May 2018

Glorious liberty or cowardly bitterness?

I am writing this as controversy is heated about anti-semitism in the Labour Party and as we mark the 50th Anniversary of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech (in which the phrase ‘Rivers of Blood’ does not actually appear). It is also the 25th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which led to the Macpherson Inquiry, identifying institutionalised racism within the Metropolitan Police. 

Racism and other forms of prejudice and intolerance have a long and inglorious history and present in this country - and in other countries of Europe - the part of the world which used to be described, without any hint of irony, as Christendom. In this country, Jews were expelled from 1290 to 1657. And it seems to me that anti-semitism has, to an extent, been the ‘acceptable face’ of racism - a group of readily identifiable people who can be conveniently blamed for the ills of the country. That, after all, was the root of Nazism - and it would be foolish to assume that the horrors that arose then could only have done so in Germany: 1930’s Germany was a western European allegedly Christian country - just like us. 

Racism and prejudice have always been the refuge of the coward and the bully - witness the attacks launched on Europeans in this country by people who felt emboldened by the referendum result. And when we see the coward and the bully in full flow, what do we do? When we see someone being abused or ill-treated to worse, not because of something they have done, but simply because of who they are, what do we do? And let us not kid ourselves that it is not around us. I made myself unpopular a while back when, at a meeting, when someone’s name was mentioned, a person at the meeting said, ‘But he’s a Papist’. That is an example of the casual prejudice that can be the seed of real, deep evil. And it needs to be called out for that.

Jesus lived in a society riddled with prejudice. That is what made the Parable of the Good Samaritan so devastating, as the Samaritans were despised by the Jews. Jesus was only interested in people as they were, not what they were. He taught that the most important thing is love of one’s neighbour, and that, where there is any prejudice or racism, there cannot be love. To follow that line is truly liberating, as it frees us from the bitterness, cowardice and lack of self-belief that lies at the heart of all racism and enables us to rejoice in the wonderful richness and variety of God’s creation which we can see in our fellow human beings just as much, if not more, as we can see it in the wonderful countryside around us.

One of the great lessons of the Easter story is that Jesus is always with us to give us strength and support: it would be wonderful if we could all draw upon that strength and support to challenge racism and prejudice wherever we see it, and too make sure there is not trace of it in our lives, that we may all truly like in the glorious liberty of the children of God.