This month marked the 95th anniversary of our denomination, which was founded on June 10, 1925 when The United Church of Canada was inaugurated at a large worship service at Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena. The motto “Ut omnes unum sint” appears on the crest that was designed for the new church; the Latin words “that all may be one” recall John 17:21. In 2000, the United Church’s anti-racism policy by the same title, “That All May Be One”, named as one of its four goals “to speak to the world by supporting anti-racism work within broader society.”
As then-Moderator Jordan Cantwell put it in her letter of March 2017: “We need to name and examine our fears, prejudices, and assumptions. The privilege that many of us are born with may desensitize us to the injustice, exclusion, and hate that some in our community experience on a daily basis. Only in that way can we build, as That All May Be One envisioned, a church and society where all are welcome, where all feel welcome, and where diversity is as natural as breathing.”
I winced when I re-read these words recently, in light of the demonstrations and protests taking place following the death of George Floyd. Images of people, fists in the air, or taking a knee, holding placards reading “I can’t breathe” filled my thoughts. These words have been a rallying cry of those who have experienced the pain and injustice of racial violence. A sign I saw at the demonstration in downtown Kelowna two Fridays ago read: “If you think it’s hard to breathe with this mask on, try being Black in America.” It was a powerful message. The only thing that needs to be added is to acknowledge that this is not just the experience of Black people in America. It is in Canada, too.
Although we may proclaim that God is found in our common diversity, the sin of racism is present in our Canadian society and in our church. Now more than ever we need to be committed to racial justice—by building right relationships through reconciliation between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples, by engaging in interfaith dialogue and speaking out against violence and discrimination rooted in racial and religious bigotry, by speaking up when we see acts of discrimination and acknowledging the white privilege we might benefit from in our church and in our society.
2020 marks the midway point of the UN International Decade for People of African Descent (2015–2024) which The United Church of Canada is participating in. As people of faith, we know that prayer has the power to transform and amplify or actions. Each Sunday, through the International Prayer Cycle, we are invited to pray for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent. May we continue to pray and take whatever concrete measures we can to combat racism and intolerance.