Editor's Postlude: No More Enemy Aliens

February 17, 2023
An open bible

“Enemy Aliens”—that is the label the Canadian government gave to my Ukrainian ancestors during World War I and to Japanese Canadians during World War II to justify confiscating their property, savings, and possessions, and confining them to internment camps. “Enemy Aliens”—two words that demonized a people, proclaiming loudly that because of their ethnic group, they were one of the “others,” definitely not “us,” and definitely to be feared. There was no assessment as to whether the people who had arrived in Canada were fleeing persecution and conscription (as my Ukrainian ancestors were), no evaluation of the hard work and devotion these immigrants offered to Canada. They were “Enemy Aliens” based solely on their ethnicity or country of origin in time of war. “Enemy Aliens” was used to restrict and demean a whole cultural group.

For the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, words such as primitive or savage or heathen denigrated their rich cultures, traditions, and spirituality. The intricacies of individual Indigenous cultures went mostly unnoticed as all of the Indigenous people who first lived in this land were lumped together as “uncivilized” and “unchristian.” In the drive to recreate the British-European society on North American soil, the languages and cultures of the First Peoples were almost obliterated, and the abundance of the natural environment, including the buffalo and beavers, was ravaged for sport and profit.

If you didn’t speak a European language—preferably English—you were considered stupid and illiterate. So it was with my Ukrainian ancestors, who knew the Cyrillic, not the Latin, alphabet. I grew up with “dumb Ukrainian” jokes in the ’60s and ’70s, a vestige of the early assumptions about Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans. Yet my “white” skin has allowed me to fit into society in ways that those of racialized ancestries cannot.

As I consider how so many of the racist actions that are part of Canadian (and world) history have been done in the name of being Christian, I am embarrassed to call myself Christian. When I see Christians waving anti-gay signs and proclaiming that God will send those of the LGBTQ+ community to hell, I want nothing to do with the word Christian.

Yet, it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ I am ashamed of; it is the choices, attitudes, and actions that come out of a misuse of the gospel that embarrass me. The gospel has nothing to do with it. People claim their own racist and stereotypical beliefs as “gospel” truth to justify their actions.

If we truly consider Jesus’ actions and words in the gospels, we notice a man who went out of his way to include those who were excluded by society, who touched those whom others turned away, and who ate with those whom others feared. He sat at a table with tax collectors who worked for the enemy Romans. He made the outsider Samaritan the hero of his story. He welcomed women as his financial supporters. Jesus instructed his followers not only to love God with heart, mind, strength, and soul and to love your neighbour as you love yourself, but also to love and show hospitality to those who are vulnerable and excluded; to strangers and to enemies. Jesus didn’t draw lines; he obliterated them in the name of God’s love.

That’s what it means to be a follower of the Way of Jesus. We need more than ever to claim and live this expansive love taught to us by Jesus. There are still those who are demonized and excluded in our country because of language, ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ability or disability, body size or shape, and more. In this anniversary year of the confederation of Canada, may we resist making “Enemy Aliens” of anyone, in spite of our fears and discomfort, and in the love of Jesus, reach out as friends.

Susan Lukey, Editor

first published in the Lent-Easter 2017 issue of Gathering, the year marking the 150 of the confederation of Canada.