I recently watched a TV programme about worldwide, interfaith relationships, which I came across through my involvement with the Focolare Movement. The relationships are based on the Golden Rule, “Do to others, what you would want them to do to you.” This Golden Rule is mentioned by many great religious teachers, including Jesus (Matt 7: 12, Luke 6:31). I was very moved to see profound and supportive relationships that have been built up over many years between Christians, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. The relationships are characterised by a selfless determination to seek the good of the other.
Such rarefied experiences are important. They point us towards a harmonious world order and show us how we can progress. But they are not commonplace. They go completely beyond the experience of most people, most of the time.
At about the same time, a host of demonstrations across the world have powerfully proclaimed anew that “Black lives matter”. The trigger for the demonstrations was the death of George Floyd after a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. This terrible injustice has highlighted much wider issues of injustice, with the black community disproportionally affected by police violence, social deprivation and coronavirus.
Church leaders have queued up to condemn racism, and rightly so. But the Church of England’s own record on racism is not great. In the 1950s the church spectacularly failed to accommodate black Anglicans arriving in this country from the Caribbean. Much of that was to do with the difficulty of integrating different cultures and values, but this had the same effect as outright racism. A whole generation of immigrants were forced to the religious margins, which inevitably lead to further marginalisation, rejection and many injustices.
It seems to me that we have to be very humble and realistic about this. Justice requires us to properly welcome and accept people from different cultures and races, even when this can be very demanding. Failure to do it works like racism. We might not feel we have prejudices against other cultures and races, but if the practical difficulties cause us to ignore and avoid other people, then the effect is the same. It is not enough to stamp out racism; we need to build racial harmony.
This welcome and acceptance requires great charity. Mercy is also required because we won’t get it right first time. The charity and mercy must become reciprocal, or an imbalance will remain. It is challenging, but this is where I think it is so helpful to have examples to study. It is helpful to learn from the golden rule and from selfless love.
With prayers and best wishes, Fr Patrick
A prayer for racial harmony in our nation
Bless our beautiful land, O Lord,
with its wonderful variety of people,
of races, cultures and languages.
May we be a nation
of laughter and joy,
of justice and reconciliation,
of peace and unity,
of compassion, caring and sharing.
We pray this prayer for a true patriotism,
In the powerful name of Jesus our Lord. Amen From Archbishop Desmond Tutu