The unmarked graves of several hundred Indigenous children. A deliberate act of violence against a Muslim family out for a stroll. In recent weeks, new reports have again shown how entire groups of people suffered because of their ethnicity or beliefs. (Sadly, by the time you read this, there may have been more.) In response, people across the country have reacted in shock, grief and anger at a society that allows this violence to happen—again and again.
“We believe that God has created human beings in the divine image,” asserts the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. “God formed them from the dust of the earth and gave them a special dignity among all the works of creation. Human beings have been made for relationship with God, to live in peace with each other, and to take care of the rest of creation” (Article 6).
Humans are imbued with a God-given dignity, each one valued as a precious child of God, and deserving of respect, safety and love. This belief undergirds the gospel of peace we Anabaptists claim to follow.
Yet, ignorance and hatred surround us, leading to these indignities against God’s children. Historical wrongs were committed against human beings who were lovingly created as a reflection of the Divine. Present-day violence cuts previous lives short and unleashes fear in entire communities.
No one can restore the lives that were cut short by racist systems and hateful actions. Seeking and telling the truth is important. Apologies and financial compensation may help ease some difficulties for survivors. But these acknowledgments will never equal the precious lives lost.
One characteristic of violence in all its forms is that it dismisses the value of people who were created by God. The challenge—for people of faith and goodwill—is to re-affirm that lost dignity and to strive diligently against the harmful attitudes that continue to fester.
In response to the discoveries in Kamloops and the attack in London, Ont., many have engaged in symbolic actions, through virtual and physical demonstrations of support. We have witnessed flags at half mast, orange t-shirts, and impassioned social media posts. There have been tears and prayers of lament. Flowers, teddy bears and children’s shoes symbolized the caring of our communities.
But these are only first steps. What can we do, beyond symbolic acts, to honour and protect the dignity of each child of God? We are called to stand up against fear and hatred in more concrete ways.
As individuals, we must remember that each of us is prone to the same attitudes that we despise in others. We need to examine, honestly and carefully, our own tendencies to devalue people who are different from us. We can resolve to listen deeply to the experiences of those who have been targeted. We can learn how to push back, with wisdom and determination, against acts of hatred.
We pray for those caught up in violence. Most certainly we pray for the victims. But the Bible instructs us to pray also for the “enemies,” specifically the people who have caused the pain, and the ones tempted to cause pain through words and deeds.
It is time for our churches and institutions to move beyond the words of land acknowledgements. How are we teaching anti-racism to people of all ages? Are we connecting with other people of faith to work on behalf of marginalized people in our communities? Maybe it is time to revisit the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and to study the ones addressed to churches and faith groups. Do our policies, programs, and practices value and promote the rights of all people? If not, what needs to change?
Together, let’s consider how we will respond to acts of hatred against God’s beloved children. May the Almighty give us courage.
Coming up: digital-only issues
Starting with the next issue, Canadian Mennonite will begin the summer practice of offering three online-only issues. The July 5, August 2 and August 30 issues will not appear in print but will be available through email to all digital subscribers. If you already receive a digital version of the magazine, these will automatically come to you. If you receive only the print issue but are interested in seeing the digital issues as well, through the summer and beyond, you can add that option at canadianmennonite.org/subscribe/manage or email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no extra cost to current subscribers.