Racist graffiti was sprayed recently across property at the back of one of our churches. It was a vile display of bigotry and racism that is appallingly wounding not only to Blacks who were targeted but to all Christians. It is offensive to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The rise of abusive language and behaviour has been boosted by the online presence of trolls (a type of online bully who hangs out on the internet and spews venom at others they target for attack). Unfortunately, this has been augmented by the example of some of the most powerful leaders in our world, giving “permission” for such nastiness by the unfiltered and immoderate language they use both in public speech and in Twitter blasts. Muslims, Blacks, women, gays, immigrants, disabled, teachers, police, conservatives, liberals – anyone who is “other,” whether by race, gender, religion, profession or opinion, is a target.
This is not right! This is not healthy debate about contested issues. This is not free public discourse. This is bullying. This is wounding.
We need to take a vocal and active stand against this. But we also need to check ourselves to see whether we not only tolerate it but repeat it in our own conversations in private, online and in public.
There is an alternative narrative to that of our world that informs us as Christians. Our baptismal vows include:
- Will you persevere in resisting evil?
- Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Jesus Christ?
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
These are not easy promises to make. They impinge on every aspect of daily life.
St. Paul’s famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians, read so often at weddings, was actually written to a community deeply embroiled in conflict: anger about leadership; resentment about privilege; disparities between rich and poor; polarized factions.
Sound vaguely familiar?
St. Paul writes about the truly transformative and redemptive power of God’s love revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Love that is kind, not envious or boastful. Not arrogant or rude. Not insisting in its own way. Not irritable or resentful. Does not keep score of wrongs but rejoices in the truth.
What would our world be like, what would it look like, how would it feel different, if we predicated all our actions and our communication on the basis of such love? What would Twitter feeds and Facebook posts and news cycles look like if such love undergirded our mutual relationships?
It is not that differences of opinion would cease but there would be a new tone of respectful engagement. A capacity to work together. The desire to make things different for the well-being of all, not just those in my camp.
Sir Jonathan Sacks has written that God has created all of us in God’s image. If we cannot recognize the image of God in another person who does not look and think and act like us, then we have surely reversed things and made God in our own image. That is the essence of idolatry.