As people of faith we are called to cast our ballots

This article first appeared in the August 17th, 2021 edition of the Marathon Mercury.

It is official, as of Sunday, August 15th we are headed towards a federal election on September 20th. Some have already expressed feelings of ‘election exhaustion’ as predictions took over the media these past few weeks. Now we have merely a month to go before we cast our ballots.

It has been argued that as a religious figure ministers should stay out of politics. Some point to Jesus’ comment of “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” as a way of saying Christians should stay apolitical. But, to me, the Galilean tradesman and spiritual leader I follow was deeply political. He spoke for corporate responsibility, of care for the vulnerable, of the need for those with more to carry more responsibility. That said, I’m not writing this piece to tell you how to vote, but to encourage you to vote. That is to say, as people of faith we must carry out this basic civic responsibility.

An election during a pandemic is a critical time to make our voices heard, to speak for justice and the common good. We have an opportunity to tell our political leaders what’s important to us and what kind of a job we think they’re doing. We can do this not just by voting but by writing letters and emails, submitting questions at town halls and debates, by engaging in conversation with candidates and their supporters when they come to our doors.

We have an opportunity to continue to ask that our government reckon with the legacy of Residential Schools, that they provide equal access to good quality health care for all residents. In our riding, we can talk about affordable housing, transportation and environmental concerns. We can point out that far too many First Nations communities in Thunder Bay-Superior North still do not have access to clean drinking water despite promises to remedy this injustice.

For those who use the way of Jesus as their guide, this is another opportunity to dig deeper in our faith and find ways we can reflect his teachings in our living. We can also have wonderful conversations with our neighbours of different faiths, finding common ground between their principles and our own. Love of neighbour, hospitality to the outsider, care for the vulnerable, these principles are found in common across faiths. We also have the opportunity to choose whether they are the guiding principles of our government, of our elected leaders. This is a time for us to question, reflect with, and choose to support individuals we feel best represent these common principles.

I understand if you’re already feeling a little election weary. Since it has been a weary past year and a half. But I pray you can see the hope in our midst. That our small part, especially when multiplied by our neighbours, can be enough to change our community for the better.

In persistent hope, Pastor Selina.

To make sure you’re registered to vote visit ereg.elections.ca

Need access to a computer? Visit your local library.

Who gets to call here “home”?

First published in the Marathon Mercury, June 15, 2021.

It has been a challenging few weeks in the news cycle. Recently 215 bodies were uncovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in BC. These children died at the hands of a system whose entire purpose was to erase Indigenous people from the future of our country. Don’t believe me? Just ask Duncan Campbell Scott, a civil servant in the 1920’s who worked on residential school policies and said just that.

Following this tragedy was the horrific attack which took place in London, Ontario last week. A driver, now charged with 4 counts of murder and 1 count attempted murder, targeted a local Muslim family leaving a young boy as the sole survivor.

This week I am all too aware that the hatred directed at Muslim neighbours, neighbours of Asian and Middle Eastern descent, is the same hatred that established the residential school system.

There is a sense of entitlement many Canadians have which breeds this unspeakable violence. It is a sense that we are the only rightful residents of this country, an entitlement that dehumanizes all others. We do not see neighbours, coworkers, elders, or children when we look at Indigenous, Black, Asian or Muslim community members. We don’t even see them as members of our community. This disassociation allows us to treat them as if they weren’t human. It is a terrible form of tribalism, a cancerous attitude. One that can start so small but grow until it suffocates common sense and compassion. 

The Afzaal family were human beings. Originally from Pakistan, they made a home in London and were a vibrant part of their local community. They did not deserve to die. So too, the over 150,000 Indigenous children who were estimated to have passed through residential schools did not deserve the abused and mistreatment, sometimes leading to death, which they endured. All of these children of God, from the Afzaal family to children like Chanie Wenjack, have no less value or humanity than those of us of European descent.

It is not enough for us to simply be “not racist”. This insidious violence must be met with an equal and opposing force. We must fight tribalism and hate with love. When we humanize our neighbours, when we see them as a part of “us”, of our community, it is so much harder to let common sense and compassion slip out the door. By seeing ourselves as part of something bigger—whether it’s the human family, the web of creation, or a fellow child of God—we can actively fight against this tribalism that breeds violence.

So, as we watch the news this next few weeks, may we be carefully not to to assume we are so very different from our community members who have committed violent acts. If we are not pushing back against the tide of hatred and violence, if we are passive, we may be fostering a cancer within us unawares. Instead, let’s turn and extend our hands to our neighbours. Let’s listen to their stories and share are own with them—building bridges of understanding, celebrating our common humanity. Let us work as the peace-makers we have been so called to be.

Palestine

Published in the Marathon Mercury, May 25th, 2021.

This past week the United Church called on the Canadian government to “intervene with Israel and de-escalate the spiralling violence and negotiate its end.” The Israel-Palestine conflict is not new news. Some of us are old enough to remember the years following the creation of the Israeli state in the late 1940’s, others grew up with news of on-going conflicts between Israel and its neighbours. Some of our high school history classes included sections dedicated to the conflict. Yet, many of us, when Israel and Palestine hits our newsfeed, feel unprepared to have a conversation about it.

The conflict feels far away from here. The history of the conflict can seem so huge that we don’t feel like we know enough to venture an opinion. We worry about being on the wrong-side, or about seeming ignorant. I worry that these insecurities too often lead to inaction and apathy, when silence is simply not an option.

We’ve seen the images coming out of Gaza over the past few weeks. We’ve heard the reports about the almost 200 deaths, including 58 children.

In the midst of a global pandemic Palestinian families continue to be evicted from their homes and neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem and Westbank by the Israeli government. The evictions are to make room for more illegal settlements. Not to mention the violent suppression of peaceful protests, the arrest and trial in military courts of Palestinian children without representation, and bombardment of Gaza persist

It is my feeling, and the feeling of the United Church of Canada as well as countless Canadian civil societies, that this is an unacceptable way to treat other human beings. No matter where you stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict, we should all be able to agree that the death of innocent families—of children—is unacceptable. Canada, along with the most other democratic nations, consider occupation and the expansion of settlements to be illegal in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention.

We have our own history of colonization, of forced evictions and violence. As people who are beginning to seek right relations with First Nations I don’t think we can be silent. I cannot imagine that the Canadian government could be looked at with much trust by First Nations when we sit idly by, watching our ally do the same to another. 

As a Christian, I follower a Teacher who aligned himself with the poor and oppressed. A Jewish man who welcomed the other, including the hated Samaritan, into his vision of justice.  I am trying to imagine how I would feel if it was my family being evicted from its home, if my spouse or toddler, was injured or killed in the violence. As a follower of the Prince of Peace, as a Canadian, I must raise my voice calling on the Israeli government to put an end to this injustice.

This is not a question of a Christian condemning Jewish people, there are Jewish groups such as the Independent Jewish Voices Canada which advocate for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine. This is a question of a powerful government evicting families from their home, violently suppressing them when they speak up about it, and deeming the death of children acceptable collateral damage as part of their efforts. On this, at least, can’t we agree? Enough is enough.

Interested in learning more? Visit united-church.ca/social-action/act-now/stop-latest-palestinian-evictions-east-jerusalem.