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Opinion – Racial Inclusion In Fraser Valley Churches

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Fraser Valley – This opinion piece was submitted to FVN from Fraser Valley Inclusion Hound.

I believe Fraser Valley evangelical Christians have big hearts and the best of intentions. I believe they love Christ very much, and love Church, and love community. But the problem with intentions is that they only go so far when it comes to the difficult, complicated, and emotional topic of racial inclusion.

It’s never anyone’s favourite topic, and as Canadians, and even more so as Canadian Christians, we like to believe we’ve got this one all figured out. No one wants to be accused of the “R” word: racist.

Sadly, after the past twenty years of attending Church in the Fraser Valley, I do have my concerns. Concerns so deep that I have spent far too many hours scouring denominational literature, publications, talking to leaders and pastors—trying to determine if that sick, cold feeling in my stomach is correct; something appears to be disturbingly off when it comes to racial inclusion in Fraser Valley Churches.

I have never set foot in a Church named as being specifically for Mennonite or Dutch people, yet, if I had a thousand dollars for every time I’ve heard a sermon on how great it is to be Mennonite or Dutch, I’d be a very wealthy person. I know far too much about Mennonite and Dutch culture, and my extensive knowledge has really only been learned at Fraser Valley Churches, not at public schools, public workplaces, or public universities.

Now, I have no problem whatsoever with the actual ethnicities of the Mennonite or the Dutch, not at all. (We know both groups do make up a proportion of the population in the Valley, it seems about 20% of the population according to census data.) I respect both cultures; Canada is multicultural after all. Canadian identity, I would say, is firmly rooted in this, that we respect all cultures equally, that we celebrate diversity. So, why are our evangelical Churches, many named as being for the community, not exactly representing the actual communities we see in our public schools, in our public universities, even at the mall?

Again, Christians have the best of intentions, and it seems, from hours spent scouring Christian academic literature, that about twenty or so years ago, that a decision was made that it was, and is, best to plant “ethnic Churches.” Yes, those newcomers to Canada, like the Chinese, like the IndoCanadians, well, it seems the evangelical Churches in particular decided it might be for their own good to have their own Churches. It would be easier for them, those “others.” There are language and cultural barriers. Indeed, for groups like the Mennonites, who were recent immigrants themselves, this probably seemed like a very natural conclusion to make—that ethnic groups would be better off with their own.

But, to me, this is where things may have taken a wrong turn. It seems that there is an assumption that “brown people” are all newcomers to Canada; in fact, many brown people have been in Canada much longer than the Mennonite and Dutch wave of immigrants. We have the Chinese who built the railway and were rewarded with the head tax; we have the Japanese who suffered the horrors of internment; and of course, we have the original peoples of the land, the Indigenous, who were all rounded up on to reserves, and had their children sent to Residential Schools. (And my apologies to the many other groups I have no doubt left out in this paragraph.)

So today, you can find many, many Churches just for the Chinese say. . .clearly labelled, clearly identified, this Church is for the Chinese. Yet, it seems Churches filled to the brim with a majority of white ethnic groups, like the Dutch and Mennonite, well, these are called “community Churches.”

Interestingly, if we take this even further, we would all have to carve ourselves up into the minutiae of our own ethnic identies to find a Church home in Canada. Are you Scandinavian, French, German, Polish, Thai, Italian? Who keeps track of their ancestry so meticulously if youve been in Canada for countless generations? Which culture should you pick as your fave? Is this Church, or a culture club?

You come to Church to be included in a community that is focused on Christ, only to be reminded of the many ways that you are excluded. Walls are erected; and more disturbing than the actual ethnic identity itself, a culture of exclusion is created: insiders and outsiders.

I recently phoned some denominational head offices—after trying many, many “community” Churches heavily flavoured with Mennonite and Dutch worldviews, about a referral to a Church that just felt more “Canadian”, more like what I am used to in the public spaces, with some diversity, with inclusion, or at least an attempt at it—well, for this it seems you must attend specialty Churches, which are few and far between in the Fraser Valley, dedicated to “multiculturalism.”

And it needs to be pointed out that having a cultural identity is quite a luxury that many people in Canada have had violently taken away from them. We’ve already covered the history of the Chinese and Japanese Canadians, but, in particular, our Aboriginal friends are having to rebuild their cultures from scratch. Residential Schools, the sixties scoop, assimilation policies were designed to “kill the Indian in the child” and turn Aboriginal people, if they survived, into proper Anglocized citizens. I really cannot think of anything more offensive to an Aboriginal person, than imposing yet another Eurocentric culture upon them at Church.

To be fair, I can see that some Churches are trying. I can see the start of change, a few Fraser Valley Churches are intentionally hiring diverse staffs. Some are involved with Truth and Reconciliation. The intent is there, but I hear, weekly, so many comments from Christians in the community that make me honestly worry if minority groups can ever truly be safe at Church. I hear comments like, “I wouldnt want to be in your non-Mennonite shoes and attend Church in this Valley” or “Church is so great, I get to go and see all my Mennonite relatives” or “Oh, why are these people in leadership, they arent really Mennonite?” or how about the classic, which happened to me in a Care Group, “If you ain't Dutch you ain’t much?” (FYI, that saying is racist, not cute, not a joke.)

This is where intent needs to be turned into action. If we look at Canada’s (top 100) Best Diversity Employers, you can clearly see that every single one of those organizations have active plans and strategies, with measurable outcomes, regarding diversity. This includes hiring diverse staffs, overcoming language barriers, investing in Aboriginal leaders—and again, they set measurable goals and then measure the outcome.

Do Churches measure the outcomes? If they do, please let me know. I did just spend an entire weekended watching the Mennonite Church of Canada’s national conference. I saw a room filled with white people, with Dutch-German- Russian names, and I heard the frustration, people asking, “Where is the diversity? Why are we still having the same conversations? It's 2016, there should be more diversity.” Their own people are noticing the lack of diversity, they are puzzled by the lack of diversity: but as an outsider, I can only comment that I hear way too much conversation about diversity from evangelical Christians, and see far too little action.

Again, kind Fraser Valley Christian, trace the status quo back to that original vision, that practice of planting ethnic Churches. There is no diversity because diversity takes carefully crafted policy and direction, and then action. I feel the current action is one still activated in the past model of ethnic segregation when it comes to Church; now we desperately need an active policy of inclusion and diversity.

Churches hate thinking public places are doing a better job with this, but I feel there is no contest. Public spaces have growing diversity because they invest in strategic programs that create diversity. It really is as simple as that. (And with the Province of BC rolling out a brand new curriculum for school children that will tell the truth about the Aboriginals in Canada, it will grow harder and harder for Churches to pretend there is no problem when it comes to inclusion. The gulf between the public and the Church may continue to grow and grow, Churches really have no time to waste if they want to be relevant.)

I believe every evangelical Church in this Fraser Valley should be participating in anti-racism training which is provided by Community Service organizations. Every evangelical Pastor should be required to complete anti-racism training as part of clergy accreditation. Children’s pastors and volunteers who work with children should be required to take anti-racism training if they want to serve the community with things like Vacation Bible Schools or Kids & Clubs. Acts of racism should be seen to be as serious as acts of sexual abuse in Church settings. I believe every Church in this Fraser Valley should be involved with Truth and Reconciliation. I believe every Church needs advocates for minority groups within their congregations, so those voices can be heard and represented. I also would like to hear more Pastors really educating their congregations on what racism looks like, what racism feels like—and how to avoid racism. I would love to seen an annual awards ceremony where we recognize the Fraser Valley’s most diverse Churches. And at the grassroots, evangelical Christians need to push, they need to insist on diversity in their congregations—hiring diverse leaders, sharing the power, and not hiding behind excuses.

I know far too many stories of Christians who have walked out of Fraser Valley Churches, never to return, because of racism. Evangelical Christian friends: ask yourself, is this okay by you? Until we all firmly resolve to act and change things, well, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

With love and appreciation, Fraser Valley Inclusion Hound (a collective of local Christians hounding the Church on the topic of racial inclusion follow our blog at fvinclusionhound.wordpress.com)

 

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