I don’t know about you, but every time I hear a report of a racist incident, of a hate crime here in Britain, committed by one individual or group against another individual or group, I feel deeply ashamed. The thought that there are people in our land who will shout at others or put nasty messages through a letterbox, physically assault someone because they are speaking with a particular accent or have skin of a particular colour, or throw a petrol bomb into someone else’s shop, troubles me greatly. The potential for such violence lies here in the human heart, it’s within each of us I believe. The potential for violence and cruelty always exists. But the recent campaigning on the issue of Britain’s membership of the European Union, and the majority vote for leaving the EU, seems to have triggered violent responses within some sectors of our society. I have a friend and ministry colleague Wyn Thomas who works with six congregations in Wales. As chairperson of Unitarians in Wales this week he made the following statement which I think speaks for us all:
‘Following various deeply worrying events over the past few days, I call on Unitarians and our supporters in Wales and further afield to put our values and ethos into practice. We are at a point in our history as a nation when Freedom, Reason and Tolerance are needed more than ever within the communities we serve.
• We must use our democratic and moral freedom to express our opinions publicly and without fear of reprisal.
• We must use our reason to take every opportunity to question everything we hear in this uncertain political climate.
• We must, above all else, exercise tolerance in our dealings with all people. Let us celebrate the wonderful and awe-inspiring variety of our communities, challenging xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and political hatred wherever we encounter it.
Unitarians have a rich history of fighting social injustice. Let us embrace that history, and take a stand for our future.’
Words of the Rev Wyn Thomas, minister with Welsh Unitarians.
In our community here at Essex Church I like to think of us as truth seekers, exploring our own faith and sharing that respectfully with others. Such an approach recognises that we all have different views and opinions, based on our differing life experiences and thought processes. We recognise the unfolding and nuanced nature of truth when we explore our faith. But we also know well that for some people faith is a clear and certain matter, a place where there can be right beliefs and wrong beliefs.
When it comes to the world of politics perhaps it has always been the case that political leaders hold their ideas as correct and therefore all other views as wrong, as incorrect. Potential leaders vying for power will put forward their vision of how the world might be if their approach was followed. Yet in a world as complex as ours should we expect more of our leaders? Should we require them to be more aware of how their statements might be interpreted by some of their listeners? A friend living on a troubled housing estate described how some of their neighbours genuinely thought that on the day after the Referendum immigrants would be rounded up and sent ‘home’. This is in an area of economic deprivation, where a string of austerity budget cuts have hit hard. Many of us are far too aware that the economic depression of the 1920s led to the rise of fascist movements in the 1930s across Europe. And police here in Britain in 2016 are now reporting a five-fold increase in hate crimes.
The reasons for such crimes are many but their roots may be found in individual and collective pain, that life is not how people would wish it to be. In a rich nation such as ours there are too many people still struggling to survive. It feels like there is not enough to go round – not enough jobs, not enough houses, not enough places in schools or seats in a hospital waiting room. Little wonder that some people will seek to blame ‘the other’, the stranger in their midst, will feel their own pain and attempt to hurt others. Theologian Karen Armstrong’s words have been with me this last week when she suggests that we “Look into your own heart, discover what it is that gives you pain and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else.” Karen Armstrong
Much has been written recently about post-factual politics, post-truth politics. Indeed there seems to be a wilful disregard for truth in much political campaigning, though we might argue that it has always been thus. What may be different in our modern age is the role of online media – such a speedy way to spread lies. Yet online media can also provide a way to check facts and to assert the truth.
I mentioned the sobering 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. The battle lasted for 141 days, led to over a million deaths on all sides and many more life changing injuries affecting not only the individuals concerned but their families and communities. It was decades before the truth about the ineptitude in leadership and decision making that led to this battle and many others like it was revealed.
On Wednesday here in Britain we will finally hear the findings of the Chilcot Report into our part in the Iraq War. It’ll be no surprise to any of us to hear that the decision making was flawed, that too little thought was given to post war reconstruction, that the voice of experts on Arab politics and society was ignored, that a conviction that their view was the only correct one led politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to proceed far too quickly with far too little concern for the consequences of their actions.
It will make for yet more depressing news. And yet I am going to hold on to a glimmer of hope, because the Chilcot Report for all its delays, is a small triumph for truth seekers. Its findings could have remained hidden under Official Secrets rules but instead are being published for those with stamina to wade through 12 volumes to read in full. Most of us will rely on news media to distill the report’s findings for us. As we read those reports let’s be ever aware that real life is complex, nuanced, rarely has clear baddies and goodies. Let’s be people who try to stick with real life, real people, real problems and keep moving towards love, compassion and truth in our daily living, in our speaking and listening, in the way we treat others. Let us work tirelessly to create the kind of world community that represents the best we might be.
If here we have found truth then
let us offer it humbly onwards to the world
If here we have found love then
let us pass that warmth to another before this day is done
If here we have found inspiration then
may it flourish within us that its blessing may bring fresh insight
and possibility in the days to come. (author unknown)
Rev. Sarah Tinker
Sermon – 3rd July 2016