As part of my ongoing research, I’ve been reading the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which is concerned with the abuse of Aboriginal people in residential schools. Most of those schools were church-run and the role of Christianity (including how religious institutions and religious ideas facilitated abuse) is analysed in the Report. The Report also details examples of the Canadian churches in issuing apologies and engaging in reconciliation activities.
Survivors of the residential school systems are quoted throughout the report, and I was struck by the comments of Elder Jim Dumont, who observes that the church is avoiding ‘reconciling with the Spirit’, and calls on the church to ‘reconcile with their God.’ So often – whether in Canada or in other contexts where Christianity is used to justify violence or abuse — Christians think of reconciliation in individual terms. Dumont’s words are a timely reminder that reconciliation must go beyond individuals and encompass institutions like churches (or other socio-political structures). Dumont said (p. 227:)
… [the] abuse and the damage that has been done in residential schools, one of the primary sources of that is the church. And the church has to take ownership for that. But what bothers me about it is that the church continues to have a hold on our people…. Just get out of the way for awhile so that we can do what we need to do because as long as you are standing there thinking that you are supporting us, you are actually preventing us from getting to our own truth about this and our own healing about this. But I think the other thing that’s being avoided by the church is their need to reconcile with the Spirit…. I think that the church has to reconcile with the Creator…. I’m not a Christian but I have a high regard for this Spirit … who is called Jesus…. What I think is that when the church can reconcile with their God and their Saviour for what they have done, then maybe we can talk to them about reconciling amongst ourselves.