Monarchy, colonialism and the emerging Indigenous Church in Canada

A homily preached by The Rev. Canon Dr. Martin Brokenleg, OSBCn, Prior, Benedictine Canon Community of St. Aidan at St. Barnabas Anglican Church,Victoria BC CANADA on the Feast of Christ the King, November 21, 2021

  

Acknowledge my responsibilities as a guest on the traditional territories of the Lekwungin speakers of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.

As this is the last Sunday of this liturgical year, this is the Feast of Christ the King.  This day is a solemnity and acknowledges the sovereignty of Christ over all things in the cosmos and in the kingdom of heaven. The power of Christ is beyond our conception but includes the power to draw life out of death, create liberty from evil and sin, melt the hardest heart, and defeat the dominion of death. 

We acknowledge the reign of Christ and rightly prayed, “that the peoples of the earth, now divided and enslaved by sin, be freed and brought together under his gentle and loving rule” (BAS).  Our full intention is to ask “the King of the Universe…that the whole creation, set free… may render your majesty service and ceaselessly proclaim your praise” (RM3).  We have much to ruminate on from this feast.  This is the mystical and contemplative meaning of this feast and it is the focus of our devotion.

Often, feasts serve additional purposes. For example, this feast was fully promulgated in 1925 to bring the world under the single authority of Christ. The world then was still reeling from the results of WW1 and there were growing totalitarian politicians in Italy and Germany. In an earlier era, the Nativity of Christ replaced the Roman festival, Sol In Victus, the victory of the Sun. The May first (1955) celebration of St. Joseph the Workman counters the socialists’ and communists’ May Day celebration of the worker.  This is to say there may be other than spiritual meanings to church feasts. 

On this feast of Christ the King, I want to turn our attention to an important dynamic of reconciliation taking place among us, the decolonization of some aspects of our faith. 

What does it mean to speak of Christ the King? For societies with a monarchic history, culture, and government, the meanings seem clear and probably have broad support. For those who are in the process of decolonization as their current work of reconciliation, the meanings may not be so clear. Indigenous Anglicans are now participating in the emerging Indigenous Anglican Church and thinking about theology in an Indigenous way. Currently, the question is what, and how much, of Western culture must be a part of the Anglican faith.

A few years ago I came across a fascinating analysis that explored how the images of our faith influence our actions. I recently reexamined this work because of a question Father, and now Doctor, Brue Bryant Scott raised in his doctoral dissertation: How did good and probably well meaning Anglicans get involved in the residential school era practices that we now see as purposeful genocide?  How was our church so complicit with the policy of our government to eradicate Indigenous identity and culture from this land? Did the images of Christ have an influence on those actions?

Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker are theologians and art historians. They are the authors of a book entitled, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire. In examining early Christian art they conclude:

It took Jesus Christ a thousand years to die. During the first millennium, Christians filled their sanctuaries with images of Christ as a living presence in a vibrant world. He appears as a shepherd, a teacher, a healer, an enthroned god; he is an infant, a youth, a bearded elder. But he is never dead. When he appears with the cross, he stands in front of it, serene, resurrected. The world around him is ablaze with beauty. These are images of paradise—paradise in this world, permeated and blessed by the presence of God.

But once Jesus perished, dying was virtually all he seemed able to do.

Saving Paradise offers a new lens on the history of Christianity, from its first centuries to the present day, and asks how its early vision of beauty evolved into one of torture. In tracing the changes in society and theology that marked the medieval emergence of images of Christ crucified, Saving Paradise exposes the imperial strategies embedded in theologies of redemptive violence and sheds new light on Christianity’s holy war. 

The authors demonstrate how imperial European governments used the violence of the crucifixion, the necessity of redemptive death and suffering, as a philosophical backdrop to exploration and dominance over lands and peoples new to Europeans.

[Saving Paradise]  reveals how the New World, established through Christian conquest and colonization, is haunted by the loss of a spiritual understanding of paradise here and now.  Brock and Parker reconstruct the idea that salvation is paradise in this world and in this life, and they offer a bold new theology for saving paradise.  They ground justice and peace for humanity in life for the earth and open a new future for Christianity through a theology of redemptive beauty. (Review)   

The point of their analysis, instructive for us, is that the image we have of God influences our thought and action.  On this Feast of Christ the King, I wonder about the images of God the early Anglicans had who founded and ran the residential schools. Surely they would not have thought of Christ as an Indigenous Chief.

In our national church life today, the emerging Indigenous Anglican Church is raising many questions about how to be Anglicans without all the western and British accouterments of The Church of England. Some of our non-Indigenous bishops suggest it is inappropriate to speak of de-colonizing the church since our church is the main tool of colonization. These bishops think only a deconstructing of the church can be done.

In fact our diocese is attempting just that in withdrawing our priest and the Anglican way of doing things from Alert Bay, one of the very few historically Anglican Indigenous communities on the Island. There will then be a pause while the diocese waits to see what the Indigenous people of Alert Bay might want from the diocese. Whether this effort will begin a non-colonial Anglican Church remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen what forms the nationally emerging Indigenous Anglican Church will create in attempting to be an Indigenous community living the life taught by Jesus. 

None of us have a map to follow and no one has answers about what to do next. I am mostly bewildered in these processes because all of my education was in Anglican schools from high school through seminary. Next June 12 I will have been a priest for 50 years. It is even possible for me to decolonize myself when I like vestments from Whipple’s of London and the Allegri Miserere? How British must an Indigenous person be, in order to be a good Anglican Christian?

All I can say today is that Christ is my Chief and maybe my European monarch. If he is yours, what kind of a king is he? What is your image of Christ the King and what does that propel you to do?

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