There is a popular language arising in the church when it comes to justice work, that of “being an ally.” It means to align yourself with whoever your “other” is, so to love your neighbour and serve the Lord. But what happens when words are not enough, and when having only words of an ally can make injustice? What happens when being an ally is not enough?
“I'm tired of having allies that don't actually walk with us but say they support us. I am looking for someone who will be considered an accomplice, who will act with us.” This was the testimony of my New York City friend who does the grassroots work of addressing injustices in racism. Words have ceased to be enough.
In hearing the testimony of brothers and sisters in NYC, I have new language for the conviction I am learning to walk in. Solidarity is an essential status of heart but falls short when battles for civil rights are close to rupturing the social fabric of a nation. To be an ally, it is no longer enough to have only words. Our world is a critical point where actions are needed, where those seeking justice need active accomplices.
Consider Baltimore, where a community is currently reeling from the death of Freddie Grey, yet another young black man who was killed at the hands of police. Looking at a broader narrative, 2015 is but another picture of what happened in 1968, with the civilians rising to resist systematic oppression, resisting those in power who ordered those with weapons to restrain and harm.
The difference in timing is this: in 1968 Martin Luther King Jr., a young black pastor, was leading with words based on biblical truth. The church was involved. The church answered. The church was an ally, and more—it was an accomplice. It actively defended the weak and sought a social picture that participated in a gospel in which the freedom and liberty were accessible to all. Where words were not enough, the church became an accomplice and helped change the course of history.
In Canada today a critical moment is also arising where words will not be enough. As we speak, indigenous and settler pilgrims from across our nation are meeting in Ottawa for the final gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is meant to be a healing place for harms the indigenous people suffered at the hands the government and the churches in Canada. As the church, we have a place in the reconciliation commission. Words of an ally are a good beginning, but we will need to learn to be an accomplice of justice as well. This commission is not the end of a healing process but the beginning.
Will the church be an accomplice now, in 2015? We are not in Baltimore, but we are here in Canada, in a context that still asks for the church to be an ally, an accomplice. In addressing racism that in tearing the social fabric in our Canadian context, there is much language around becoming an ally. While I do not dispute that this is important, I am adamant: we need more than the words of an ally. We need the actions of an accomplice. The indigenous people in Canada are being “Idle No More” and are asking for the support of their settler neighbours.
To be an ally or to also be an accomplice? What does the Lord require of us? To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). This scripture has requirements that are actions: doing, loving, walking. Will we be guilty of being counted among the doers of justice, the lovers of mercy, of being pilgrims on the road to humility? Will we do more than pay lip service support and let our lives' actions speak louder than words could?
Martin Luther King Jr had a dream, and I have one too. I dream of a church who walks with, loves, and does justice with our indigenous neighbours. In my heart, I do believe it is what the Lord requires of us. It is for this reason I join the masses in Ottawa this week, in the hope that I will learn to not only be an ally to my indigenous neighbours but an accomplice also.