what right do I have not to be offended, outraged or indignant?

Hatred of the most despicable kind was on display in Charlottesville (USA) last weekend. We saw what happens when racists get together and find the cowardly courage of the crowd to shout and march and chant. The mob mentality encouraged them to make public the acidic bile that has rotted their souls: it is easier to wear racist emblems and make nazi salutes when there are others alongside you doing the same.

I have been hesitant about writing anything about what happened in Charlottesville because I am a middle-class white male who has only experienced any sort of discrimination in the form of bullying at school because I am a Christian. I have been hesitant to write about the predatory attitudes that we find skulking in the shadows of all cultures, thinly disguised as nationalism and preying on the insecurities of those who consider themselves to have been hard done by because I have not suffered in the way that others have at the hands and mouths of prejudiced bigots.  What right do I have to be offended, outraged or indignant?

But then I thought, “What right do I have not to be offended, outraged or indignant?” I may not know how it feels to have suffered racist abuse or violence but I do know that it is a nauseating stench in the nostrils of all that I believe in and stand for.

Regrettably that rally would not have received the publicity it did if it was not for the death of one brave person. The evil that reared its hideous, heinous head in the land of the free and the home of the brave was focused for the world in the act of one person who decided to use their car as a weapon of mass destruction and drive into a crowd of people protesting against the racists. It is tragic that Heather Heyer’s life was taken by that fascist-fuelled act and that others were seriously injured. It is tragic for the families affected and yet Heather’s last post on social media has become a rallying cry against such attitudes:

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”

I want to say the loudest possible ‘amen!’ to that statement. I am outraged. I don’t want to make her a martyr to a cause because first and foremost her death is a family tragedy, but she was (along with many others) a brave woman who refused to stand by and allow evil to go unchallenged. I hope and pray that history will reveal this as a turning point when ordinary men and women across the world rose up against these attitudes. As Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr said:

“For evil to succeed, all it needs is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”

stop

So what does ‘not doing nothing’ look like for me? This blog is one small thing – seeking to add my small voice to the many other small voices across the world that denounce racist and fascist attitudes so that together we might become a resounding roar of resistance against racism and leave no room for doubt that these people are a small minority of small minded people whose myopic and bigoted view of humanity is so far out of focus from the truth that they will never prevail.

We can expose lies with the truth. We can dis-empower evil by calling it what it is. We can not only stand against injustice but we can act for justice. If we ever encounter such discriminatory attitudes let us resolve that we will not leave them unchallenged. We will stand in protest. We will stand in solidarity. We will speak out against them. And at the same time if there is one present near us whom the bigot would try to make into a victim with their vile evil lies let’s be determined to stand with that person and for that person and ensure that they know that they are not alone. We may not be able to walk in their shoes but we can walk with them.

I have no wish or intention to diminish the hurt and insult that is felt by those who are subjected to racist taunts and attacks by claiming that we are all victims of racism. I cannot know how that feels. But by sub-humanising one group of people on the basis of their ethnicity racists are actually sub-humanising themselves and the poison of racism pollutes all of humanity. If one person is considered less than another we are all diminished by that attitude. So let’s resolve to honour and value and respect every single human being – even (or perhaps especially) those with whom we disagree. A powerful antidote to the poison of racism is the refusal to dehumanise racists: to refuse to fight fire with fire, hatred with hatred, evil with evil.

We can restore the dignity that the undignified are seeking to destroy by recognising that dignity is not only something inherent within all of us, but it is also something that we can give to others. If someone seeks to diminish the dignity of another we can enhance it by giving greater dignity in response. Look at the way that Nelson Mandela showed dignity and gave dignity in such a way that the racism of apartheid crumbled.

In response to the attack in Charlottesville President Obama tweeted a quotation from Nelson Mandela’s book The Long Walk to Freedom:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Jesus Christ said that we should love our neighbours. More awkwardly he also said we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That’s easy to say but it’s not easy to do. We don’t have to agree with them. We don’t have to allow them to succeed. We don’t have to submit meekly to those whose perverted view of people leads them to despise others – non-violent resistance has been at the heart of some of the most powerful movements in human history. ‘Turning the other cheek’ is an act of defiant rebellious love – responding extraordinarily to violence inflicted upon us and demonstrating an undiminished resolve not to retaliate and take revenge upon that person.

Loving our neighbours and our enemies does not mean that we cultivate mushy romantic or familial feelings for them. It means that we want the best for them (surely that includes that they recognise and repudiate the inhuman nature of their attitudes). So I also resolve to pray against the evil of discrimination that seeks to undermine the value of another person on the basis of difference and pray for a change of heart and mind for all who hold such views.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

salty light

A short while ago I wrote a bloggage about taking action against the apparent rise in racist abuse and violence  and I have been reflecting on that since then. You see I think it is really important that we don’t just tut and roll our eyes when we hear about people being threatened, shouted at, trolled or bullied because of the prejudice of a tiny minority of people.

Do read the bloggage linked above because it tells of some brilliant ways in which Christians have been acting to counter the hatred. Here are some more suggestions:

Some people have taken to wearing a safety pin on their clothes as a sign that they are a ‘safe’ person to talk to. That’s a start but I worry that those who have malicious intent could also wear a safety pin and do all those who are possible victims know what the safety pin means?

You can write to your local paper and express support for those who feel oppressed. Get everyone in your church to sign the letter too. Or even better get everyone in your church to write a letter and overwhelm the newspaper so they see it as an issue to address.

You can speak out if someone in your friendship circle speaks in a racist fashion and gently explain why you think what they are saying is wrong.

targetThe advice I have read which makes most sense if you are a witness to racist abuse in public is to go and talk with the person who is being harangued, ignoring the abuser. Don’t argue with the abuser because they are after attention. Instead love the victim. Find out if they are okay, offer to go and have a cup of tea with them (or whatever their beverage), offer to walk with them to a safe place.

If there’s already someone else with the person, go and join them and start to form a crowd. You could invite other passers-by to join you: “Please will you come and stand with us because this person is being racially abused and we want to show them that this is not how most people think?” The advent of mobile phones with video cameras means that it’s also possible (discreetly) to record the abuse and give the video to the police because an offence may well be in progress. And of course you can call the police.

All these things (and others) are prophetic acts – demonstrations that hate is not stronger than love – and free samples of the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke so much about. They are saying that this is not how God want it to be.

It’s horrible that we are living in times where this sort of thing even needs to be articulated. It’s hideous that this ugly troll is raising its loathsome head.

And it’s entirely right that we stand against it. We must.

It’s entirely right that we do things to counter it. We must.

It’s entirely right that we make it clear that focusing on what makes someone different from us is heinous and repugnant. There is far more that we have in common which we can emphasise. We must.

But I want to ask myself why it is that welcoming ‘strangers’ is unusual? Why is it that letting people know that they are accepted and loved is strange and noteworthy? Why is it that some people feel confident enough to shout vile words and engage in acts of violence?

Is it because we (Christians) have not taken Jesus seriously enough? If you just read Matthew 5 (the first part of the Sermon on the Mount) you will see what I mean. We’re supposed to be salt and light in our society. We’re supposed to love everyone, even our ‘enemies’. If we really lived like that I have a hunch that our society would be so much better – well seasoned, better preserved, well lit and well loved!

Be blessed, be a blessing (no really, go on, be a blessing!)

 

 

the man in the seat next to me

Our flights to and from Sweden were fairly uneventful. Apart from one moment. Remember that this was only a matter of days since the Egypt Air plane crashed in the Mediterranean, possibly (probably?) caused by a bomb.

aircraft interiorWe were seated in a row of three, and in the seat next to us was a man who didn’t really make eye contact with me. He was not in a chatty mood. During the flight he looked a bit anxious and then, rather alarmingly, on a couple of occasions he leant forward and laid his head on his knees. If I mention that he looked to be of North African descent and that he looked like he was praying then you might understand how uneasy it made me. The thought did cross my mind that he might have somehow got a bomb on board the plane and was waiting for it to go off.

It’s not that I am afraid of dying – I have absolute faith in Jesus about my eternal destiny. But the fleeting thought crossed my mind in the moment of anxiety that I don’t really want to die in a painful way. And I thought that I would rather not die yet as I have lots I would like to do. And I thought of the impact on those whom I love and might miss me and I didn’t want them to be upset.

It may be that if there had not been an apparent terrorist bombing of a plane the week before I might not have been so anxious. I can’t say. But what that moment revealed about me troubles me.

Call me untrusting.

Call me suspicious.

Call me paranoid.

Perhaps even call me racist.

Those things might be true of me in that moment. I hope and pray that they are not. I need to work through with myself and God whether any of them are, and if my thoughts were unfair or unjustified. I have sought forgiveness for them and asked for God’s Spirit’s help to change me so that I am not like that in future.

In that moment I did pray. I prayed for safety. But, thank God, I did at least also pray for the man next to me – that his stress and anxiety would diminish.

As I reflect on the events from the comfort of my study I also pray the following prayer…

“Please God, cleanse me from all of the taints and tarnish of suspicion or even racism that cling to me because of what I hear on the news and events that go on around the world. Forgive me when I act and react because of them rather than because of you. Please God help me always to think the best of people, because you do. Please God help me to be like Jesus on the cross when I am in situations where I am anxious – and think of the welfare of others before myself. “

Be blessed, be a blessing