Racism

Sermon on St Patrick’s Day, by Murray Rae

 

Jorge Silva:Reuters.jpg

Jorge Silva/Reuters

Readings: Psalm 58; Luke 13:31–35

On Friday we were exposed once more to the unfathomable depths of human evil. We may have believed that it couldn’t happen here. But we were mistaken. In fact, while some have spoken of this event as unprecedented in New Zealand, tragically it is not. Wayne reminded us down at Araiteuru marae yesterday that in 1864, during the land wars in New Zealand, about 100 Māori women, children, and the elderly took refuge in Rangiaowhia in face of Governor Grey’s attempts to conquer Māori settlements in the Waikato and seize their land. The women, the children and the elderly took refuge while the men prepared to engage in battle elsewhere. Bishop Selwyn was told, and was asked to convey the message that Rangiaowhia would be a place of sanctuary. But on a Sunday morning the crown forces went to Rangiaowhia and slaughtered all those who had taken refuge there.

The massacre on Friday was not unprecedented in New Zealand. Atrocities like that have struck us before. We have been exposed before in this country to the depths of human evil, and it is probably the case that we will be again. Hatred takes root in the soil of indifference, and in fields of complacency. It grows there undetected until it unleashes its terrible violence and destructiveness. We cannot pretend that New Zealand’s soil provides no nourishment for the seeds of hatred and evil. We cannot pretend as some memes on social media have put it, that this is not us. Racism, intolerance and hatred are nourished here too. The man who drove past the mosque in Linwood on Friday and yelled out the window, ‘I’m here to celebrate’, or those who watched the live feed on Facebook of the killer at his work and cheered him on, are people in our midst, here in Aotearoa New Zealand, in this place that we thought was immune to all this.

We are not immune. So what are we to do?

Many of us will have started out already to embrace our Muslim friends, to try to assure them that this is their home too. Sadly, for now, they have good reason to doubt it. We may try to reach out to ethnic minorities in New Zealand and try to assure them that they are welcomed and their culture is respected. But sadly, their everyday experience frequently tells a different story.

We ought to reach out in these ways wherever we can, but we also have other work to do; it is the work of confession. We are not, as a country, as hospitable, as welcoming, as compassionate as we imagine ourselves to be. The seeds of hatred, nourished by indifference and complacency, can grow here too.

Our Gospel reading this morning is a reading for the season of Lent. It continues the story of Jesus making his way toward Jerusalem. Jesus knows what he will face there. He did not need the warning some Pharisees brought to him that Herod was seeking to kill him. Jesus already knew of the darkness and evil that lay ahead. And yet he continues on.

But for a moment he pauses, and utters a lament for the city toward which he journeys. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem’, Jesus says, ‘the people that killed the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’

A little later, when in sight now of the city, Jesus pauses again. This time, Luke tells us, Jesus wept over the city, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! … Indeed the days will come upon you when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave you with one stone upon another’.

This is Jesus’ lament for the city. He is speaking of Jerusalem, of course, but we can claim it also for Christchurch today. ‘Your enemies will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you’.

Where do we belong in this story of lament? We want to stand with Jesus of course, joining in his lament for the city, shedding our own tears, longing for the city that it might be comforted, and that it might find a path to peace. It is right that we should stand with Jesus offering our lament.

But we are also those who are lamented over. ‘How often have I desired to gather your children together’, Jesus says, ‘as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’ We are among those lamented over, and we must confess our resistance sometimes to Jesus’ way of love. For all that we do in seeking to follow Jesus, we could do more. We, I’m afraid, take time off now and again, let our own prejudices show, tire of the work of compassion, and harbour intolerant thoughts. We belong also with those for whom Jesus laments: ‘How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’ We have work of confession to do.

In a third place of belonging in this story, we may hear a lament for the Muslim community. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you …’ Not only children, but brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers have been crushed by the gunman in Christchurch. We can claim Jesus’ lament for them, and for us wherever we stand in solidarity with them.

We have also read this morning from Psalm 58. It is a Psalm of bitter anguish cried out to God in the face of atrocity. It is not a Psalm we read often in church, for in crying out for vengeance, the psalmist expresses sentiments that don’t seem to fit very well with the way of Christ. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. We are enjoined to respond to evil with love. Can a Psalm like this, crying out as it does for vengeance, have any place in Christian worship?

I want to suggest to you this morning that it does have a place. Psalm 58 is a psalm of outrage, and outrage is exactly what we should feel in the face of what went on in Christchurch on Friday. Approval is unconscionable and indifference is also a failure. In the face of such terrible evil, we should feel outrage alongside our sorrow. What is more, this is precisely the place where that outrage should be expressed – before God, in worship and lament.

But it is important for us to recognise what we are doing in bringing our outrage here. The psalmist pleads that God will bring vengeance upon his enemies, and in doing so, in placing the outrage before God, the psalmist waives the right to seek vengeance himself. To place our outrage in the hands of God is to offer it up for God to deal with.

‘O God break the teeth of the wicked in their mouths’, cries the psalmist, ‘tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!’ The psalmist has witnessed terrible atrocity and he brings his outrage to God. Outrage is the appropriate thing to feel, but having prayed a prayer like that, the psalmist must leave his bitterness and anger in the hands of God. And then he must wait upon God’s answer to his prayer.

That brings us back to Jesus and his journey toward Jerusalem. Jesus goes to Jerusalem precisely to face the suffering and the evil of our world. Despite the warning of the Pharisees, he does not turn away. He faces the evil by bearing it himself. ‘Vengeance is mine says, the Lord, I will repay’. In Jesus we find that the Lord repays evil by taking its consequences upon himself.

How are we to respond to the atrocity that has taken place in our midst? Outrage is an appropriate response, but we must bring it here and place it in the hands of God. And then we must seek to be faithful to the God we discover in Jesus who does not return evil for evil, but responds to evil with love. It is our Muslim brothers and sisters who need our love most of all just now. We must be diligent in offering our love and our support.

But there is another job for us as well. When we see the evil of racial intolerance appearing among us, or among our friends and acquaintances, when we see the evil of hatred and prejudice manifesting itself in casual remarks among our peers, or in attitudes embedded in our communities, we followers of Christ must call it out and answer it with Jesus’ way of compassion, and kindness, and love.

I sympathise with the thousands of people who have posted on social media and protested before television cameras that the evil unleashed in Christchurch is not our way. But we cannot take that for granted. Compassion cannot be taken for granted. The overcoming of racial prejudice cannot be taken for granted. The removal of religious suspicion and intolerance cannot be taken for granted. We have to work at it, and in that work, we desperately need God’s help.

Let us pray.

Lord we are deeply saddened by what has taken place in our midst. We acknowledge our feelings of anger that an evil man has wrought such destruction among us and brought us all so low. We come before you with our anger, with our sorrow, and also with our confession that we have work to do ourselves to overcome those feelings of intolerance and suspicion and mistrust that we find at times within our own hearts and minds. We need your help, O Lord. We need your help. Do not delay we pray in bringing your aid to all of us, and especially to the Muslim community with whom we mourn today. Amen.

Preached on 17 March at Pine Hill Church, Dunedin, 17 March.

Murray Rae is Professor of Theology at the University of Otago.

Chris Ellis on short-term mission trips

‘I would have thought those who have shared the bread and cup with, or worked alongside, brothers and sisters from Latin America would be pushing back against the dehumanization of people labeled in high places as “animals” and “invaders.” I would have thought they would be generously supporting groups that are helping to provide for the needs of those in the “caravan.” I would have thought they would be advocating for more judges and translators to be sent to the border to process asylum claims.

Sadly, these things, by and large, have not been happening. That leads me to wonder what this says about the role of STM [short-term mission trips] trips in helping to change lives and produce disciples who care about the plight of those whom they served. And what it says about the state of the Church in America’.

– Chris Ellis, ‘Have all our short-term mission trips to Latin America shaped our response to the migrant “caravan”?’

On tidal waves, and racism

The Canberra Times, Saturday 13 April, 1968:

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 9.24.26 am.png

And in happier news, you could hire a typewriter for 35c/week:

racism-e1534376431995.jpg

A Statement from Christian Ethicists Without Borders on White Supremacy and Racism

 

27811479594_e01dc62b63_o.jpg

I am one of a growing list of signatories of the statement below. If you are a Christian ethicist, I urge you to follow the links at the bottom of the page and to add your name also.

 

A Statement from Christian Ethicists Without Borders on White Supremacy and Racism

 

August 14, 2017

As followers of Jesus Christ and as Christian ethicists representing a range of denominations and schools of thought, we stand in resolute agreement in firmly condemning racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and neo-Nazi ideology as a sin against God that divides the human family created in God’s image.

In January of 2017, white nationalist groups emboldened by the 2016 election planned an armed march against the Jews of Whitefish, Montana. On August 11th and 12th, hundreds of armed neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. As we mourn the deaths of 32-year old counter-protester Heather Heyer and state troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates from this most recent incident, we unequivocally denounce racist speech and actions against people of any race, religion, or national origin.

White supremacy and racism deny the dignity of each human being revealed through the Incarnation. The evil of white supremacy and racism must be brought face-to-face before the figure of Jesus Christ, who cannot be confined to any one culture or nationality. Through faith we proclaim that God the Creator is the origin of all human persons. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”

The greatest commandments, as Jesus taught and exemplified, are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves; and so as children of God, and sisters and brothers to all, we hold the following:

  • We reject racism and anti-Semitism, which are radical evils that Christianity must actively resist.
  • We reject the sinful white supremacy at the heart of the “Alt Right” movement as Christian heresy.
  • We reject the idolatrous notion of a national god. God cannot be reduced to “America’s god.”
  • We reject the “America First” doctrine, which is a pernicious and idolatrous error. It foolishly asks Americans to replace the worship of God with the worship of the nation, poisons both our religious traditions and virtuous American patriotism, and isolates this country from the community of nations. Such nationalism erodes our civic and religious life, and fuels xenophobic and racist attacks against immigrants and religious minorities, including our Jewish and Muslim neighbors.
  • We confess that all human beings possess God-given dignity and are members of one human family, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin.
  • We proclaim that the gospel of Jesus Christ has social and political implications. Those who claim salvation in Jesus Christ, therefore, must publicly name evil, actively resist it, and demonstrate a world of harmony and justice in the midst of racial, religious and indeed all forms of human diversity.

Therefore, we call upon leaders of every Christian denomination, especially pastors, to condemn white supremacy, white nationalism, and racism.

We also humbly call upon all Christians, whose baptismal waters are thicker than blood, to resist this evil by committing themselves to:

  • Contemplate and respect the image of God imprinted on each human being.
  • Work across religious traditions to reflect on the ways we have been complicit in upholding and benefiting from the sins of racism and white supremacy.
  • Pray for the strength and courage to stand emphatically against racism, white supremacy, and nationalism in all its forms.
  • Participate in acts of peaceful protest, including rallies, marches, and at times, even civil disobedience. Do not remain passive bystanders in the face of the heresies of racism, white supremacy, and white nationalism.
  • Engage in political action to oppose structural racism.

We will bring the best of our traditions to an ecclesial and societal examination of conscience where rhetoric and acts of hatred against particular groups can be publicly named as grave sins and injustices.

Finally, as ethicists, we commit—through our teaching, writing, and service—to the ongoing, hard work of building bridges and restoring wholeness where racist and xenophobic ideologies have brought brokenness and pain.

(If you are a Christian ethicist or teach Christian ethics and wish to add your name, please email Tobias Winright at tobias.winright@slu.edu or Matthew Tapie at matthew.tapie@saintleo.edu or Anna Floerke Scheid at scheida@duq.edu or MT Dávila at mtdavila@ants.edu with your name, highest degree, title, and institution. Institutions are named for identification purposes only and this does not necessarily represent their support of this statement, although we hope they do, too.)

For a full updated list of signatories, please click here.

[Image: Nic Muller]

On our very own banality of evil


During this past week, Robert Manne gave a keynote address to the Integrity 20 Conference at Griffith University in which he tried to explain the purposeless cruelty of so much of Australia’s current asylum seeker system. Manne concluded by comparing the current situation to the ‘banality of evil’ famously described by Hannah Arendt in her reflections on her meetings with Adolf Eichmann published first in The New Yorker and subsequently in her report, Eichmann in Jerusalem:

A detailed moral history of Australia’s asylum-seeker policy since the introduction of mandatory detention in 1992 has not yet been written. What it would reveal is the process whereby the arteries of the nation gradually hardened; how as a nation we gradually lost the capacity to see the horror of what it was that we were willing to do to innocent fellow human beings who had fled in fear and sought our help.

Recently, an inmate on Nauru set himself on fire and died. Peter Dutton argued in response that people self-immolate so they can get to Australia. It took 30 years of brutal behaviour for a remark like this to be possible and for Australians not to notice how truly remarkable was the Minister’s brutality.

Our current uniquely harsh anti-asylum seeker policy is grounded in the absolutist ambitions that can, in my view, best be explained by Australia’s long term migration history and its associated culture of control. It has become entrenched because of the force of bureaucratic inertia that has seen the system grow automatically while any interest in, or understanding of, the relation of means to ends has been lost. And it is presently maintained by an irrational but consensual mindset that has Canberra in its grip: the conviction that even one concession to human kindness will send a message to the people smugglers and bring the whole system crashing down.

Because of these factors, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Immigration and the senior officials of Immigration and Defence are presently allowing the lives of some 2,000 human beings to be destroyed on the basis of faulty but unquestioned speculation, and of another 30,000 in Australia to be rendered acutely insecure and anxious for no purpose.

They are willing to allow this to happen because they no longer possess, in the Arendtian sense, the ability to see what it is that they are doing, and because the majority of the nation has become accustomed to thinking of what we are doing as perfectly normal.

Since this address, we learned today that this country’s heartless government, which has shown so little regard for the rule of law in so many areas, has sunk to a new and ‘necessary’ low, a plan to ‘introduce legislation to ban asylum seekers who arrive by boat from ever being allowed into Australia’.

I despair,

… and I resist despairing.

I think about the ‘new absolutist ambition’ and the ‘reign of automaticity’ described by Manne, and I recall also words spoken by Dag Hammarskjöld at a luncheon with the UN press corps in July 1953. Responding to those offering ‘dark prophecies’ predicting the imminent death of the UN, Hammarskjöld said:

I have in mind all those who react instinctively against international ventures for the very same reason which makes them or their neighbors react unfavorably against people from other places. There are others who may recognize the need for an international approach to the problems of the world of today, but who have never really accepted the risks involved, and for that reason pull back the very moment the international sea gets rough … And I think also of those who have accepted the necessity of an international approach and the risks involved but who, when troubles start piling up, get scared and are reduced to defeatist passivity, despairing about the future as fright makes them blind to existing possibilities to overcome the immediate difficulties. Rereading the other day the French author Paul Valery, I found a phrase that in a very pointed way covers the attitudes to which I have referred. He talks about those who drown rather than swim under the conditions imposed by the water: ‘ceux qui prérent se noyer à nager dans les conditions de l’eau’ … It expresses the simple truth that, when trying to change our world, we have to face it as it is. Those are lost who dare not face the basic facts of international interdependence. Those are lost who permit defeats to scare them back to a starting point of narrow nationalism. Those are lost who are so scared by a defeat as to despair about the future. For all those, the dark prophecies may be justified. But not for those who do not permit themselves to be scared …

And I protest – with hundreds of letters, and dozens of petitions, and tens of thousands of others who march on this nation’s streets, and by breaking bread and wine and sharing it with strangers, and neighbours, and with people I don’t like very much. (I know of no better way of feeding the catholic vision of the only world that has a real future.)

And I confess my duplicity in the entire God damn machinery. And I confess other strange things with ancient words: ‘We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible …’.

And I welcome those who have made it through – regardless of which door they came by – and who desire to start life again. To be welcomed to country is a gift almost unmatched by any other. To be able to participate in and to extend that welcome is a risk I’m prepared to take until those who welcomed me to this their land instruct me otherwise.

And I vote – vote for those committed to walking another way, even if it is for ‘a protest candidate who will not win … [For] there comes a time when thinking people must give some indication for their children and their children’s children that the national conscience was not totally numbed by [government] rhetoric into supporting a policy that is evil, vicious and morally intolerable’ (Robert McAfee Brown).

And I pray: Kyrie Eleison. Bend arc, bend. Maranatha. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.

Jonathan Sacks on antisemitism

Sir Jonathan SACKS

Readers of this blog will know of my deep admiration, gratitude, and respect for the work of Jonathan Sacks. He is among those few contemporary religious leaders who, in my judgement, diagnoses and communicates back to a wide public desperate for wisdom the maladies of our time, and does so with piercing soberness and profound hopefulness.

A week or so ago he was in Brussels speaking at a conference at the European Parliament on ‘The Future of the Jewish Communities in Europe’. His address was titled ‘The Mutating Virus: Understanding Antisemitism’. While I think that Rabbi Sacks has partially misjudged (for reasons I need not articulate here) the source of much of the antipathy towards the State of Israel, particularly from those in the West, I do think he’s right about antisemitism, racism, and prejudice, and possibly about Europe too. Here’s a snippet from that address, and below is the video:

The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews … Antisemitism is not about Jews. It is about anti-Semites. It is about people who cannot accept responsibility for their own failures and have instead to blame someone else … The appearance of antisemitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease, the early warning sign of collective breakdown. If Europe allows antisemitism to flourish, that will be the beginning of the end of Europe …

If there is one thing I and my contemporaries did not expect, it was that antisemitism would reappear in Europe within living memory of the Holocaust. The reason we did not expect it was that Europe had undertaken the greatest collective effort in all of history to ensure that the virus of antisemitism would never again infect the body politic. It was a magnificent effort of antiracist legislation, Holocaust education and interfaith dialogue. Yet antisemitism has returned despite everything … If this continues, Jews will continue to leave Europe, until, barring the frail and the elderly, Europe will finally have become Judenrein.

How did this happen? It happened the way viruses always defeat the human immune system, namely, by mutating …

Anti-Semitism is a form of cognitive failure, and it happens when groups feel that their world is spinning out of control. It began in the Middle Ages, when Christians saw that Islam had defeated them in places they regarded as their own, especially Jerusalem. That was when, in 1096, on their way to the Holy Land, the Crusaders stopped first to massacre Jewish communities in Northern Europe. It was born in the Middle East in the 1920s with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Antisemitism re-emerged in Europe in the 1870s during a period of economic recession and resurgent nationalism. And it is re-appearing in Europe now for the same reasons: recession, nationalism, and a backlash against immigrants and other minorities. Antisemitism happens when the politics of hope gives way to the politics of fear, which quickly becomes the politics of hate.

Sound familiar?

You can read the whole address here.