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Residential Schools and the Christian Faith

June 7, 2021

News of the recent discovery of 215 graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School has shocked the nation.  The residential school system forcibly took Indigenous children from their parents and placed them into schools designed to assimilate them into the dominant “white” culture.  The abuse of the children was overlooked.  Children were routinely neglected and mistreated.  Families were coerced into compliance.  Disease and death were rampant in the schools.  One letter recently discovered from the Kamloops School where the bodies were found was a letter to the parents at Christmas.  The letter stated that the parents would have the privilege of having the children spend Christmas with them.  The idea that parents enjoying their children for Christmas was a privilege granted to them by the school is almost incomprehensible in Canada.*  There can be no wonder why deeply hurting and abused children tried to run away.  We are still awaiting a full investigation as to what caused the deaths of so many children.

Some time ago, my wife and I were on a motorcycle trip together.  We ran into another couple, also on a motorcycle trip, sitting at a coffee shop.  As is often the case among fellow motorcycle enthusiasts, we began to talk.  This couple was a first nations couple, who began to open up and tell us about their experience in the residential school system.  The man said he so rebelled, that he eventually ended up in a youth penitentiary.  He told us that his experience in prison was his first taste that there could be a better life than that which was in the residential schools.  I will never forget that conversation.  The prison was so much better than the residential school!

My point in writing this article is not to recount the tragedy of this sad chapter.  Others are able to do this far better than I can manage.  My point, however, is to help Christians think about the role of church and state.  It is no secret that these schools were run by the Catholic Church, in concert with the Canadian government.  Anglicans performed the same function.

Whenever the church becomes an arm of government, the church loses its mission and becomes subordinate to the wider aims of the dominant culture.  But the lure of partnership with governing powers is seductive.  Governments can provide the church with resources the church cannot procure on her own.  Governments can also provide churches a seemingly important role in the development of the nation.  In that sense, the church sees government as providing her a place in society.  But as this relationship grows, the dependency of the church on the state only increases.  Eventually, it is no longer faith in Christ and the necessity of prayer that plays a prominent role.  Who needs to plead in prayer to a gracious God, when the government provides?

This principle was seen with clarity several years ago when the Federal Government removed funding from summer programs to all who would not agree to the abortion agenda.  Until that point, I was not aware of how many churches and Christian organizations were attached to the federal umbilical cord.  But government partnerships and government money is never free.  It comes at the price of losing the true mission of the church.

When the church of Jesus does not insist on a separation of church and state, we are no longer a prophetic community.  How can the church preach the good news to the disenfranchised and the marginalized, when we have become an agent of government power?  How can the church proclaim the glory of Jesus as Lord, when we have bowed to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue on the plain of Dura?

Yes, the church is called upon to submit to the governing authorities and to acknowledge their right to govern.  Government is ordained of God.  But when we become allied with the government rather than the revolutionary Christ, we have lost ourselves.  We are to be prophets and preachers, not rulers and kings.  May the tragedy of the residential schools, and the Catholic and Anglican culpability in this be a reminder of our true calling, and also of the horrors of idolatry.

*National Post June 3, 2021


Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld is the national Bible teacher at Back to the Bible Canada. He has served as Senior Pastor, church planter, conference speaker and educator, and is known both nationally and internationally for his passion and excellence in expositional preaching and teaching.


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