The Bible readings in this article are :
In all our readings, deception and truth are recurring themes. The readings highlight that we can choose between the way of truth or the way of deception. With choice comes consequences. We can easily deceive ourselves by telling ourselves whatever we want to hear and what we don’t want others to hear.
The troubling thing about deception, is that it can lead to generally accepted beliefs that are handed down from one generation to another, and we don’t question the beliefs. This is why we embrace beliefs that may lead us to unconsciously or consciously harm and disrespect other people. The end result has been racism, injustice and the oppression of people who are different from us.
Unfortunately religion and religious institutions have contributed to perpetuating deceptive interpretations of the Bible that have been used to discriminate, marginalize and even oppress people. These people include women, people of different ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientation, criminals, other religions, and the list goes on.
I am forever grateful to Archbishop Desmond Tutu for helping me to understand why a loving, caring God has allowed deceptive beliefs to be justified by persons purporting to be Christians. His explanation was that “…we are human beings who have been given, extraordinarily, by this God we worship the gift of freedom. … And the God, who is an omnipotent God, in many ways become impotent, because God has given us the gift to choose.”
As we are commemorating Black History Month, I would like to focus on the ways in which we, individually and collectively may identify deceptive beliefs about Black people and choose to embrace and act on the truth of God’s Word and will.
First of all, let’s explore what the Bible readings tell us about choosing between truth and deception.
Defining the person who follows the truth vs the person who is deceived
In Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus highlights the blessings that accrue to truth seekers. Seeking the truth begins with a humble attitude, being poor in spirit, devoid of spiritual arrogance, hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness to prevail in our lives as individuals who then influence the lives of others and the world.
The consequence of the choice between truth and deception
As Jesus points out, choosing to follow His way, which is the Way of Truth, has both hard and rewarding consequences. There will be hatred and persecution but there is a promise of deliverance and an eternal reward.
In Jeremiah and in the Psalms, the person who chooses to follow the truth is likened to a tree firmly planted by the river with deep roots and that is fruitful. Those who don’t choose the truth are likened to a shrub in the parched desert or like the chaff that is blown away by the wind.
What this tells us is that those who do not follow the Way of God’s truth, are unstable, quick to mock or disdain and can be easily influenced. This seems to suggest that they are unstable because they are not anchored in any guiding principles that would lead them to seek the truth and pursue it.
What guiding principle leads us to God’s truth?
In his letter to the ethnically diverse church at Corinth, Paul addresses the controversy about Jesus’ resurrection and stresses that Jesus’ death and resurrection are factual. The truth is that Jesus died for our sins. In the act of accepting the punishment of death by crucifixion, Jesus adheres to the universally accepted principles of the rule of law and justice, by accepting to pay the price to compensate for the damage of sin.
But Jesus’ death goes beyond the principles of law and justice.
Throughout His life, Jesus based every teaching on the guiding principle of love, which goes well above and beyond the principles of law and justice. Jesus’ death is the greatest act of love and the best demonstration of the transforming power of love.
The best definition of love is that love always leads us to act in ways that are for the highest good, for ourselves and for other people.
By accepting to die for our sins, Jesus showed us that love will lead us to face hard truths, about ourselves and our deceptions. Love will lead us to ask for forgiveness, to receive forgiveness and work towards reconciliation with God and with people. The essence of Jesus’ life, his death and his resurrection is love.
Black History Month
Black History Month is a valiant effort to highlight the on-going need for the inclusion of the missing pages in the world’s history books about the truthful, factual history of people of Black African descent in North America and the Caribbean. Black History Month also affords us the opportunity to identify deceptive beliefs about Black people and how we may dismantle systemic racism where it exists and build a church and world that is based on the guiding principle of love.
Black History Month was established in 1926 with the aim of overcoming the issues of identity and exclusion of people of Black African descent, whose 12 million ancestors were transported to the Americas and the Caribbean where they were enslaved for more than three centuries.
We are still living with the legacy of slavery. The descendants of African slaves continue to live under the veil of negative stereotypes and deprecating depictions of their history and culture. The scourge of slavery has damaged all of us, Black and non-Black people, and we are all caught up in the vices of systemic racism, ethnic privilege, unconscious bias, racial profiling, reverse racism, political correctness, to name a few.
The Church needs Black History Month. Eurocentric interpretations of the Bible have generally failed to acknowledge the presence and role of Black people in Biblical history, in Jesus’ ministry and in the spreading of the Gospel. There is Moses’ wife Zipporah and the Queen of Sheba among several Old Testament personalities. There is Simon of Cyrene, the Black man who helped Jesus carry his cross. Mary Magdalene, a woman of colour, was in Jesus’ entourage. The Ethiopian eunuch, a man of great influence, accepted Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and continued on his way back to Africa, where I am sure he spread the Good News.
So, where do we go from here as individuals and as a church?
The shameful history of racism against Black people in the Worldwide Anglican Church is well documented. The Anglican Church was part of the oppressive colonial government institutions and made no attempt prior to the early to mid-19th century to declare abhorrence of slavery and racial discrimination. It was only in 2006, less than 20 years ago, that the Anglican Church through the Archbishop of Canterbury finally faced the truth of its history and issued a formal apology for the role it played in slavery and the consequent oppression of Black people in the Caribbean.
There was a time when the Anglican Church in Canada upheld and perpetuated racist beliefs, promoting the deception of the inherent inferiority of Black people. This deceptive belief relegated Black Anglicans to their own congregations where they were prevented from receiving sacraments and denied leadership roles. That history has left a legacy, to this day, of ethnic divisions and the real and perceived marginalization of persons of Black African descent and of other ethnic groups within our church.
I say this because, in its well-intentioned attempt to minister to ethnic minority groups in the 20th and 21st centuries, various Dioceses recruited Black priests from the West Indies to lead predominantly Black congregations, with the expectation that cultural differences and specific needs would be met. These congregations offered a safe space for people who were too often stigmatized for being “different” or asked to surrender their own culture, upholding the dignity of their members and offering them empowering connections. However, there were no formal programs or processes to facilitate integration with non-Black congregations or representation in Diocesan decision-making. As a result, these Black congregations became ethnic enclaves.
The practice of creating ethnic enclave congregations may be regarded as an unintentional continuation of the systemic racist practice of the Canadian Anglican Church dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries when racist ideologies and deceptions led to the creation of special congregations of Black Anglicans.
Even though the Church no longer upholds the racist beliefs that prevailed in its early history, there remains a lot of work to be done to build mutual understanding of cultural diversity between Black and non-Black Anglicans and to establish formal processes to integrate ethnic minorities in the leadership and decision-making forums in the Church.
To be specific, let us make the courageous decision to face the truth of who we are – a people redeemed by the same God, personified in Jesus Christ, who shows us the way to the Truth. With love as our guiding principle, let us commit ourselves to acknowledge our own deceptions, by listening carefully to the perspectives of others and then courageously asking ourselves how we may be contributing to the painful experience of others. Let us advocate for truth, forgiveness and reconciliation within our own Church first, and then in the world.
Here are some suggestions –
- In the Anglican Calendar, advocate for days to commemorate the pioneering work and ministry of Black Anglicans in Nova Scotia. Stephen Blucke, Thomas Brownspriggs, Isiah Limerick, and Joseph Leonard and many others, kept the faith in spite of the racial division in the Church, perpetuated by white leaders such as Charles Inglis, the first Anglican Bishop in Canada, whose consecration is celebrated in the Anglican Calendar. These Black Anglican pioneers, who were refused ordination and forced to build their own church just because of the colour of their skin, have paved the way over more than two hundred years for the Anglican Church in Canada to enshrine ‘diversity,’ ‘justice,’ and ‘the life of Christ’ in the wording of its mission in the 21st century. It’s time to honour these Black Anglican pioneers.
- Create the conditions for multi-ethnic collaboration, to avoid the emergence of ethnic enclave congregations and special interest groups that advocate from the margins of the established institutions and forums of the Anglican Church. Eliminating special interest groups does not entail eliminating safe spaces; there will always be times when members of various racial or ethnic groups might want to gather for a purpose, such as men’s or women’s groups currently do. But these groups would be made up of people who would not need to advocate from the margins because they were not on the margins, but rather at the heart of a diverse and flourishing church.
- Above all, create safe spaces for bridges to be built, where the status quo can be questioned and challenged. As today’s Bible readings teach us, it takes courage and the commitment to seek and deeply understand God’s truth. May our Bible study groups address hard truths and lead us to admit and release our deceptions. May our times of prayer and meditation lead us to gently and lovingly embrace the peace of mind that comes from our commitment to following Jesus’ guiding principle of love.
It is my fervent hope and prayer that my reflections will inspire us all to choose the Way of love and truth.
Christ in us, the hope of glory. That’s why glory matters.