Over the past few weeks a couple of events have been on my mind. They are completely unrelated and yet both leave me with the resounding message of the importance of loving our neighbours, of not ‘othering’ those who are different from ourselves.
Through a series of events and opportunities I found myself with the honour of attending the UK Holocaust Memorial Ceremony. About a year ago I was invited to an event at a local synagogue to hear from a holocaust survivor along with other invited guests and local high school students. The event was organised by what is now known as Holocaust Learning UK and was eye opening, shocking, sad and yet somehow also hopeful. Inspired I was privileged to work with the Holocaust Education Trust who enabled us to host a holocaust survivor at our local church to hear her story, experiences the lessons from her life as part of the International Peace Day events. In response we encouraged those who attended to reflect on what they had heard, to write these reflections down to then be included in a piece of art which would be submitted as one of the 75 Memorial Flames for Holocaust Memorial Day (details of the flame that was created and where it is now are available on the church website). Yesterday I attended for the second year the Holocaust Learning UK ceremony and heard from yet another survivor. Each story is different; those who survived thanks to the Kindertransport, those who somehow lived through the horrors of camps such as Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Each story has similarities, horrors, loss of loved ones – whole families, entire communities – Jews, Romany . Each survivor I have heard speak has spoken not only of the horrors of the holocaust but the lies, caricature and othering of people in order to gain an advantage. As Vera Schaufeld, MBE put it
“You never see people as just THE anything. You see them as individual human beings; whatever their religion; whatever their colour; whatever country they are from. All of us are individual human beings and nobody is THE anything.“Vera Schaufeld, MBE
This leads to the second event that has been on my mind and in my news feed. Evangelical preacher Franklin Graham has been planning a UK tour which has become marred in controversy as campaign groups targeted the venues calling on them to cancel the arrangements. Over the space of a week or two each of the venues has cancelled. A debate has of course ensued about free speech. I am all for free speech as well as freedom to worship. I will support Christian’s, Jews, Muslims, people of all faiths and none to speak freely about their beliefs and also to be able to worship (or not) according to their beliefs. The trouble I find with Graham is his ‘othering’ of people – it is his partisan political views (on issues including refugees and immigration, poverty, and gun control) and the tone by which he has expressed his views which are unacceptable and ultimately a hindrance to the gospel message.
In one ministry that I use to serve at in Detroit was a hand written poster with the words,
“Don’t tell them Jesus loves them until you are ready to love them too.“Author Unknown
This is sadly not something I see in the witness of Franklin Graham. It is sadly one reason elements of the Church are broken – love, grace and mercy have been lost to the legalism. To love is to listen, to get to know, to spend time with, to defend, to comfort, … as it says in the Bible,
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Another preacher once challenged me to replace the work ‘love’ with the word ‘God’, then the name ‘Jesus’, for me this was easy due to my beliefs. They went further and suggested I replace the word ‘love’ with those I love and finally with my own name. The last was the most difficult. I know that I am not always patient or kind, I know I am envious, boastful and arrogant… but it is a standard by which those of us who call ourselves Christian (that is imitators of Christ Jesus) should seek to be kind and patient – to love – ourselves and how we are to engage with the world, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For the “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Ephesians 5:22-23). These are not different fruits or segments of a fruit that we can pick and choose. These are the characteristics that shine forth from those who are filled with God’s Spirit, who seek to follow Christ’s example and choose to lay down their lives for the sake of others.
To love as Christ is to cross divides to reconcile those who are being ‘othered’ and to shine a light upon the darkness of those doing the ‘othering’.