Bigotry often spreads through social media

Hateful rhetoric detracts from productive conversations

Many denominations in the Christian church follow the Sunday lectionary, a regular cycle of readings over three years that allows congregations to hear from most of the biblical books and to have most of the biblical and theological themes of the faith presented. The Gospel readings follow the three-year cycle by giving one year each to Matthew, Mark and Luke. On some Sundays – especially during the year of Mark, the shortest gospel – the Gospel reading is drawn from John.

The current liturgical year, which began with the first Sunday of Advent at the end of November 2015 and continues until the Sunday of the Reign of Christ in late November 2016, follows the Luke cycle of readings. I have to admit that Luke is my favourite gospel. It is rich with Old Testament references, women play a larger part in this gospel than in the other three, more attention is given to Jesus preaching about or responding to the needs of marginalized people, it contains some of the great parables, and is more plentiful in acts of Jesus that we would now call social justice works.

Many passages from Luke’s gospel have carried a greater weight for me lately, in light of the refugee work of which I am a part. Jesus, in Luke’s depiction, declares the justice for all people God desires and for the love that accompanies that justice. Jesus’s ministry begins, as Luke narrates the story, with Jesus reading from the prophet Isaiah in a synagogue and declaring that the words of the prophet are fulfilled: Good news is to be proclaimed to the poor and liberty will be given to the captives and the oppressed. Among the captives and the oppressed are those residing against their will in a foreign land – they are victims of war, forced migrants or refugees. There is opposition to Jesus, of course, and in the Sermon on the Plain he declares blessings, including a blessing for those who are hated or reviled or defamed because of the work they do. I will admit that lately I feel an affinity for the words of blessing for those defamed – working to sponsor refugee families from Syria to settle in Sackville has prompted some people to respond to me inappropriately.

While I am a supporter of free thought and speech, I condemn the abuse of that right to spread hate propaganda or hate literature, to slander or defame individuals, or to perpetuate racist or xenophobic tendencies. I recall a meme which appeared on my Facebook last fall at the height of the news about the Syrian refugee crisis. It said: “There’s an app out that allows you to tell which of your friends are racist; it’s called Facebook.” And indeed Facebook, and other social media, can easily be used to spread hatred and fear in ways that do not fit our standards of civil discourse. I am open to civil discourse with those who have concerns, I am open to civil discourse with those with whom I disagree, I am open to civil discourse about a variety of ideas presented from differing perspectives, especially when that discourse makes proper use of information, data and facts. I am not open to the social-media onslaught of bitter racism, xenophobic and especially Islamophobic rhetoric that reviles an entire religion of people because of the political agenda of a very few.

A friend who lives in Romania, in the heart of nations witnessing forced migrants seeking asylum from war-torn nations and destructive ideologies, recently responded to the reactionary rhetoric washing ashore in on this rising tide of hatred. His words speak clearly: “Let’s get something straight. Never in the history of modern Europe have migrants ever ‘stolen cultures,’ ‘impoverished nations,’ ‘destroyed identity.’ Ever. The only unambiguous killers of European humanity have been right- and left-wing fascists. The Racists. The Resenters. The preachers of Hate and Doom. The despisers of ‘inferior’ minorities in the name of ‘endangered’ majorities. The witch hunters. Time and time again. Don’t let them soil the memory of our age.” The same can be said for our nation. Let’s move beyond the destructive and hate-filled rhetoric, the racist memes, the inhuman remarks. Let’s be people who talk, who are open to one another, who welcome into our communities the lost and the destroyed with open arms. Even as we give others an opportunity to be human again, we recover our own humanity, and we follow the example of Jesus.

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