Vancouver leaders respond to racist violence with passion

A Berlin mural by the Dominican artists known as EME Freethinker.

Church leaders in Metro Vancouver responded immediately and with intensity to the killing of George Floyd and racial profiling / police violence in the United States (and in Canada).

Some of the comments are not surprising; a number of the writers regularly focus on issues of social justice. Others are from people who do not primarily comment on such issues – but who were clearly moved, troubled or incensed enough to want to record their thoughts. It is encouraging to see such an ecumenical response.

Here are some of the comments that have come to my attention over the past few days. (And don’t miss the link to a story about George Floyd’s gospel work, right at the end.)

Archbishop Melissa Skelton

Archbishop Melissa Skelton

Anglican Archbishop of the Ecclesiastical Province of BC and Yukon Melissa Skelton posted a Pastoral Message regarding racism:

It is difficult to decide where to start on any communique to all of you related to racism and racist acts today.

Whether it’s stories from here in Canada related to aggressive acts toward Canadians of Chinese, Japanese or Filipino heritage, discrimination against a First Nations man just doing his banking, the disturbing increase in anti-Semitism world-wide, or the stark images of African-American men pursued, threatened and murdered in the US – the times we are in continue to remind us that not only is racism not dead, racism seems to have become stronger or perhaps more exposed in the midst of this pandemic.

Due to my upbringing in the American South and what seemed to be its single-minded focus on the black/white race struggle, the Canadian race issues related to Indigenous peoples and Canadians of Chinese, Japanese and Filipino heritage have been one of the most important learnings during my time in Canada.

But racism is not just an American or Canadian issue. Racism is a universal human issue, a universal evil. And, of course, on account of this reality, racism is also a Christian issue.

Racism is a Christian issue because we know that from the beginning our Creator delighted in variety and created a world of astonishing diversity. Racism is a Christian issue because our faith tells us that we are all created in the image of God and as such deserve lives of safety, dignity and possibility.

Racism is a Christian issue because “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Racism is a Christian issue because at our baptism we renounced “all powers which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” and we pledged “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Go here for the full message.

Dave Koop

Dave Koop

Coastal Church’s senior pastor Dave Koop wrote to his church family, which gathers in two downtown Vancouver locations (under normal circumstances), as well as at Commercial Drive and in Pitt Meadows and Richmond:

In light of the recent traumatic and tragic events that have caused a public outcry, I wanted to share my heart with you.

I know we are all greatly grieved at the painful and senseless loss of life we have seen this past week with George Floyd and the many events that have transpired before and after. The hurt and pain has caused many in Canada, our nation, to be deeply affected.

I pray for peace in the aftermath and for genuine solutions to emerge as we work with others towards racial reconciliation, biblical justice and mercy. As Christians, we are commanded to fulfill the greatest commandment to love God and love people. The Bible teaches us that every wall of division; race, gender and class has been broken because of Jesus Christ. We must remain committed to the healing and restoration process in these areas.

The scriptures tell us we need to take a biblical stance against all forms of injustice and racism. In Micah 6:8 we read: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you except to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion) and to walk humbly with your God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]?

Go here for the full statement.

Sarah Bessey

Sarah Bessey

Fraser Valley author/commentator Sarah Bessey wrote in her Field Notes:

Right now, we find ourselves in a kairos moment, a moment when God is calling us to a particular purpose, a moment that demands holy outrage and righteous anger and loving action.

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others have galvanized so many communities – and so many of us.

Like so many here in our Field Notes community, I have learned so much over the past few years as we have leaned into dismantling the ongoing stench of white supremacy, the ugly legacy of colonization and the terrible endurance of unjust systems.

Go here for the full comment.

Marcus Mosely

Marcus Mosely

Marcus Mosely, originally from Texas, came to Vancouver as a young man. The gospel singers was interviewed by CBC News:

“It’s just a shame that a person can’t go for a jog, a person can’t go to the store, a person can’t stand on their front porch and enjoy the sunshine on their face without fearing that someone might get scared and call the cops, and they’ll end up like George Floyd.”

“It’s weighing heavily on my psyche… things have not changed. In my 67 years, some things have gotten better, and some things have not gotten better. Police brutality is one of those things that continue to survive.” . . .

But he says he’s heartened to see so many Canadians take an active role in fighting hate and oppression.

It’s something he hopes will ignite greater social change — not just when it comes to police violence in the U.S., but also systemic racism in Canada, particularly when it comes to Indigenous communities and other marginalized groups.

“Systemic white supremacy is a problem,” he said. “It has been a problem in western culture for centuries, and we have to address it or we’ll continue cycling through this over and over again.”

Go here for the full story.

Mark Clark

Speaking to Village Churches which (normally) has 12 services in six locations, senior pastor Mark Clark said in a YouTube video:

It has been a really sad, frustrating week, in light of the death of George Floyd and also a couple of weeks ago of Ahmaud Arbery, and recognizing that racism is alive and well in the world.

Whether you’re someone from the left or the right politically around these things, and how you interpret the data – I see people online getting frustrated one way or the other about all the details of these kind of cases, and debating this fact and that fact and whatever – the reality is, at 30,000 feet, it’s really clear biblically that racism is an abhorrent sin in the eyes of God. He hates it.

It’s funny, I was talking with my black pastor friends down in the States, and recognizing that their experience has been that so often, the church, when you get up and speak about sin – lust, greed, adultery – it’s amen, let’s go, let’s talk about it, no problems.

And then when you talk about race, immediately it’s put into some kind of political category where you’re not allowed to talk about it, and pastors often fear to speak out about it – in the U.S.especially. The U.S. experience is a little different than the Canadian one around these things; they have their unique experiences and we have ours. But it’s so very relevant and serious here in Canada as well.

But you have this fear to speak out these things, or to talk about them, and you realize that the church really kind of picks and chooses its sins sometimes.

Go here for the full talk.

Aaron White

Aaron White

Aaron White, national director of 24-7 Prayer Canada, who for years lived and worked with the Salvation Army in the Downtown Eastside, was blunt:

Canada, let us be very clear about something: racial inequality is not an “American” problem. We cannot turn our heads smugly south and lament “their” issue as if it did not exist here. It does, and it has since the beginning of what we think of as Canada.

In some ways the issue in Canada runs even deeper, as it is so hidden to many. But it is not hidden to those who have faced the brunt of racist ideologies, and still do.

And the Church in Canada is complicit. Explicitly complicit. Historically the Church cooperated eagerly with State power in the cultural genocide against Canada’s Indigenous People. The effects of that genocide, and the ideology that fueled it, are still very active and destructive today.

Then there is the anti-Asian racism that has gone very public again, but has been festering in places like Vancouver since its inception. The Anti-Asiatic Exclusion League is an abysmal part of our history, as are the Japanese internment camps, the Komagata Maru, and our own version of the Kristallnacht in Chinatown. . . .

Racism is anathema. It is heresy, blasphemy. It is anti-Christ. It is the kingdom of darkness, the opposite of the home Jesus is preparing for every tribe, nation, tongue and people. The proper posture is to mourn our allegiance to this spirit and to commit to repentance.

Lord, have mercy.

Go here for the full comment.

Georgialee Lang

Lawdiva, aka Georgialee Lang

Georgialee Lang is a trial and appellate lawyer in Vancouver with an extensive legal resume. Writing on her Lawdiva’s blog, she said:

To see great American cities ravaged in flames with marauding bands of black-clothed youth is startling, and so very sad…the violence and looting shocks the conscience. Yet protesting injustice is honorable and is what Jesus himself did during his time with us. . . .

Jesus spent his life bringing awareness to gender inequality, religious hypocrisy, political corruption, racism, hatred, segregation, and social injustice. Through His power we can advocate for the poor, shelter the homeless, sustain widows and children, show hospitality to strangers, encourage the weary and spread the love of Christ to our neighbours.

Go here for the full comment.

Many others

Santa Ono

Many others have commented; here are a few more:

UBC President Santa Ono playing his cello on Twitter: “I dedicate this song to George Floyd &everyone who is suffering today from racial injustice. I offer it to all as we struggle with the pain of the past several days. I pray that we will together move from the “midnight of racism” to the “bright daylight of peace & brotherhood.”

Mission Possible tweeted: “We will be temporarily pausing Mission Possible content on our social media channels this week in order to amplify Black and Indigenous voices.”

Craig O’Brien (Origin Church at UBC) tweeted (three tweets): “We have seen it again. It’s on display: How the reflexive move to dominate another person ends in death. This move seems to become easy when oiled with racist thoughts, fears, and assumptions. It generates a culture of impunity where humility, love and the pursuit of the common good should have abounded. It manipulates authorities and seeks to justify itself under the cloak of law and order. This demonic power move wrapped up in the assumption of superiority wrecks everyone and everything it touches. My friends and family who are black – I’m so grieved, sickened and angry. But I will not retreat into the comfort of my whiteness or resign myself to despair. Instead I will sit, walk, stand, and even kneel beside you, seeking the better way.

Brian Cooper, who teaches at MB Biblical Seminary on the TWU campus, blogged #BLACKLIVESMATTER, beginning, “Then the King will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . .”

Christianity Today has posted several good articles about the whole situation.Most reflect some of the elements raised in the comments above, but one simply tells of his life a Christian worker.

This is how George Floyd left a Gospel legacy in Houston begins:

The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades – a mentor to a generation of young men and a “person of peace” ushering ministries into the area.

Before moving to Minneapolis for a job opportunity through a Christian work program, the 46-year-old spent almost his entire life in the historically black Third Ward, where he was called “Big Floyd” and regarded as an “OG,” a de-facto community leader and elder statesmen, his ministry partners say. . . .

Go here for the full story.

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3 comments for “Vancouver leaders respond to racist violence with passion

  1. Thanks for this post Flyn. This is part of a much needed change of heart to gently but courageously confront not only blatant acts of racism but also it’s all too common ‘polite’ and indirect cousin. All too common in Canada as well as in the church is the willingness to indulge in or tolerate in others indirect racist comments prefaced by “I’m not racist, but . . .”

    Let’s keep the conversation going with an invitation to hear the stories of those impacted, and to broaden it to those who need to hear and honour them.

  2. I want to thank the Christian believers of Vancouver for your posts. Being a Christian growing in Montreal and then at 18 years old moving to Vancouver, I grew up dealing with racism in both cities. I see a generation coming up now that will no longer tolerate racism and I am thankful.

    I saw and experienced firsthand racism even when we used to travel to New York as a teen in the 60s. It is a difficult subject but I am glad we can now discuss in the open and no longer be silent about this subject.

  3. Thanks for posting this article, Flyn. While I appreciate the responses, I am also wondering why it took racial injustice in the US to happen before Canadian Christians spoke up? Why were there no responses when anti-Asian racism was happening in Vancouver and Toronto?

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