One of Canada’s foremost news and cultural magazines, Maclean’s, has published a story by former Winnipegger, Nancy MacDonald, in which it is claimed that Winnipeg is the most racist city in Canada. How racism can be objectively measured I do not know. Nevertheless, as MacDonald builds her case it is a painful read. For someone who has lived their entire life in Winnipeg, with all the benefit of membership in a demographic least likely to experience racism, it brought home to me what many Winnipeggers live with every day. Fear, violence, dehumanizing prejudice, and loss of hope.
One does not need to have Christian faith to be able to see clearly the problem or to grieve over it. Many of our neighbours, regardless of their beliefs, are able to bring wise commentary. We should listen and learn wherever wisdom can be found. But what can the Christian worldview bring that is unique in terms of response? Here are some humble suggestions:
We can appreciate and value the authorities over us. We are to do this, and to pray for them, no matter what our leaders are like but sometimes good leadership makes it a pleasure. Our new mayor, Brian Bowman, should be commended for not dodging, blame-shifting, excuse-making, and buck-passing. He addressed the city alongside many civic and aboriginal leaders and set the right tone. Words will need now to be backed up by real leadership – but words are often the beginning of action. Authority flows to those who take responsibility and it flees from those who make excuses and blame others. Our leaders, at least for the present, are earning trust. We should give it. And let’s pray for them.
Let us recognize basis for the dignity of all. Many people in our world value equality and the rights that flow from a shared humanity. Less appreciated is that classical Christianity has given the world the firmest basis for this. Even wise atheists can recognize this. Christianity teaches that all persons are created in the image of God. This is not something merited by birthplace, sex/gender, culture, or status. It is also something that, although tarnished, can not be lost. It means that dignity, respect, and protection must be sought for all without exception. Perhaps less popular is the clear teaching that we are all, though image-bearers, completely sinful. There is no one more or less advantaged in this. There is no one better than another – no not even one. This is the great equalizer – both individually and culturally. Just as our individual sins give us no reason to look down on another, our collective sinfulness ought to humble us too. European cultural failures and virtues are no greater than those of African or Aboriginal cultures. There is difference and there is overlap but we are no better than each other. Universal sinfulness may not be fashionable on the marketplace of ideas, but it does help to give a firm foundation for the equality of all. And it humbles us.
Realize why we were placed in Winnipeg – Service and Prayer. Nothing in life is by accident if God is King of the world and the Author of all history. This means that Christians who live in Winnipeg were placed in Winnipeg. A purpose must be in the mind of God. Why does he want us here? There is no better parallel than when God’s People (Israel) are sent into exile in Babylon. While seeking to live as a minority in a pagan city, tempted to withdraw into their own little religious bubble of concerns, the prophet Jeremiah sends a letter, giving instruction. Its content is as relevant now as it was then. They are not to retreat from being part of the larger community, the city, though they live with many different from them. They are to participate in the wider community and to love it. God’s People are to love the city they’ve been placed in. Pivotal is the command: But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. “Seek the welfare” means to seek, desire, work for the prosperity, peace, well-being, safety of every one of their neighbours – no matter who they are. And they must “pray”. Not just prayer for their own concerns and interests which is such an easy trap to fall into. They are to pray so that their city – far from perfect – can become a better place for all. The Christian church today is not Israel, and Winnipeg isn’t Babylon, but the command still stands and applies for us. We have been placed in this troubled city for a purpose – to serve and to pray.