I believe that most people in Canada would say they respect and accept others. Yet our history tells a different story. Violence and discrimination rooted in racial and religious bigotry are not new in our country, but it does seem that they have been on the rise in recent months. It is sadly ironic that as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism on March 21 draws closer, stories about hateful actions based on race or religion seem to be in the news every day.
Hatred so often has its source in fear—fear of change, fear of difference, fear of the unknown. We are all vulnerable to fear. When we are afraid we become defensive, we want to protect ourselves from real and perceived threats. The language of exclusion, the desire to draw lines between “us” and “them,” words and actions designed to dehumanize others, all are rooted in fear.
The antidote to this type of fear is love. But not the kind of love that we feel. It’s not an emotion, and it doesn’t just happen. It requires practice, commitment, determination—love as a spiritual discipline. This is what I want to invite us into as a church—that we become practitioners of the spiritual discipline of love.
What might this look like?
As a church we have said we are committed to reconciliation and right relationship with all our neighbours. To truly live that out, we need to name and examine our fears, prejudices, and assumptions. The privilege that many of us are born with may desensitize us to the injustice, exclusion, and hate that some in our community experience on a daily basis.
And so I challenge us to talk about racism and White privilege—to understand what these are and how they operate.
We have a responsibility to address racism and hate, and to create a culture where we can live and thrive together in love. We need to address injustices in a way that builds community and sparks conversation. When we witness or experience hate and racism, we need to know how to respond.
As Christians, we must root out fear, and commit to spiritual and social practices that help us to ground our actions and attitudes in love. If we give in to fears based on religious or racial grounds, we will be providing fertile ground for hate and extremism to flourish. Let us instead cultivate love, understanding, and acceptance of each other.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has wisely noted, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Yours in faith,
The Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell
Moderator, The United Church of Canada