Republished with permission from Faith Today, Jul/Aug 2017. Photo by Caroline Ryan for Faith Today.
Christine MacMillan is a Canadian leader who serves with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) as associate secretary general for public engagement. She also chairs its task forces on refugees and global human trafficking. Her work takes her across Canada and around the world. Social justice has always been a huge part of her witness as a commissioner in the Salvation Army and as the first director of its International Social Justice Commission in New York. Christine spoke candidly to Faith Today about some of those issues, women in leadership and her recent cancer journey.
Faith Today: Christine, you have a huge portfolio. Is there one area that takes precedence?
Christine MacMillan: In advocacy, justice, peace and reconciliation, and the global tables we sit at, you cannot isolate any one issue and slice it off as a specialty. When people are affected and require the intervention of human advocacy, there are many, many contributing factors that have found them where they are.
We’ve just put out an announcement on global hunger in which [the WEA] calls the Church to prayer, because the hunger in our world has never been so extensive. When you look at the parts of the world affected by hunger, you see there are conflicts. You are working with portfolios in dynamic form. You are trying to understand the story of the person who is suffering, where do they not have a voice, and you need to articulate that. Death will come if you don’t have an intervention. That’s how dramatic and critical it is.
FT: Right now in Canada we are having big conversations about reconciliation and cultural appropriation. What role does the Church have as we move forward?
CM: Peace and reconciliation can’t be looked at as quick fixes that will repair the decades of what people had to live with. The Church needs to educate itself in understanding Canada’s history, and the stories of those who have lived in that history and have not been acknowledged [or] appreciated with their culture and own history as a people.
I see the Church is trying to engage that way. Rather than having [previously marginalized] people visit them, they are visiting the areas of the country where these stories have taken place. They are marching. They are listening, rather than speaking into the story.
The Church needs to understand we have a part in stories of cultural suffering. And if we did, how do we say sorry? How do we recompense our sorrow into action that people can take in and feel the depth of – how substantive it is? It’s not saying sorry, it’s truly being sorry.
The Church is often named as a contributing factor to the misappropriation of culture, so we need to be at those tables of government where the stories are being articulated, whether it’s going across the country and gathering in churches and listening. We need to be at the tables with people affected [and seeking] a long-term solution. How are people impacted today because of the history?
It’s being patient. It’s listening to the point where listening even of itself becomes peace and reconciliation. It’s exploring "what will it take to bring peace?" – and as you explore in that way reconciliation starts to happen.
The process is as important as the outcome. [Reconciliation doesn’t begin] until you get people feeling the trust in the room that allows them to tell the layers of their story. The Church must be that safe place, as well as that public place.
FT: As Evangelicals, have we moved past the debate about evangelism versus social justice? Are we finally getting it that both are needed?
CM: I think there’s been a movement toward understanding social justice prophetically and biblically, being concerned with the well-being of converts as well as the future eternity of the Good News we preach. I also see where there is a divide that still pulls us apart. The evangelical community needs to continue to speak to each other about its own understanding of Scripture and really mean the prayer that we would be one. That the world wouldn’t know our differences, but would know who Jesus is.
FT: You’ve been a leader who is a woman in Canada and now globally for years. Is it easier in 2017 than it might have been years ago?
CM: It’s easier to be a woman in leadership if you’re not looking at the struggles of women struggling to even have a position in the world.
It’s easier if you want to sanitize yourself with your position and be satisfied with it, and not be bothered by the horrible atrocities women experience in the world today. If you start to bridge what has been your own privilege with women who are looked upon as second-class citizens around the world, then I need to use my privilege on behalf of others. That can’t be doing it in a dominant way, but in a way that engages society and shows the value of women when they are included in the Church and in society at large.
"I decided to call this ‘the cross of the unexpected.’ It’s been a new understanding of salvation, to understand God in the very dark times of life when we think God is not there."
If you look at nations in terms of where there is the most difficulty and injustices, the people who bear the brunt of that injustice are women and children. That speaks to the fact that sometimes in settings where women aren’t in leadership, there is also an injustice in those communities in how women are viewed from a cultural standpoint and how they are treated. The Church does pick up on a cultural environment other than the Church itself.
I do think that men and women offer different skills and leadership styles, but it doesn’t predicate the fact that the leadership style a woman can offer needs to be expressed. I do appreciate the different views in the Church where leadership of a woman in a congregation or a pulpit is seen not to be appropriate. That is not my experience.
But it doesn’t negate the fact that women need to be treated with respect in that society and setting. There is a long way to go in terms of the need for respect. And not to utilize women as a commodity and a convenience.
FT: A lot of your work centres on trying to stop human trafficking. What do Canadians need to know?
CM: I think Canada needs to be exploring its own contribution to human trafficking. It’s not just sex, it’s labour and all kinds of ways in which people can be commercialized for the sake of profit.
It’s not about victims thousands of miles away. If victims were not in any way brought into a market where their person-hood could be sold, we wouldn’t have human trafficking. Without a market and money to buy them, it just wouldn’t exist.
Sometimes we think of a poor person or a child, or even a man being engaged in labour trafficking, and we image them as people far away, coming out of poor settings. But we cannot imagine them in our own nation, being utilized for labour at cheap costs. But they are.
And of course, we also must consider the whole world of social media and the Internet. We have these things at our fingertips. No one has to move a mile away from home to be utilized in an abhorrent way. We have to acknowledge we are contributing to the issue of trafficking. It’s a global industry that works across boundaries.
MP Joy Smith ensured Canada was not only protected, but that there are laws on our books that allow human trafficking to be viewed as a crime. These rings of trafficking are being challenged. We are seeing charges laid.
We need to not just deal with victims, but to ask ourselves what do we purchase? How do we buy goods and services? Are we taking advantage of the human rights of others when we are meeting our own needs?
FT: Christine, you have been on a journey with cancer in the last year. Can you tell us what that has been like for you?
CM: I have prided myself in some ways on being healthy, energetic and able to keep going. A number of months ago, I was called into the doctor’s office. She had a worrisome look on her face saying I needed to get more tests. Off we went and I was diagnosed with cancer.
It comes as a shock to you as a person. You are midstream in this life of serving God and being involved in the WEA.
The thing that affected me as much was how it affected other people. I felt badly. I felt that in some ways I was becoming an interruption in their lives.
I started all this treatment and realized that in my own life there were so many questions. When you are physically ill and not even able to walk across the room, one begins to ask what is really important in life? Do I give myself the permission to be sick? To step back into the quietness and reflection of my own illness, and to understand God in a whole new way? That led me to why Jesus had to suffer, and to understand suffering in a whole new way for myself, and to understand His suffering more.
I decided to call this "the cross of the unexpected." It’s been a new understanding of salvation, to understand God in the very dark times of life when we think God is not there. To understand that the human community of friends just sits with you and they become part of understanding and knowing what you are going through.
That’s not every friend you’ve ever had. It’s people who choose to walk alongside. You don’t need many, but you need a few. Included in that few were the hospital community and other cancer patients. As I sat in waiting rooms, they taught me in their own humanity to be human.
Often we see Jesus as truly and properly God, but we also need to acknowledge Him as truly and properly human. The combination of my own deep plunge into my own humanity saw an equally deeper plunge into who God is, and that He understands my humanity like I never knew before.
It’s been a time of not just exploring cancer, but exploring Christine MacMillan in a wonderful way. I find reflection refreshing. I have a deeper need for it and to be involved with friendships in a way that is real.
And to bring the Church to an understanding of His humanity. There is an evangelical need to be self-determined and out there in the world with this great answer, rather than give the question of our own life to others as the beginning of a conversation about what it means to live for the gospel.
FT: Thank you, Christine.
Read more articles like these with a subscription to the EFC magazine Faith Today.