Freedom from Bigotry
‘…Repay no one evil for evil…’ (Romans 12, 17a)
In a recent episode of ‘Not Going Out’ it was remarked that ‘Hate is a ‘mummy & daddy’ word. Bigotry is either what gives rise to hatred – deep seated prejudice that demands an outlet - or is itself a product of the hatred within us – an irrational loathing of others searching for a vehicle for its expression. A bigot is…’a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially, one who regards or treats the object of one’s bigotry with hatred and intolerance. There is evil in our world and much of it is a product of bigotry; the hatred of another because one is prejudiced against the other precisely because they are other than us. Overcoming evil is the way to bring down the bigot; most effectively when those who are the victims of prejudice find the courage to confront it for themselves. But the temptation will always be to confront evil with evil. Paul tells us to confront’ ‘evil’ but to be very careful as to how we respond…we are not to repay ‘evil’ with/for ‘evil’ because all that will do is stoke the flames of hatred until it gets totally out of hand, locking us into a cycle of frightening proportion, spiralling out of control with untold numbers of people affected as collateral damage to any retributive onslaught. The lynch mob mentality is an all too easy default position but it solves nothing. And of course, Paul was writing at a time when persecution of the Christians was beginning and the very real temptation was for the Christians to respond violently to their persecutors. Nowadays, bigotry reveals itself in three broad categories: Race, Religion, Sexual Orientation.
“My parents taught me never to judge others based on whom they love, what colour their skin is, or their religion. Why make life miserable for someone when you could be using your energy for good? We don’t need to share the same opinions as others, but we need to be respectful. When you hear people making hateful comments, stand up to them. Point out what a waste it is to hate, and you could open their eyes.” (Taylor Swift).
Indeed, so deep seated are each of these categories, we have allowed a whole vocabulary to grow up around them so as to reinforce what we feel inside – The Nigger, The Yid, The Queer – its enough to illustrate the point; words more often than not that are spat out rather than merely spoken. We as individuals, and more importantly, the Church – if we are to be faithful to Jesus – we have to rid ourselves of any vestige of such a view; we have to free ourselves from any hint of hatred; we have to liberate ourselves from any cultural constraints that demand we conform to a pattern of prejudice imposed upon us, whether it be by history, politics, or social convention. I have often been heard using the phrase, ‘God hates the sin, but loves the sinner’ – and I get what is meant, but the more I think about it, it can’t be right. It can’t be right because God cannot hate. If God is love, God cannot hate. Does that mean that God must love sin – well that is absurd – and so the only conclusion is that you cannot objectify sin, you cannot separate sin from the sinner. It is sin that makes the sinner a sinner. It is the objectification of sin that has prevented sinners, in this case bigots – hate-filled, intolerant, prejudiced bigots - from being set free as they ought precisely because we have been persuaded that by changing the landscape of life that will be sufficient to eradicate the possibility of ‘repeat offending’. But as all we Welsh know, “You can take the boy out of the valley, you can’t take the valley out of the boy.” What is necessary is that the sinner undergo a profound ontological change in order that they can be properly liberated from their bigotry. No amount of therapy will achieve this – only an encounter with Jesus, fantastic as such a proposition might seem, can affect this – ‘You must be born again’. On Palm Sunday Jesus came to do nothing less than to liberate Jerusalem. Not in the sense of somehow or another vanquishing the Roman army of Occupation, but rather to dare its people to allow themselves to be embraced by God’s Kingly Rule. Not by exchanging the yoke of Empire for the yoke of Religion, but rather to dare its people to embrace a way of living that lifts the burden of both. Not by declaring war, not even upon the evils of His day, but rather by trying to persuade those who would listen that the path of peace was the only true way to triumph over evil and its consequences. Within a week it was proven that the world was not ready for such a radical departure from the so-called reality of life which had become for them the comfort blanket in which they wrapped themselves. The cosy compromise that existed between politics and religion concocted a shabby show trial resulting in judgement, condemnation and summary execution, and that was that. Jesus of Nazareth, a footnote in history. But it had to be that way, because only by confronting the demons of death and hell, overcoming them and breaking free from the shackles of sin could it be possible for anyone to be truly free, for the last and final enemy is death. The resurrected Christ dares us to believe that we can be free from any indignity that our detractors would visit upon us, we can be free from having to slave in the service of another, we can be free from the appalling effects of penury, we can be free from the straitjacket of conformity, we can be free from the blinkeredness of partiality, we can be free from the consequences of hate filled bigotry; for if the Son shall make us free, we shall be free indeed. FDR in January 1941 proclaimed, ‘freedom of speech’, ‘freedom of worship, ‘freedom from want’, freedom from fear’, we proclaim freedom in Christ…