“Love your neighbour as yourself”: diversity as a gift

Bishop Linda NichollsFrom the earliest days of human existence we have protected those of our own ‘tribe’ against those who are different, whatever that difference may be. To push away, denigrate or harm the ‘other’ is seen as to protect one’s own. Throughout history cultures and communities have sought a scapegoat on whom to blame any challenges or difficulties.

Recently the CBC program Ideas aired an episode entitled, Tolerance to Tyranny, explored the shift that occurred in medieval Spain where Christians, Muslims and Jews lived in harmony in a rich, vibrant culture that gradually saw it deteriorate into the Inquisition that drove the communities apart, exiled many and executed others. Precipitating factors included the plague and the subsequent social and economic disruption which led to looking for someone to blame for such hardships. In a time of rapid changes of economics, power and lifestyles fear, anxiety and anger are finding new scapegoats or returning to former ones.

For centuries an easy target as a scapegoat has been the Jewish community. In majority Christian cultures it has been easier to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus than to face the wider implications of Jesus’ death on and for all of us. Pogroms, persecution, anti-Semitism have been tolerated and lauded as necessary rather than examination and acceptance of wider systemic factors. The Second World War showed us the horrific results of unchecked scapegoating. The world is still trying to integrate the truths learned there.

In 2017 we are experiencing a resurgence of scapegoating in ways that shock those who thought we had learned from the past. The unleashing of anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, homophobia and transphobia have led to actions from catcalling, vandalism and bullying to arson and murder.

Jesus’ teachings and the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian community has called people to recognition of the neighbour as a child of God deserving kindness, care and justice. `Love your neighbour as yourself` is part of the Great Commandment. Jesus touched lepers, healed outcasts, crossed social boundaries with women and Samaritans and refused to use violence to settle differences. As Christians we must stand against any attempts to scapegoat or use difference as the reason to attack. The diversity of the human community is a gift not a curse.

Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of England, in his book, The Dignity of Difference offers this conclusion:

Difference does not diminish; it enlarges the sphere of human possibilities. Our last best hope is to recall the classic statement of John Donn (see poem: No Man is an Island) and the more ancient story of Noah after the Flood and hear, in the mist of our hypermodernity, an old-new call to a global covenant of human responsibility and hope. Only when we realize the danger of wishing that everyone should be the same – the same faith on the one hand, the same McWorld on the other – will we prevent the clash of civilizations born of the sense of threat and fear. We will learn to live with diversity once we understand the God-given, world-enhancing dignity of difference.  

Jonathan Sacks. The Dignity of Difference, (London: Continuum, 2002), pg. 209

+ Linda