You would be hard pressed to try & escape the polarizing conversations of racism & prejudice found in our social neighbourhood bantering & comment drops on social media platforms these days. In a recent poll, Global News reports that only 47% of Canadians feel racism is a serious problem in our society today; down from the 69% who recognized its serious negative presence in 1992. In essence, nearly 50% of Canadians generally feel that having racist thoughts is normal & acceptable.
While it seems easy to turn a blind eye to the injustices against one minority group over that of another (especially our own!), we cannot allow for prejudice of any kind lest we fall to the same failures of human characterization ourselves. The plight & prejudice held against any minority or religious group that is different than ourselves is equally recognizable as the persecution of human identity in all of creation. For those called by the Spirit of Christ & who consider themselves followers of Jesus, it becomes a distinguishing value to love the other universally without condition & what it means to bare the image of Christ & the cross. (Eph. 4:1-6)
This past week I attended the launch of the Calgary I-Care Task Force. Recognizing the rise of violence & hatred against religious & other minority groups, several organizations & individuals have come together while drafting a statement of mission:
The acceptance and toleration of religious prejudice and hate undermines the values of diversity, respect, and human dignity that is cherished by all Canadians. In the wake of recent attacks by extremists and hate-mongers in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Poway, Pittsburgh, Quebec, and Charleston, it is apparent that hate, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia, Xenophobia, Colonialism and Homophobia impact every person regardless of their faith, colour, or gender. Therefore, with urgency and determination, the Muslim Council of Calgary and partnering Muslim organizations (CARVH – Calgarians Against Racism Violence and Hate) in collaboration with the Calgary Interfaith Council, the Catholic Diocese of Calgary, the Anglican Diocese of Calgary, the Jewish Federation of Calgary and other established human rights and community organization have resolved to promote positive interfaith relations, eradicate religious stereotypes and prejudices, and enhance the contribution of faith communities to the well-being of our city.
Over the course of the next nine weeks they hope to conduct a major research project assessing the city’s levels of prejudice, the collection of stories from those who have experienced hatred & prejudice, & the possibilities of future actions to prevent such injustices. They hope to accomplish this through 5 areas of focus:
Community Engagement [Shepherding] - creating positive relationships among religious clergy and laity of different faiths and community leaders so that the foundations of trust and respect can lead to cooperation and positive attitudinal changes.
Education [Teaching] - developing programs that promote literacy about the basic beliefs and practices of the diverse religions that exist in Calgary with the understanding that learning about our differences will enrich us and sharing our commonalities will strengthen us. The group will educate and create awareness about discrimination and expression of hate.
Research [Apostolic] - Support, fund, study and research factors and forces that generate, shape, promote or mitigate prejudice, hatred and violence against other human beings. The research undertaken through this collaborative effort is aimed to inform us about the pre-existing stereotypes that exist in our society, which ultimately lead to hate and discrimination. The study will be used as a building block to better learn how we can address these stereotypes, in order to have an inclusive society.
Social Activism [Prophetic] - bringing people from diverse religious communities and established human right organizations to combine their voices to advocate and work for new educational and political initiatives that will protect and support religious diversity while protecting all citizens against discrimination and religious bias.
Media Outreach [Evangelistic] - promoting positive, accurate and authentic expressions of religious life in Calgary through real life stories and events that reflect the commitments of faith communities to a vision of society in which the free practice of religion enables every person to achieve their potential for human dignity and fulfillment. Members of this initiative will endeavour to issue joint press releases against act of violence against innocent human beings anywhere in the world.
APEST & The The Work Of The Spirit
As I sat in the audience listening to the diverse set of speakers from all different backgrounds in ethnicity, lifestyle, & religious tradition; I was inspired by the unifying passion they all expressed in the equality of human identity. I remember reflecting on if this was what it was like in the 50’s & 60’s to attend & listen to Martin Luther King, Gandhi, or Malcolm X.
Coming from a Christian house church tradition, I found myself drawn to the interlinking parallels of Ephesians 4 & the five areas of focus the I-Care Task Force was forming (see above for parallels). Paul identifies the gifts of Apostleship, Prophesy, Evangelism, Shepherding, & Teaching for the purposes of equipping & building. The significance of such gifts was so that, “all of us come to the unity of the faith.” (Eph. 4:11-13)
While the traditionalist will see these gifts as being solely founded within the institution of the church, it seemed a confirmation to me of the present work of the Spirit stretching beyond such “boxed in” theology & radically pursuing the social justice needs of our city & country today (Jer. 29:7; Acts 10:44-48). Borrowing Alan Hirsch’s words from ‘Untamed’, “if we are going to be genuinely Christlike, we will not be conformists! For one, our Lord can hardly be called a conformist. He disturbed the status quo, railed against injustice and lack of mercy, hung out with highly questionable people, and fomented a revolution that called for the overthrow of religious oppression.”
To defeat & combat hate within our society we must remain unified against all forms of prejudice with equity in recognition. We cannot separate racism from antisemitism, Islamophobia from homophobia, or any other forms of segregational fear & hatred. While we are relationally diverse, we are united in cause. As the apostle Paul identified in his own context, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
Sharing The Journey Forward
There is a deep presence of wonder that is being discovered in the efforts of the Calgary I-Care Task Force. While I am unsure how The Inception Of Wonder blogging & podcasting community can contribute to its activities, I recognize its connection to our values in incarnational reconciliation & renewal. Hoping to share the stories of its movements & members in future while bring awareness & understanding to the diversely inspiring people groups within our city I hope to see a sense of great wonder as together we enflesh the pursuit of social justice for the oppressed & express a compassionate Spirit shouting “I-Care”!!