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Sudbury faith: We need to confront racism, hate and discrimination

And churches must not be silent

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Silence is not an option. We must speak out and speak up. We must let our voices be heard.

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I’m talking specifically about the churches. We need to talk about the injustice and hate and evil that we witness in our world and hear about so often in the news. We need to speak about it and speak against it. This was driven home for me particularly when a family in London, Ont., were killed in an Islamophobic hate crime early last month.

And actually before that, just over a week earlier we started to hear about the discovery of unmarked graves on residential school sites, first in Kamloops, B.C., and now continuing to be found in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and more in B.C. Indigenous people have known these graves existed for decades; they have told us they exist, and now they’re showing us proof if we didn’t believe them before.

The anti-Muslim hate crimes happen frequently. They don’t always lead to death so they don’t always make the news headlines and most of us never hear about them.

In addition, waves of anti-Semitism ebb and flow in our society but never completely go away.

In the wake of racist comments made by some political figures about the origin of COVID-19 we saw a rise in anti-Asian racism.

The murder of George Floyd in May of last year brought renewed attention to the anti-Black racism that, in addition to being overt with some people, is also built into the structure of our society.

And I repeat, we cannot and must not be silent. Racism, sexism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, these must be called out as sinful and evil.

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I offer my deepest condolences to all of our Muslim sisters and brothers for that attack in London that killed most of a family, leaving a young child orphaned. This kind of hateful act ought to move us all to outrage and sorrow.

We need to confront Islamophobia, racism, hate, and discrimination wherever we see them. And we need to meet them with compassion, kindness, empathy, solidarity, justice, and extended hands of friendship and love.

The continuing discovery of children’s remains buried in unmarked graves at Indian Residential Schools is a painful reminder of the violation of Indigenous People’s rights and dignity. The denomination to which I belong has committed to working for reconciliation, and a right and renewed relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

On June 21 Bill C-15, An Act Respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, received royal assent. It’s a critical step on a continuing journey toward reconciliation. There are many steps to come and we must continue to hold our governments, our churches, and ourselves accountable to the ongoing pursuit of that journey.

In the time of the Bible, there were prophets who brought God’s word to the people. Those prophets frequently spoke out against the religious people who had become comfortable and complacent, who aligned themselves with the wealthy and powerful, who ignored the plight of the oppressed and needy.

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In a Bible Study discussion a couple of months ago, the question was posed, “Who are the prophets in our place and time?” In pondering that question, I didn’t want to automatically look for religious people. I thought about who speaks out for the oppressed, the needy, the persecuted.

What I came up with at the time were groups like Black Lives Matter speaking out against racism and advocating for societal changes that would break down systemic racism.

I thought of the Idle No More protest movement of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and their allies, reacting to abuses of treaty rights.

I thought of the growing display of white crosses on the corner of Paris and Brady streets that stand as a continuous reminder of the opioid crisis that is taking so many lives right in our own community.

I thought of the Pride movement that holds rallies, commemorations, marches, and festivals to promote pride and belonging and the rights of LGBTQ2SIA+ people as opposed to the shame and social stigma that has existed.

And the churches must not be silent. Where we are complicit in oppression and prejudice we need to repent and confess our sinfulness. We need to speak up in support of our sisters and brothers of other faith traditions, we need to speak out against racism and sexism. We need to advocate for the rights of all people. We need to work for the healing of our society, our churches, those we have hurt, and ourselves.

Some believe that Christianity is all about saving people’s souls. While it may well be about that, God does the saving. We don’t have to save ourselves, and that’s a good thing because we can’t save ourselves. God, through Jesus Christ, has saved us. So now we’re set free. We’re free to love our neighbour. We’re free to make the world a better place. That’s our calling. May we heed the call.

Rev. Thomas P. Arth is with Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sudbury.

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