On January 30, I wrote to the members of the ELCIC following the fatal attack that occurred at le Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec on Sunday, January 29. “Our hearts and prayers reach out to the families of those who were killed, those who were hurt, their families, and all who feel the impact of this terrible act of violence. We extend our commitment to stand with Muslims across Canada,” (http://www.elcic.ca/news.cfm?article=459).
Since writing the letter, I have become aware of how deeply this attack, these deaths, have affected me. I think of Canada as an open, welcoming and tolerant country. I know there are pockets of racism, but somehow I felt that such an act of hatred was not possible.
I know I was being naïve. I know that there have been recent attacks and vandalism on mosques, synagogues and temples. I know Canada has a long history of systemic racism with Indigenous peoples. At a recent visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights I learned that racism in Canada tends to hide under a veneer of politeness and is therefore more underground and harder to deal with than in other countries around the world.
Today, I feel called to be honest and to confess that I am not an innocent bystander. I have not always challenged racist comments around me. I sometimes find myself thinking in terms of us and them. I need to learn a lot more about the cultures, religions and practices of the peoples in my community.
When Jesus is asked “Who is my neighbour” he responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. He reminds us that everyone is our neighbour and challenges us to respond to the needs of our neighbour in the same generous way as the Samaritan. In his explanation to the Eighth Commandment in the Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes: “We do not tell lies about our neighbours, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defence, speak well of them and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”
It is well past time to act out these words. As a church, as Lutheran Christians, we need to commit to speaking out against all forms of racism, intolerance and violence. We need to commit to practices of listening and learning about people who are different than we are. We need to commit to speaking well of one another. We need to commit to ending “us and them” thinking. We need to commit to loving our neighbour. Every neighbour.
How might our relationships in our communities, in our country, and even in our church be different if we took these commitments seriously? I invite you to join me in a period of reflection over the seasons of Lent and Easter on what it really means to love our neighbour.
Let us pray:
Loving God, you command us to love our neighbours. We confess the words and deeds, both done and left undone, where we have not demonstrated that love. Fill us with your love, open our hearts and minds so that we may shed all prejudice and see you reflected in all our neighbours. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
National Bishop Susan Johnson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada