The phrase, taking your life into your hands, has taken on new meaning over the last few weeks and months.
We used to have to be reminded to stay away from certain parts of town because of the unsavory characters we might find there.
No more. Now the unsavory characters follow us down the street, into shopping centers, schools, theaters, athletic arenas, concert halls, even churches.
When we, Adventists of a certain age, used to look into the future, we saw images of religious persecution, death decrees, finding shelter in remote, unpopulated areas. No longer. Today’s religious and political persecution is an equal-opportunity menace, driven more by prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry than by which day of the week we go to church. In the meantime, scores of innocent people are killed and wounded each year simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
OK, enough about the problem. What about the solution?
First, we have to believe and live as if we belong to the same human family, because we do. Our need for shelter, security, acceptance, and nourishment is the same no matter where we live, no matter who we worship. Branding Islam as a violent religion is no more useful than painting all Whites as members of the Alt-right movement.
Second, we have to speak out against any act or symbol of violence or oppression. When Jewish cemeteries are desecrated, not only do we have to condemn the desecration, we have to stand with our Jewish neighbors in solidarity. When Islamic mosques are vandalized, we have to denounce such acts and work to prevent future vandalism. When nooses appear in public places, we have to condemn the hatred, violence, and racism they represent. We cannot remain silent.
Third, we have to be part of the conversation that sees people of different faiths and ethnic groups as neighbors and partners rather than as enemies. Last year’s presidential election has, in many communities, given some people implied permission to tell others to “go back where you came from.” And what’s more shocking is that many of those making those statements claim to be “evangelical Christians.”
Let’s be clear: bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance in any form are incompatible with Christianity. Any word, act, or expression that diminishes people on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, place of origin, education, or economic status is not supported by Scripture and must not be tolerated.
At the same time, we must be careful not to take up weapons of hatred and intolerance to combat hatred and intolerance. Our role model must always be Jesus, who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45).
Children of God: who would run from that?
Stephen Chavez, a member of Sligo Church for 23 years, is one of the editors of Adventist Review and Adventist World magazines.
PULL-QUOTE: Bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance in any form are incompatible with Christianity.