Ched Myers is an activist theologian who has worked in social change movements for forty years. With a Masters degree in New Testament Studies, he is a popular educator who animates scripture and issues of faith-based peace and justice. He has published more than 100 articles and more than half-dozen books, most of which can be found at www.ChedMyers.org. He and his partner Elaine Enns, co-direct Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries (www.bcm-net.org) in the Ventura watershed of southern California.
Posts By This Author
‘The Catholic Church Needs to Change Its Thinking About Indigenous People’
IN APRIL, Pope Francis made a long-awaited apology to a Canadian delegation of Inuit, First Nations, and Métis leaders at the Vatican for the “deplorable” violations children suffered at Catholic-run Indian Residential Schools for more than a century. The pope committed to come to Canada in late July to make his confession personally to residential school survivors and their descendants for “the abuse and disrespect for your identity, your culture, and even your spiritual values.”
In this historic apology, Pope Francis stated, “Clearly, the content of the faith cannot be transmitted in a way contrary to the faith itself.”
This watershed moment comes 25 years after Harry Lafond—a Catholic and then-chief of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan—raised issues of Indigenous faith and culture in a historic audience with Pope John Paul II during the Vatican’s 1997 Synod of the Americas. An educator and Catholic deacon, Lafond and his ancestors have a long history of building bridges between settler and Indigenous communities. J.B. Lafond, Harry’s great grandfather, was a spokesperson for Chief Keetoowayhow at the sixth of the 11 numbered treaties signed by First Nations with the Canadian Crown between 1871 and 1877. At the Treaty 6 table in 1876, J.B. Lafond negotiated with a British colonial government for relief from the flood of encroaching European settlers on the prairies. The parties were trying to avoid the violence waged against the Lakota, Dakota, and Cheyenne to their south. Though traditional Muskeg Lake Cree territory covered hundreds of square miles, Treaty 6 allotted a reserve of only 42 square miles.
Harry Lafond’s family has lived on the Treaty 6 reserve since then. He and eight of his 11 siblings attended nearby St. Michael’s (Duck Lake) Indian Residential School, run by the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1975, after marrying Germaine Laplante, a former Catholic sister of Métis (mixed European and Indigenous) heritage, Lafond worked as an educator and then served for a decade as chief at Muskeg Lake. Later, he directed the Office of the Treaty Commissioner of Saskatchewan, formed to bring Indigenous views of treaty covenants to the wider settler community. His tenure coincided with the years of Canada’s groundbreaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
In 2015, after six years of gathering testimony from across Canada, the TRC issued 94 calls to action to repair past and continuing damages wrought by the residential school system as an instrument of colonization. These included 10 calls directed toward churches, one of which demanded an apology from the pope on Canadian soil for abuses—which is being realized this summer, thanks to seeds planted by leaders such as Harry Lafond.
Today, Lafond continues to foster dialogue about what it means to be both Cree and Catholic. He works to renew Cree language and traditions among his people, while accompanying settlers interested in restorative solidarity. In May, the first federal study of Native American boarding schools in the U.S. identified more than 400 Indian Residential Schools and more than 50 associated burial sites. We interviewed Lafond in March and May 2022 by Zoom and email about his journey toward restorative justice and how the church might be replanted in Cree culture and land.—Elaine Enns and Ched Myers
Elaine Enns and Ched Myers: How did you feel when you heard Pope Francis’ apology in April to the First Nations delegation?
Harry Lafond: Pope Francis is an exceptional man with a very strong instinct to find the right path to the hearts of his visitors. I felt great hope and comfort that together we will find our way to wahkohtowin, Cree law for making relatives. And I recognize that it is an event that should have taken place 500 years ago.
What Christianity and Anarchy Have in Common
FROM THE STREETS of Ferguson to Charlottesville and from Occupy to Standing Rock, anarchists represent a prominent part of today’s activist mix. How might Christians understand this tradition of political engagement?
In popular culture, anarchism is often trivialized as a cipher for generalized chaos, based on a caricature of hooded black bloc brawlers smashing store windows at protests. On the other hand, some anarchists settle for mere sloganeering, with little analysis or strategy. But simplistic stereotypes fail to recognize that, as social critic Cornel West put it, anarchism represents “a powerful critique of concentration of power in the nation-state.”
The label derives from the Greek anarchos, meaning “without rulers” (not, as some libertarians wrongly assume, without rules). Anarchists work for voluntary, nonhierarchical forms of self-organization and against state coercion and oppression.
As a social movement and ideological orientation, political anarchism began coalescing in the wake of the failed social revolutions of 1848 around Europe. Early anarchists critiqued the state as the root of all human oppression, and as the “left of the left” challenged Marxist assumptions that revolutions could only be accomplished by changing state structures from the top down. Some proposed communal self-rule and “mutual aid” as an alternative to social Darwinism.
The majority of the tradition was (and remains) decidedly atheist—“no gods, no masters.” But Pierre-Joseph Proudhon allowed that early Christianity was essentially anarchist until the church sold out to Constantine, while Peter Kropotkin argued the same about popular radical religious movements of the late Middle Ages.
From the Archives: April 1991
AS I WRITE this, one week after the beginning of “Desert Storm,” the networks have returned to their regularly scheduled programming, responding to polls the third day of the war indicating that Americans were tiring of the coverage. (Considering what we don’t hear, “coverage” seems a wholly appropriate euphemism—just try to verify reports beginning to leak out of the war zone of 100,000 or 200,000 civilian casualties.) War news has become a mere refrain—“Allied forces continued today to pound Iraq ...”—punctuated with videotaped missile strikes or bemasked reporters and the horrific wailing of air raid sirens.
A Watershed Moment
OUR HISTORY IS increasingly hostage to a deep and broad ecological crisis. Stalking us for centuries, it is now upon us in the interlocking catastrophes of climate destruction, habitat degradation, species extinction, and resource exhaustion. Some call it “peak everything.”
“All we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biota and leave a ruined world to our children and grandchildren,” concluded environmental policy analyst James Gustave Speth in The Bridge at the Edge of the World, “is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today ... to release greenhouse gases ... impoverish ecosystems and release toxic chemicals at current rates, and the world in the latter part of this century won’t be fit to live in.”
Our Christian faith and practice now unfold either in light of or in spite of this crisis. Our choice is between discipleship and denial.
Two trends among thoughtful Catholics, evangelicals, and other Protestants in North America over the last quarter century are helping awaken us to “response-ability” in the face of these inconvenient truths. One is the spread of contextual theology, which demands both analysis and engagement with social realities around us. The other is how “creation care” has gained broad traction among churches.
But these trends need to be integrated. Contextual approaches have tended to address social, economic, and political issues apart from ecological ones. And environmental theologies are not contextual enough: often too abstract (debating “new cosmologies”), focused on remote symptoms (tropical rain forests or polar ice caps), or merely cosmetic (“greening” congregations through light bulb changes while avoiding controversies such as the Keystone XL pipeline).
Our “all hands on deck” moment requires a practical approach that challenges and equips our churches to learn how to “serve and preserve” the earth (Genesis 2:15). The best way to do that is to focus on the particular places in which we dwell.
'Everything Will Live Where the River Goes'
A Bible study on water, God, and redemption.
The Passion of the Gulf
The BP catastrophe invites us to take a hard look at ourselves. We invited eight writers to offer their reflections on images from the Gulf Coast disaster.
Pay Attention to the Birds
A Bible study on Luke 12, ecology, and economics.
Baptism's True Claim
The Blood Of The Martyrs
A House For All Peoples?
A Bible study on welcoming the outsider.
Same-sex marriage and sacramental unity
In 1963, William Stringfellow - movement theologian, Sojourners mentor, and gay man - had the following to say about mainline churches who were pondering whether to join the struggle for African-American civil rights:
The issue here...is not some common spiritual values, nor natural law, nor middle axioms. The issue is baptism. The issue is the unity of all humanity wrought by God in the life and work of Christ. Baptism is the sacrament of that unity of all human life in God.
To Serve and Preserve
The Bible calls us to dominion over creation. Or does it?
A Few of My Favorite Things
Stories to Live By
A Living Example
Brazilian Catholic archbishop Helder Camara brought a "preferential option for the poor" to the center of Christian social thinking.
'Behold, The Treasure of the Church'
Jesus' New Economy of Grace
The Hebrew Bible's vision of Sabbath economics contends that a theology of abundant grace and a communal ethic of redistribution is the only way out of our slavery to the debt system, with its theology of meritocracy and private ethic of wealth concentration. The contemporary church, however, has difficulty hearing this as good news since our theological imaginations have long been captive to the market-driven orthodoxies of modern capitalism.
Our fears have persuaded us that the biblical Jubilee is at best utopian and at worst communistic. Yet we find it awkward simply to dismiss the biblical witness, so an alternative objection inevitably arises, as if on cue: "Israel never really practiced the Jubilee!" If genuine, and not simply a strategy of avoidance, this challenge is best addressed by considering both the "negative" and "positive" evidence.
By "negative" evidence I mean the fact that Israel's prophets repeatedly and relentlessly criticized the nation's leadership for betraying the poor and vulnerable members of the community. This strongly suggests that the Sabbath vision of social and economic justice remained a measuring stick to which they could publicly appeal.
There can be no question that the Sabbath disciplines of seventh-year debt release and Jubilee restructuring were regularly abandoned by those Israelites who wished to consolidate social advantages they had gained. The historical narratives in the Hebrew Bible indicate that as the tribal confederacy was eclipsed by centralized political power under the Davidic dynasty, economic stratification followed inexorably. Indeed, the prophet Samuel warned that a monarchy would be linked intrinsically to an economy geared to the elite through ruthless policies of surplus-extraction and militarism (1 Samuel 8:11-18).