and injustice that remains part of the Indian Residential Schools legacy today?

Regan’s answer is that non-Indigenous Canadians need to let go of the myths of settler Canadians as peace-makers, and acknowledge the damage done. The development of a historical counter-narrative will allow for Aboriginal and settler peoples to move beyond colonial relationships.

I believe that much more must happen for Christians in Canada. Part of the challenge for non-indigenous settler peoples in Canada is also to reclaim the parts of our tradition that call into question and judge the actions of previous generations. It is all well and good to have a great epiphany in an aboriginal feast, but the challenge for settler Canadians is to transform the major institutions of the country in the light of the legacy; rewriting history is a necessary first step, but it is not enough. These public institutions encompass education at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary level, but also the legal understanding of property and treaties. As well, given the negative effects of colonialization, the issue of citizenship and the rights that adhere to individuals of aboriginal ancestry also arise. The source of this transformation will be found not in the appropriation of aboriginal practices, but in turning to the very best values and practices in western traditions.

Canadian Christians need to unsettle their theologies – decolonize themselves and their theology of mission. It is not sufficient to apologize, offer compensation, and then move on. True μετἀνοια requires a critical examination of those theologies, and the construction of an alternative. This is unsettling emotionally as well as ideologically.

Further, I am bold enough to argue that this is an issue not only for Christians in colonized lands like Canada, but also for Christian theologians in the lands from whence the colonists came, such as the UK and France. While these nations may no longer be colonial powers, the theologies that encouraged colonization came from them, and may continue to wreak havoc on people.

This is a dissertation about how we might decolonize theology. I have entitled it Unsettling Theology as a kind of riff on Regan’s book. I pray that it will not only unsettle the practice of theology, but help those of us descended from settlers to somehow move on to new relationships with the indigenous peoples, the land, and beyond.

[1] National Archives of Canada, Record Group 10, volume 6810, file 470-2-3, volume 7, pp. 55 (L-3) and 63 (N-3)

[2] See the detail of the map of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1960.

[3] John S. Milloy, A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System 1879-1986 (Winnipeg MB: The University of Manitoba Press, 1999).

[4] The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Volume One: Summary. Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (Toronto ON: James Lorimer & Company, Ltd: 2015).

[5] See “Appendix 4 – Apologies” in the TRC Final Report Volume One.

Posted in Anglican Church of Canada, Canadian Issues, Unsettling Theology | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

An Academic Discipline

carr As some of you know, I’ve been working on a PhD dissertation for the past five years. The first couple of years were largely reading and reflecting, what my friend Tamsin Jones Farmer calls “passive cogitation”. The scheme of the dissertation was pretty much in place after the first year, and I started writing bits and pieces, slowly. In particular, I was distracted by such things as being a full time parish priest from June 2014, the refugee coordinator of the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia from February 2015 to May 2017, as well as two separate bouts of illness that led to me being on medical leave. However, I am now in my final year, and it is time to get it done.

 

Roughly speaking, the dissertation is supposed to be 100,000 words, or about 300 pages, double-spaced, not including any bibliography or appendices. I am roughly halfway there with the first draft. The title is “Unsettling Theology” and it addresses the the theological legacies of the “Indian Residential Schools” that were operated by the churches on behalf of the Canadian federal government.  The first section is an introduction to the history of the schools and asks how it was that basically good people got enthusiastically involved in what is essentially genocide. The first part also has a literature review noting key texts and also identifying any number of rabbit holes I am not going down. The second part examines the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), a French philosopher known for arguing that “Ethics is First Philosophy”. I consider his critique of what he calls  totality” or “totalizing thought” and generalize it into a method for looking at any form of rational discourse. The next section looks at the theologies that informed the people operating the Indian Residential Schools, and I subject it to Levinas’s critique. The final section then looks at what kind of theologies survive a Levinasian critique, and I suggest that kenotic theology is one way to ensure that we do not follow in the footsteps of the missionaries who operated the IRS. I end with a final conclusion reviewing what I think I’ve done and proposing further research.

This is an ambitious project, and one that only someone with over five decades or reading and rumination should undertake. Any one of the sections might be a dissertation in itself, but at my age I try to see things in an interdisciplinary way, so my work combines history, philosophy, biblical studies, and theology, and I am influences by feminist theology and postcolonial theology, which makes it all the more complex. So how do I get it all done?

I have spent some of the past few months – Advent and Lent – doing daily commentaries on daily office readings. A short one is 500 words and some have been 2000 words long. I intend to do the same, only by writing a daily chunk of my dissertation. I will probably jump all over the place, and some of which I write will be cut and not make it into the final draft. However, if I am consistent and spend an hour or two a day on this, I will have the complete first draft by Christmas and then I can revise and get the darn thing handed in by early Spring 2018. This may make for rather dull blog posts, but it will be an academic discipline that will get this thing done.

So there’s the intention. Let’s see if I stick to it, eh?

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