When Our Justice Activism Fails


I’m not sure if this has happened to you, but every so often I’ve been invited into a story that seems far larger than myself. You know how it is. Sometimes we can get caught up in our own world, focusing on our problems and just trying to keep our heads above water. And then something happens. Maybe we meet someone, or hear someone’s story, or witness a tragedy. Whatever it is, it reminds us that there’s something bigger to strive towards and fight for.

In the past few years, one story that has caught fire in our community has been Bill C-262. This bill was introduced by MP Romeo Saganash in response to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls to action. This bill had one purpose: “to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”

Since it was a private member’s bill, there was little hope for it from the beginning, but somehow it passed one step after another. As the bill went through each stage, there were calls from churches to pray and fast so that our Canadian government would finally get on board with protecting Indigenous human rights. Our denomination held rallies, learning events, pilgrimages, postcard and email campaigns, and more, to urge our government to pass the bill.

Amazingly enough, it continued to pass each level. Until last week. We got the news, and it spread quickly over social media, that the bill died on the Senate floor at the final step of the journey. Certain senators deliberately stalled and blocked proceedings to make sure this bill wouldn't pass. And just like that, years of hard work and activism ended without any concrete indication that Canada is serious about the calls to action of the TRC or implementing UNDRIP.

I really respect our nation-wide Indigenous Relations Coordinator, Steve Heinrichs, as he responded to the news by asking us to pray. Even though the bill failed, we were encouraged to believe and hope because of the amazing work that had already been done. Of course I believe it. Of course I’ll keep on praying. But I just can’t help think about how the actions of a few Senators is keeping our country from moving in the direction of justice and reconciliation.

I feel torn up about it, so I can’t even imagine the feelings of the people who were so invested in this process from the beginning. For them, and for all of us, I wonder what hope there could possibly be. Of course we can pray for God to act, but how do we move forward in hope while defeated? Why would we keep on going when it seems like the powers that be have different interests in mind? How do we possibly change an institution that is steeped in colonial oppression?

Then I remembered that we don’t have to go very far to find some wisdom on living in hope through hopeless times. The Church has always turned to the Bible for hope in turmoil, and believe it or not, that turmoil was often political. In Scripture we find stories that, when held up, become a mirror for us in our time and show us a way forward, even if that way seems as unsteady as a blindfolded walk through the woods. 

With all things theological, we begin with God. We are constantly reminded in Scripture that there’s something bigger than us. The universe wasn’t made for us, and we aren’t the centre of it. Instead, everything that has been made was made by and for God. The story of the universe is God’s story and we find our place in God’s grand narrative. Life is therefore not just about us finding our personal satisfaction and happiness. God actually invites us into His story, to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

And what do we find as a core part of God’s story? That God longs for justice and reconciliation!

If we ever wanted hope when our actions for justice fail, this is it! God is on the side of the hopeless, marginalized, outcast, the orphans and the widows. When Jesus came to earth (God in human form), He always prioritized the sick, lonely, forgotten, as well as little children. We can be absolutely certain that God never intended oppression, slavery, disaster, or violence to be a part of every day life (even though those who sometimes perpetuate these things do it in God’s name). 

But here’s the thing. God also created us in His own image, and we have been given the ability to choose which way we want to walk. And we have so often chosen the selfish and destructive path. So did the people of the Bible, even though God tried to call them back over and over again. Micah 6:8 is one of many examples of God sending a prophet to His people in order to bring them back into the way of justice.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.”

God create the world in peace and always hoped for our existence in total shalom, which is more than just an absence of violence, but a complete flourishing and blessed peace. That isn’t just for humans, but for all of creation. God isn’t just interested in justice. God is consistently working towards it. Enter Jesus. Enter the Church. Enter God’s plan to bring about a complete transformation of us all so that we would live into God’s plan of justice and hope.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” - 2 Corinthians 5:17-18

Yes, Bill C-262 is no more, and it will take a lot more work to get UNDRIP implemented in Canada. But we’re never without hope, because when it comes to justice and reconciliation, we aren’t the centre of the story. God has always, is, and will always work through all of His creation to bring about justice. We are invited to walk alongside, as difficult and as dangerous as that may be.

If we want God to endorse our plans, don’t expect much. But if we come alongside God’s plan for the world, we can be sure of one thing. As disappointing as it can be at times, there’s always hope, because we follow a God of justice, mercy, reconciliation, and love.