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.

 

I’m just saying…

iStock_000008457626MediumI am not someone who sees demons lurking around every corner and considers that everything that goes wrong is the result of the devil having a go at me. I think that sometimes in this world we have to acknowledge that the bumper sticker was right: s**t happens.

But just occasionally when stuff goes wrong I have paused and wondered about the timing. I was speaking at a youth camp a long time ago (when I had hair – yes that long ago!). On the evening where I was particularly asking the young people to consider their relationship with Jesus and whether any of them wanted to make a commitment I had planned for us to sing a song after the talk during which the young people could consider their response. I switched on the overhead projector (remember them?) and the bulb blew. No problem, there was a spare, which I slid into place using the convenient lever at the front of the machine and switched it on. The same thing happened (the projector had been fine all week). I abandoned the plan to sing and carried on. God was gracious and young people came to faith despite the tech failure.

After the session I switched the OHP on again and it worked fine. The timing was, erm, interesting. That’s all I am saying.

This morning I am beginning work on a significant sermon for Sunday. The significance is not because of me, but because of what I (and the other church leaders) feel should be said. I switched my computer on and it chugged into action. Then it ran i n c r e d i b l y   s l o w l y. Then in crashed. I restarted it and it all came back to life, except that the antivirus software would not work and was flashing alarm messages at me. I used the online chat facility with the nice man from the AV company and the problem was resolved.

But it was a time consuming distraction. The timing was, erm, interesting. That’s all I am saying.

Even though s**t happens, and it happens to good people as well as those we might consider deserve it, we should not discount that there is evil at large in the world: not personified by a red character with horns, a pointy tail and a fork; but personified by greed, lust, rage, deceit and other less pleasant characteristics we have. And just occasionally, when God wants to do something significant, stuff happens that makes you think that the opposition is not keen and that it is trying to distract us.

The good news is that there is Good News and that God is more powerful than anything. The Cross of Christ is the moment when evil is doomed to defeat and love wins. We need not fear – even the sting of death has been drawn – and I sometimes think that when stuff ‘happens’ it is a good sign, because (to use a CS Lewis metaphor) Aslan is on the move and the White Witch is getting twitchy!

Be blessed, be a blessing.