To celebrate its 50th anniversary Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Manitoba planned an event to be held on Nov. 15, 2014, at the Immanuel Pentecostal Church in Winnipeg, a venue MCC was renting for the large event. But days before, MCC cancelled the event based on objections the congregation’s leadership had to an indigenous smudging ceremony that was to be held on church grounds. Read more here.
Following are more viewpoints on the practice of smudging and how it relates to Christian faith.
Christianity and smudging on CBC
Adrian Jacobs, a member of the Cayuga First Nation and someone with close ties to MCC, spoke on CBC radio’s show Information Radio about Aboriginal spirituality and Christianity, specifically in relation to the postponement of the MCC event. Listen here, from 38:40 to 45:50.
Anishinabe-instigated letter to Pentecostal church
On November 16, the day after anniversary event was supposed to happen, University of Manitoba professor Niigaan Sinclair posted the letter below on his Facebook page. Facebook friends were invited to “sign” the petition by adding their names as comments to the post.
Sinclair is Anishinabe and a regular commentator on indigenous issues. He is also the son of Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Immanuel Pentecostal Church pastor Scott Bullerwell responded to Sinclair in writing and has not received a response, as of today.
Petition for our Relations of the Immanuel Pentecostal Church
November 16, 2014 at 2:51pm
Dear Relations in the Immanuel Pentecostal Church,
Smudging is a spiritual activity performed by Indigenous peoples of Manitoba in the interests of forging healthy and strong relationships (such as with human and non-human beings, plants, earth, water, the sky, the stars, the sun, the moon, and the universe) so that life can filled with nurturing, sustainable, and everlasting spaces. This is not an activity that excludes non-Indigenous peoples but invites all to create, build, and re-rebuild connections while acknowledging past, honouring present, and inviting future relationships to form. Smudging is therefore the epitome of the spirit of Treaty One, an agreement forged in the interests of sharing space, creating mutually beneficial ties through values like compromise and dialogue, and living sustainably respectfully.
At the same time, the burning of medicinal plants such as incense is recognized in the Bible while invested in similar relationship-making principles. It is obviously not the same but carries some shared principles worth talking about. Dialogue and discussion can encourage these connections but due to a myriad of factors (including governmental policy, constructions of race and difference, and misunderstandings) this has never seriously taken place in Treaty One territory—resulting in situations like today. Banning smudging under the guise of religious difference is therefore not only incorrect but a challenge to the potential of healthy and positive relationships in our shared home.
We the undersigned ask that the Immanuel Pentecostal Church (IPC) ask members of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community of Winnipeg (particularly elders) to a shared dialogue on what smudging is and how all might share responsibilities as members of Treaty One to share land and space in 2014. We understand that the IPC has contacted the Mennonite Central Committee to organize a private meeting and this is an encouraging start but this is not enough. Without members of the Indigenous community present there will be crucial voices missing and an opportunity lost. If wished, an organization like the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba could be asked to facilitate this initiative in the interests of education and objectivity.
We believe that this moment is an opportunity for all to have a long-needed dialogue on our shared relationships in this territory and how we have constructed differences that have divided us. We believe it is all of our responsibility to find a way to live with one another through a conversation.
Miigwech, ekosi, thank you, merci.
Comments by Pastor Scott Bullerwell, Immanuel Pentecostal Church
Below are excerpts of a statement sent to Canadian Mennonite on December 1, in response to questions about the smudging incident.
- [Some church members] could not reconcile the actions of the Christian organization—one with whom we share similar Anabaptist roots, a common Christian world-view and for whom we have tremendous respect—choosing to defer to native spirituality, which, as I have said before, has little affinity with Christianity.
- I have said publicly to our church folks that Immanuel regrets the events that led to MCC’s decision to cancel, but we respect their right to do so and bear no ill feelings towards them. Nor do I wish to point fingers or target anyone for unnecessary criticism. The policies that govern the use of our facilities are not about not wanting to celebrate diversity, but are a simple reflection of our Christian belief system; a reflection of our statement of faith.
- Christianity and native spirituality are incompatible with each other. Since the unfolding of recent events I have heard from a number of Christian Aboriginal folk who have solidly affirmed our position.
- Though I do not see myself as an apologist for the Christian community, what I do know is that there is no confusion in Scripture. When Jesus declared in the Gospel of John (14:6) "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” he was not offering us a buffet of options to choose from. Further, animism, a common foundational thread of native spirituality is not an ingredient of Christianity nor one that the Scriptures endorse.
- The theological tension between native spirituality and Christianity is not going to go away any time soon, if ever, and while no effort should be spared to facilitate authentic native Christianity, elements that are cultural or spiritual should be weighed by Scripture and then embraced, modified or jettisoned. In our view smudging within our Christian faith community is inconsistent with the spiritual values and intent of Scripture and that is why it was dismissed.
- [T]he message of Christ will for sure be bothersome to some and I cannot assuage the pain, grief or angst it might cause in a person’s life, for whatever reasons. I can only hope that in my personal interactions with others, I can mediate the love of Christ with the life-changing force of the Gospel. Folks will no doubt determine the degree to which I might be successful.
- It would be my hope that there will be opportunities in the foreseeable future to work cooperatively with [Mennonites] in endeavours within our city. And why not—after all, Pentecostals and Mennonites share together common Anabaptist roots.
—Posted Dec. 10, 2014
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