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Violently Spiritual

A few years ago, my friend organized a protest at the shelter he was staying at. His protest concerned the use of sermons to wake up shelter participants. While he is a follower of Jesus, he is also a victim of the residential school system which had used sermons to destroy his people. The protest was peaceful and I joined the round dance he had organized during a community meal. 

During the meal, I sat with someone else I had known for a long time. He was a settler and I asked what he thought about the protest. He quoted this scripture to me: “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides.” (Num 33:55). I was shocked. This person’s theological imagination easily identified colonial settlers with Israel and the Indigenous peoples with the “seven nations larger and stronger than you” (Deut 7:1). 

Even the committee investigating the events of 1642 called it “unnecessary, bloody and ruinous.”

During the days of colonization, this was common thinking. For example, many Dutch Reformed colonists believed that Reformed Christians were God’s ‘spiritual Israel’, elected to proclaim God’s name across the new land. Richard Twiss describes the viciousness by which the Dutch completed their haram (complete destruction) in the name of New Amsterdam. Even the committee investigating the events of 1642 called it “unnecessary, bloody and ruinous.”*

Willie Jennings calls this kind of theological reasoning white fiction. Instead of imagining the new “bi-racial humanity” – that is metaphorically, Jew and Gentile - of Jesus through his bloody body in the power of the Spirit, newcomers to Turtle Island imagined the new creation with reference to the white body and its own power through bloody hands.** 

Operating under the duality of God versus Satan, good versus evil, Christians participated in the murder of Indigenous peoples in the name of God. Though we cannot be certain (especially with the uncovering of more graves), mortality rates of Indian Residential Schools are estimated between 40-60%.*** Children were starved, experimented on and forced to do intense manual labour in addition to the cultural, spiritual, physical and sexual abuse many experienced. One of my friends witnessed his own brother's murder in a Residential School. After his brother accidentally said 'thank you' in his Indigenous language, the zealous teacher hit the boy across the face with such a fury that the boy flew back, hit his head on a radiator and was killed."

We are less likely to say that to my great uncle because we recognize the severity of his pain and suffering.

Because of the mythology that Europeans were the ‘chosen ones’ to come to Turtle Island, we, who benefit from spilled blood, can brush our spiritual violence off as justified or “God’s will”. Many people still say, ‘yes there was lots of evil and violence but God still used it to bring many people to Jesus’ or ‘…but God used it to establish this nation’. 

My great uncle is a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp. Would you have the courage to say to him, “yes there was lots of evil and violence but …”? We are less likely to say that to my great uncle because we recognize the severity of his pain and suffering. There is no ‘but’ which can lessen or justify the evil of Nazism. And yet we easily do it to the survivors of Canada’s brutal genocide. 

For me hope is found not in the rationalization or minimization of history; or the over-emphasis of the good done in spite of genocide. Rather it is found the small acts of resistance to an unhealthy colonial theology enacted by survivors like my friend. These remind me where and in what ways our Lord Jesus is at work by the power of the Spirit. His story overcomes.

Lord Jesus, Son of David, Hope of the Nations have mercy on us and lead us in your true story.

* Richard L. Twiss, One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Chosen, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 42.

** Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 278.  

*** Ward Churchill, Kill the Indian, Save the Man (San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 2004), 34. Cited 6 July 2021. Online:

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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