Addressing the Colonial Mindset

This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While they may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, they should not be seen as an official statement.

We mix and mingle among those with whom we’re most comfortable. Shared interests and culture are at the top of the list. As a student at Knox College, I was delighted to find people from my same culture and age group. We hit it off and stuck together.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t make much of an attempt to get to know those whose first language was not English. While I made instant connections with Koreans who were raised in Canada, it was not so with those who struggled with the dominant language.

I had all sorts of excuses. In my midlife career change, I had to focus; anything that required what I deemed to be unnecessary effort was not ventured. And why bother — it would have been as awkward for them as for me. So, I took the easy road.

Perhaps that dynamic has changed in the last ten years. I hope it has.

Despite my personal myopia, I wasn’t blind to the larger picture. I knew there were two presbyteries which were language-based. I realized that they were solidly united in orthodoxy, whereas the rest of the denomination was deeply divided. And I became aware that at some General Assemblies in recent years — where Han-Ca commissioners congregated at their own tables — the language barrier was a real issue and accommodations were not made. They were recognized, but their voices were often silent. They were marginalized.

That reality was called out during our Renewal Day on April 25. With graceful honesty, Rev. Jonathan Hong, English-ministry lead pastor from Toronto Korean Presbyterian Church, suggested that the PCC still harbours colonial attitudes.

Han-Ca congregations, which follow authentic Biblical thinking reflected in Scripture and our subordinate standards “and do not follow the transient nature of current Western culture, nor adopt its today-popular moral standards … have experienced mistreatment at the hands of many in the PCC which has caused us much pain and raises alarm, for we have collectively experienced many instances of slander, ridicule, racism, and even sadly, demonization, which all unequivocally seems to be saying that there is no place for ‘the Korean’ in this denomination,” he said.

It was a wake-up call.

A conversation aimed at reconciliation is long overdue.

“We need to repent,” Rev. Christine O’Reilly told the online gathering. “We need to repent of the racism and dismissed attitudes that are and have been part of our denomination for years. We white folks need to listen with humility and patience and with a teachable spirit. We have much to learn and need to learn much and to recognize that Christendom and the white, Anglo-dominant culture is long gone.”

Note: I urge the reader to watch the entire presentation and ensuing discussion in order to get the full gist of the message and conversations. The video of the Renewal Day can be viewed in its entirety, and the text of Rev. Jonathan Hong’s speech may also be downloaded in PDF format.

While Hong was referring to the Korean experience, we can include all those who are not descended from the founding cultures. They include Presbyterian congregations whose dominant cultural heritage is Arabic, Chinese, Hungarian, Taiwanese, Nigerian, and Ghanian.

The vast majority of these congregations adhere to an orthodox, reformed Biblical view and do not embrace theology which accepts same-sex marriage. Many are profoundly disheartened by the steady liberal drift in theological thinking — which is the mindset of Western culture — and are prepared to leave.

Colonial attitudes are prevalent in the progressive wings of the PCC, where many share the belief that as non-Anglos blend into Western culture, their theology will eventually change. It’s reminiscent of the assimilation of First Nations into European culture, something that our world has recognized and now repented of.

But that said, it’s important to note that colonialism transcends theology. Both the revisionist and the orthodox wings share the blame in how ethnic congregations are marginalized.

We need to talk.

The COVID-19-induced pause in the PCC’s time of theological reconsideration — with the cancellation of General Assembly — may be an opportunity to seek something better.

The theological divide, and how we are to move ahead and co-exist if the remits allowing formal acceptance of same-sex marriage are accepted, needs to be addressed — but the cultural divide is of greater importance.

We repented to First Nations. We need to do the same for others.