18 February 2019
Freedom of Speech or License to Stereotype?
The attack of people in the Lindt café in Martin place in Sydney was shocking. A gunman, whipped up into a righteous frenzy by the hate speech of powerful extremist groups, kills in the name of religion. The media does the linking, the Australian government tries to calm it down, but fear spreads more easily than acceptance and differences becomes threatening. Walls grow up between people who shared and got on and walls are harder to remove than build.
In France, that complex, secular country has a huge Muslim population, many of whom have come from the Algerian wars. For those living in poverty, frustrated and feeling alienated from the main population, the call to take up a righteous jihad is very appealing. People gain worth from it and feel important and valued for maybe the first time and, responding to seeming insults to their tribal religion which give them identity, turns them into heros in other lands. They cannot see they are being exploited and used for the ends of others.
Then we have a French newspaper which works with satire – satire does not easily translate across cultural boundaries – and publishes its cartoons knowing they are pushing the limits of those who are easily led and inflamed into action – pushed by the hate speech of others.
Its so easy to reduce this to a standing for freedom of speech, as we look at yet more bodies and blame a religion rather than its extremist agitators. Strangely, we forget the Jewish people killed in that French supermarket, we forget the Moslem bystander who led people to freedom, they are too inconvenient, they don’t fit the story, they get written out of the narrative.
We are not stupid, we know the real battle is for hearts and minds – its always been that way. That is what Jesus was doing as he told stories about good Samaritans and dined with those considered outsiders and collaborators. Breaking down the barriers isn’t simple, we need to be wise not naïve for some do intend to harm us.
We need freedom of speech to proclaim the gospel, the good news that God can reconcile us, throughout history - it has often been dangerous proclaiming God’s love - but we do not have freedom as Christians to stereotype others and to take their identity and distort the truth to make our own point. That is making propaganda. People do that in war time, paint the enemy as demons, non human, so they are easier to eliminate without our seeing them as human, politicians do it and its called spin. Worrying about burkas at Waitangi day celebrations does stir up hatred but maybe there is really an issue among those who are disaffected in our own country?
2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 20 tells us that our ministry as Christians one of reconciliation. Not as a doormat, just doing anything for peace but a full-blooded- dangerous-at-times standing for others against the stream and that’s hard to do.
Paul writes “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
May God give us wisdom
and love for our neighbours
as we follow Jesus in our daily lives.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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