I have taken the liberty of writing an open letter to my American evangelical Christian friends as well as the wider church. This letter will extend to two posts, the second will be published Monday.
Dear American Christian Friends,
This weekend as you draw breath after a week like no other many of you will be taking time to look forward to a hope-filled future. Others will be still in shock and mourning. President-elect Trump and indeed President Obama have spoken of post-election healing and I pray that is a reality. I offer no comment on your choice of President, and I certainly don’t intend to question the legitimacy of the decision. Nor do I wish to comment on who should have been chosen. The decision is done. I will join you as you seek to follow scripture by respecting and praying for your leader.
I write especially to Christian leaders for your role in national healing is so key. I do so with the experience of working with the church to challenge hatred and division in the UK over the past ten years, most recently in the period around and since the Brexit referendum. However my call not only comes as a result of my own recent journey but as a result of my work a decade and more ago. More on that in my next post, which is the second part of this letter.
I am deeply saddened now as I read reports of attacks and abuse of those whose right to be in the USA was in some way questioned during the election campaign. News yesterday suggested it has risen the highest levels since 9.11. As I do so I am NOT questioning that you should have debate about new policy on immigration or the receiving of refugees. However whatever we think, I know I don’t need to remind you of our call as Christians to demonstrate God’s love to the alien and stranger in our land, and our love for neighbour even when he is “the enemy.”
In the four months since the UK vote to leave the European Union (#Brexit) there has been a horrific unleashing of racist and Islamophobic attacks around the nation. I first wrote a version of this then just five days after the vote. The situation has sadly continued.) There have been numerous reports of racist abuse against Polish people and other Eastern Europeans, and in the four days after the vote alone the Muslim Council of Britain compiled a list of over one hundred attacks on Muslims. The vote to leave, which was widely promoted as the way to stem immigration, seems to have legitimised open expression of bigotry and hatred to anyone of “foreign” extraction. I am frankly horrified at the hatred that emerged since the vote confirmed #Brexit. In a word my work as a Christian seeking to build bridges in a conflicted town and challenge division and hatred got much harder in June.
The situation seems to be unfolding similarly in the USA. No doubt there will be a few faked attacks, but I have myself heard of two that credible third parties have witnessed. My experience is that the very large majority of reported hate crimes or hate incidents are real.
My encouragement here is to the church, and Christians, whatever your political stand, to ensure the church does what the church should be doing in calling out for justice. Again let me be clear, the issue is not whether support or endorsement of a candidate was right then, but doing the work of church now. Can I venture to share from my own journey in this area?
My work was highlighted recently in a prominent Christian prayer guide for the Muslim World. 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World is published yearly to guide Christians in praying for Muslims over the month of the Ramadan fast. I said there:
“In a time where many are convinced that Islam and Christianity / western democracy will only ever clash, and images of modern day crusaders are called to mind, I’m determined to point to another way. Sadly, often Christian voices are quoted in support of a clash of civilisations. We must find another way? My Muslim friends know I am passionate about my faith, and respect me for it. They know I’d love to see them come to faith in Jesus Christ. But Christ will be the loser if Christians are known for hatred and fear.”
An example. A Muslim women’s organisation in our town has recently gathered reports of hate attacks on women there. They have not done it to foster victimhood, gain political capital, or send anyone on a guilt trip, but so that together we can be aware of the vulnerability of some in our society, and stand together for the good of all. They don’t have a wide reach as a group, but have received over 100 reports. I have been horrified as I read the stories. I am an evangelical Christian man, passionate about my faith, but I am determined to speak out for all made in God’s image who suffer. I have met some of these women and they deserve our support. As do all who suffer under the attacks of hatred. It is common that victims of hate crime become more alienated from the wider society. Yet as I and other Christians reach out these women are becoming activists for peace themselves.
My decision to write a piece for a prayer guide that unapologetically calls for prayer for conversion of Muslims was hard in the light of my approach to my work, but in the end clear. I wanted the work I do to challenge Christian attitudes to Muslims. How else to influence Christians than speak in a place they read and a language they understand, and in a topic they spend time on in prayer? As we now face such an outpouring of hatred I am sure that decision was right, even though some, I am sure, will misunderstand it.
Back to the UK’s #Brexit vote for a moment. We could not accuse the official Leave campaign of being essentially racist, just as we cannot say concern about immigration is necessarily racist. However it was very clear that the campaign drew to itself all the racist and Islamophobic sentiment in the nation, not least through the work of Nigel Farage and UKIP who mounted an alternative Leave campaign. The role of far right groups in the ferment of debate and trading of lies and accusations was clear. I know their voice, having been following it and challenging it for the past nine years, and I saw much of it in the campaign.
Official Leave may not have been responsible for this outburst of racism, but it was vital that they denounce it and separate themselves from it, and take action against anyone giving space to such views
Donald Trump said many things through his campaign about other races, nations and religions. He drew back from some. Now he is President in waiting many are saying we will not see them become policy. We can only see. However clearly a significant number of his followers feel empowered to take thing under their own control. Also of significance are the many nationalist, white supremacist and islamophobic groups who have associated themselves with him, not least the Ku Klux Klan. We now read reports of the Klan planning victory parades. And of black university students being added to online chat groups speaking of “nigger lynching”. Let me be clear, Trump may not agree with what his followers do or these groups do, but he is absolutely responsible for condemning it and their continued hate filled stance.
I challenge you as Christians, especially those of you Christian leaders who endorsed or openly supported Mr Trump, that you must lead the way in calling for condemnation of this outbreak of hatred. The people of God must be clear in their condemnation of any attack against men and women made in the image of God. We cannot allow ourselves to be compromised by hate filled agendas. That will apply especially once a debate opens up about immigration, refugees, the Mexico wall, Muslims status in the USA, or the black community. All lives matter, and that includes black lives, Muslim lives, Hispanic lives. Debate in a free society is good. But let’s lead the way in challenging negativity and evil in the way a debate is carried out.
This post is long enough for now. I will return tomorrow with a focus on anti-Muslim hatred and extending peace to the Muslim community. This is the specific area I have worked in for years now, building strong working relations with the Muslim community.