I am writing this on the Sunday after the attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 worshippers dead. In many ways it feels very removed from my everyday experience living in Sevenoaks; different culture, different place, different religion.
However, this morning as we gathered at Bessels Green Baptist Church for worship, I was reminded that the propensity to tribalism and intolerance is within me as well, and needs to be challenged. The capacity for evil lurks beneath the surface in all of us.
As Solzhenitsyn observed in the Gulag Archipelago:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956
If we want to see change in the world, we must first strive to tackle the darkness within our own hearts. We need to recognise the prejudices we all have – to address the ways in which we reject, judge and diminish those who are different to us. We need to learn to welcome ‘the other,’ rather than allowing suspicion and fear to determine our response.
At the same time, we need also to address the underlying attitudes and forces in our culture that seek to foster division and to scapegoat particular groups, thereby sowing the seeds from which such attacks emerge.
Security may track threats and police may arrest perpetrators, but there is no quick fix, no short cut. It remains the responsibility of each one of us to go out of our way to build bridges and create friendships; to celebrate and acknowledge the image of God in all of his people, especially those who at first glance seem different to us.
If we want to create a culture in our country that resists the current trend towards division, we need to encourage everybody we know to develop their emotional capacity for empathy towards others.
The solution to such violence is a bigger table, not bigger walls. Whatever our faith, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Atheist and however we name the God we worship, be it Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, or Science, we have to look for and cultivate points of human connection. We have to look for places to celebrate our shared humanity and delight in the gifts others bring.
O God of many names,
lover of all peoples,
we pray for peace.
Peace in our hearts and homes,
peace in our nations and our world,
the peace of your will,
the peace of our need.
Through Christ, the prince of peace. Amen.
Collect from A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare O Aotearoa
Bessels Green Baptist Church is committed to building larger tables not bigger walls. Please check out bgbc.co.uk for details of our activities or get in touch via email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Grace and peace,
Rev Charlie Ingram