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Racism & Bigotry

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Times have changed over the years…attitudes have not.
Things aren’t like they used to be…especially in this country. Look at how things have moved on from the troubles in the past to where we are now…and yet the attitudes haven’t really changed.
Just because there are no bombs anymore the hatred between members of both sides of the community is still there. And it’s not JUST both sides anymore…with the open movement of people from EU countries, Northern Ireland is becoming more and more cosmopolitan every day - and Brexit isn’t going to change that, from what I can see.
And it’s not even Europe - we have people from all over the world living and working in our country…and then there are the ones who are here who AREN’T working but sponging off our healthcare and benefits - OUR tax money going to pay foreigners who aren’t contributing to our economy, but are taking benefits and the only contribution they make is to crime.
And when it’s put like that it’s easy to see how people get angry towards people of other faiths, nationalities and colour.
And what I just said there isn’t helpful because what it does is it demonises people. And when people are demonised then it makes the racism and bigotry easier to justify.
Let me give an example...
In world war two, soldiers were sent off to war to fight and kill people they didn’t know. And they were fighting people who just happened to be from a different country who was on an opposing side.
If you think about it - the killing of an opponent wasn’t personal - it couldn’t be personal because a soldier on one side of the war wouldn’t have known a soldier from the opposing side. They would know NOTHING about them. They were simply fighting for the opposition. So it’s conceivable that a Christian from Northern Ireland was shot and killed by a Christian from Germany.
And so in order to help people who were in a moral dilemma about killing people they didn’t know, there was propaganda produced that would display the opposition as something other than human. And as long as the opposition was vilified or demonised in such a way as to make them less than human then it makes killing them easier to justify.
So the Japanese were described as slitty-eyed, and enemy leaders were caricatured as gorillas, skeletons or rats - whatever could be dreamed up. This was part of the wartime depersonalisation, because if these people aren’t HUMAN then it’s ok to kill them.
And so the opposition was depicted as vermin good only for killing.
Now, that’s not helpful when it comes to racism or bigotry - that fuels it.
The same happened in the United States with slavery. What it essentially came down to is this... black people were considered less than human and therefore only good enough to slave for the white people who considered themselves proper humans. Now that’s grossly simplified, but once again, when people are vilified or depersonalised then it make it easier to justify how you treat them.
And it’s happening in Northern Ireland too, in various forms...
One is closer to home that others...
When Kate was finishing her studies in nursing and looking for jobs, there were vacancies within the trust but they were being held for a few hundred nurses who were coming over from India. These Indian nurses would work for less money and more hours and so Kate couldn’t apply for certain positions because of that.
And when she got her job in Cardiac ICU, she was working with Indian nurses who spoke little or no English and so communication was a real struggle.
Now, couple that with the fact that there are good, qualified Northern Irish nurses who CAN’T get a job but who could do the work that these Indian nurses are doing but are able to speak to the patients and the other doctors and nurses, and you start to see the frustration building.
And that frustration leads to anger, and that leads to hatred and racism. Next thing you know you’re starting to look at Indian people differently…coming over here, taking out jobs.
And right close to home is our situation with our Irish friends.
When I was growing up, I was brought up to hate Roman Catholics - not by my parents, but by my peers. My cultural upbringing was one where Roman Catholics are evil and scum and their eyes are close together - notice the depersonalisation?
I was taught that they were almost less than human and that I should HATE them. Have nothing to do with them, don’t talk to them, don’t work with them and certainly don’t marry them.
And it appeared that the Roman Catholics were taught the same about us FROM THEIR CULTURE.
And then I started working in Primark for a part-time job during school and university. And do you know what I found out? Roman Catholics are just the same as you and me. I had some good Catholic friends and I still do.
But my culture taught me to hate them.
And then we have the Muslims - and because of the terrorism from the fundamentalists, we tar all Muslims with the same brush. We’re sceptical of them - we think that any one of them could be a terrorist. And it’s the media who have trained our minds to think that way - branding all Muslims as potential terrorists is a way to justify how we act towards them and, for those in the military, it justifies our killing of them.
Now, so far it looks like I’m just giving you a load of fuel to support racism and bigotry. That’s not the case - what I’m trying to do is to highlight the glaringly obvious fact that we are still in a time where other faiths, other nationalities, other colours of skin are treated with the same attitude as they always have been.
And this is a BIG ISSUE.
So where do we look for guidance on this? Or should I say, where do we look in the bible for guidance on this?
Now, this is where I had a problem, cos I came up with so many different passages that teach about this that we’ve no time to go through them at all in any detail.
But let’s look for a minute at Jesus and take our example from him....
First of all...
Jesus ate and drank with sinners. In Mark 2 we see this, in Luke 15 just before the parable of the lost sheep, coin and son it mentions it as well.
Mark 2:16 ESV
And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
But more than that - he also interacted with and reached out to the Samaritans. We see this in John 4 when he speaks to the woman of Samaria at the well, and we know that Samaritans and Jews didn’t mix.
Now, let’s look at what this really means… It would be like a white Christian...
In WW2 having lunch with a German
In 17th century America having a drink with a black person
In Northern Ireland today, in a bar in West Belfast
Jesus broke all cultural stereotypes. He didn’t see anyone as different - he saw them all as equals, he saw them all as either sinners or saved…IN the kingdom or out of the kingdom.
And here’s the big thing - the massive thing....he wasn’t bound by the cultural ties.
Jesus didn’t have cultural baggage.
And I think that this is the key thing here that we need to see.
Cos that’s our problem…and it’s the very thing that is holding many of us back from being like Jesus in the way we think of others and in the way we treat others.
Let me give an example of what I mean by this.
I was brought up in the baptist church, as you know. And then I spent a few years in a brethren-type gospel hall. And between the two of them I was brought up believing that woman should NOT wear trousers to church and that if you’re a Christian you cannot and must not drink or smoke.
I remember, after a few years in the brethren church, attending my parent’s church and the new pastor’s daughters were at church in jeans and I was disgusted. I couldn’t believe that the pastor’s daughters, of all people, were not wearing a skirt or a dress. How DARE they come to worship in jeans!
My mind had been moulded by my church-culture - the brethren culture had so-affected my mind that I was affronted by what I saw.
Now I’ve come on a lot since then, and today I have no issue with what ANYONE wears to church.
But at the same time, I do feel strange when I see a Christians drinking or smoking.
I immediately think to myself, ‘I THOUGHT they were a Christian.’
Now WHY do I do that? Because our Northern Ireland culture has come out of the temperance movement, which was happened in the 1859 revival. Basically, there were a group coming from the revival that preached a gospel whereby you must not drink or smoke and that culture has existed within the church since then and still exists today.
And yet it’s not a biblical concept. There’s no sin in it at all.
And so you might have a truly Godly man or woman who likes to have a drink and who even smokes, but is fully committed to Jesus Christ and loves him and serves him and lives their lives 100% for Jesus, but because they smoke or drink we can’t handle that scenario. And neither can I, but it’s wrong of me to think that way.
I’m sure there are some of you right now who are struggling with this scenario. But here’s the thing…it’s not because it goes against scripture... it’s because your culture has trained your mind to think that way. In the 19th century, the church coming out of the revival, interpreted scripture in such a way that it condemned smoking and drinking, and that cultural baggage continues today.
And it’s exactly the same with how we treat our Roman Catholic or Irish friends. Our culture has taught us to hate them. And as a result for some, the concept of protestant republican is contradictory. And yet there are MANY Irish protestants, and conversely, there are many British Catholics.
And I know there’s more to it than that, but the point is that we have NO basis on which to think of ANY human being as anything other than someone made in the image of God. But our culture dictates that there IS a basis, be it skin colour, or nationality, or religion or whatever - whatever it takes to depersonalise someone else...
You see, what we need is to break free from this cultural baggage. But Jesus didn’t have cultural baggage and we do, so what do we do...
Here are a few things we need to realise from the bible, and with this I’ll finish...
First of all let’s look at Peter...
Peter was all about telling the Jews about Jesus, and then he has a vision, and in that vision the Lord essentially tells Petter to go to Cornelius, a Roman officer, and tell him about Jesus. Now, Cornelius is a Gentile, not a Jew, and Gentiles were unclean…according to JEWISH CULTURE.
See, Peter had this cultural baggage too.
Look at Acts 10:28
Acts 10:28 ESV
And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.
So, Peter had an epiphany here, but he needed to have a vision from the Lord first for him to change his mind…and I’m sure that wasn’t an easy thing to go to Cornelius - years and years of cultural baggage takes a long time to strip.
But to help us on our way, let’s look at what Paul says in Romans 12...
Romans 12:2 ESV
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Let’s paraphrase this in the context of this sermon...
Don’t be conformed to your cultural baggage, but instead, be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
What we need is to be transformed in our thinking by a renewing of our mind - and that, my friends, is only accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.
But look at the rest of the verse…so that you may discern what is good, perfect and acceptable.
Is it good and acceptable to hate Roman Catholics or Muslims or Indians?
Let’s say you have been directly hurt or affected by the troubles. I know some of our members have been - some have been caught up in the bombings by the IRA - does THAT make it acceptable or perfect to have anger and animosity against Roman Catholics or the Irish or whoever it is you hate?
Does THAT make it acceptable, if you’ve been a victim of it?
If we demonise them then it helps us to justify our thoughts and feelings towards them. And our culture tells us it’s ok - even some churches tell us it’s ok…In this country there have been prominent leaders within the church that promote our bigotry. Here’s a quote from a church leader in a 1969 Loyalist Rally - Talking about Catholics, he said this "They breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin" . Now, once again, notice the demonisation and depersonalisation…and that’s coming from the CHURCH.
But it’s not.
If we want to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and live the way HE lived and treat others the way HE treated them, then we need supernatural help - we need our mind renewed…because without our minds renewed our culture wins…and culture isn’t always right or perfect or acceptable.
Let’s not forget...
Galatians 3:27–28 ESV
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
So if there is an Irish Christian, or a German Christian, or an Indian Christian, or Polish, or Lithuanian, or African…We are ALL one in Christ - there is neither Jew nor Greek, black nor white, Irish nor British…for we are ALL ONE IN CHRIST.
We all need to break free from out culture and stick to the Word of God, but we need our minds transformed. Let’s ask Jesus to transform us by renewing our minds so that we treat everyone as God’s image-barers.
Let’s pray.
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