The Strangers Among Us
Wayne Turner - Editorial - February 2007
Are Canadians racists? We would like to think not. Over the past several decades, Canada has become one of the most multicultural nations in the world. People from virtually every race, nation and language have been welcomed to make their home here. Visiting sections of Canada’s larger communities can look and sound like one is traveling around the world. Even what once seemed like exotic houses of worship from the other side of the world have become regular sights in Canadian cities. There are Islamic mosques, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples. Whatever is out there in the rest of the world has likely come here.
As of 2002, according to Statistics Canada, there were over three million people of visible minorities who were making Canada their home – about 13% of the population. The population and percentage have grown steadily from there. Given the Canadian government’s refugee, immigration and multicultural policies, these numbers will continue to grow.
How has this affected the attitudes of those of European backgrounds whose families have been long established here and who have considered themselves to be the Canadians? A poll done by Leger Marketing for Sun Media "asked Canadians to confront their prejudices." The results were published in a series of articles in the Sun newspapers (January 14-19, 2007). Most people (92%) said they had witnessed "racial comments or behaviors." Over a third said they had been the victim of some form of racism. Over half felt that racism was a problem in their city. Two thirds admitted telling a derogatory racial joke. Over 20% admitted having made a racial slur at someone of a visible minority. Overall, 47% admitted to being at least somewhat racist. It would seem that the actual welcome to Canada does not compare with the official one.
What does this mean for Canadian congregations?
The survey reminds us that negative attitudes toward visible minorities can lurk anywhere. By nature, people distrust those who look, act, sound and even smell different. "Political correctness" may cause us to behave acceptably, but may not really change our attitudes. What is our real view of minorities, whether international or aboriginal? Do we speak of them in ways that are snide and demeaning? Do we slur people of certain groups – tell derogatory jokes? Do we assume some people are dumb because of their accent or appearance?
The Bible states that God is impartial. John 3:16 says that God loved the world and gave His Son for everyone. Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11 show that Christ (and fellowship) transcends all human distinctions to make all one in Christ. Isaiah and Micah foretell a time when the mountain of God’s house would be established higher than all other hills and all nations would flow to it. Jesus commissioned his disciples to take the gospel to every nation. As God is equally concerned about everyone, Hebrews 13:2 tells us, literally, to "love strangers." There is no place for even the slightest hint of racism in the church.
Welcoming and reaching out to new Canadians is not easy. It takes conscious, deliberate effort. Often, they are making very difficult transitions from very troubled backgrounds. Many come from countries torn by war and violence. They have lived in refugees camps for many months, if not years. After they arrive, they may need food, clothing, transportation, housing. Beyond these basic needs, they need help learning about life in Canada – how government works, help with the educational system and finding employment. They may simply need someone who will take the time to help. They often need help with language. Congregations who are prepared to provide reading and conversation programs, like FriendSpeak, can quickly find themselves providing a vital service to their students, as they share the story of Jesus.
Some of those coming to Canada are already members of the body of Christ. Will they be welcomed as part of our family? Will they be accepted and integrated into the full fellowship of the church or will they feel that they are only being tolerated as inferior, treated as curiosities? Will they be able to find a place in the work and worship of the church? Will they be given the help and support they need as they make the transition from their previous homes to living here?
It is exciting to note that the composition of the congregations in Canada’s larger centres has already substantially changed. These churches enjoy a wide and rich diversity. Christians from visible minorities are vital parts of these congregations. They serve as teachers, deacons, elders and preachers. While there may sometimes be challenges from this diversity, the congregations are richly blessed by the enthusiasm, energy, faith and talents of these newer Canadians. Also, these churches find they are better able to reach out and attract those from visible minorities, and are experiencing evangelistic growth as a result.
"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:33,34)