Romanians and Bulgarians can now come and work here unrestricted and there are concerns about how some of them may abuse the benefits system and about the additional burden on our already creaking public health services. The Romanian Foreign Ministry has claimed that some UK media coverage was “racist” towards Romanian citizens. But we are all racists – at different levels – so said the American novelist John Grisham in a recent BBC Newsnight interview (click here to view). We all think our own ‘race’ is the best. With a bit of Romans 7:19 honesty Grisham also admitted that he struggles with racism every day.
Some people don’t appear to try to struggle. The European football governing body has a zero-tolerance policy towards racism and discrimination but racist remarks and chants continue at football matches throughout Europe. And as a previous PS…. reminded us racism exists in Ireland, south as well as north of the border (click here to view).
Amateur boxing in Northern Ireland has been affected by “incidents of sectarianism and racism” as a recent independent report into the sport found. No one in touch with current affairs in Northern Ireland can be unaware of the numbers of racially motivated attacks. An investigation conducted for Newsnight last year suggested that an individual is twice as likely to be a victim of racism in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales. (see http://www.embraceni.org/)
Could it be that our sectarianism also fosters racism? The two phenomema are closely related and hide behind class differences equally well. Respectable middle class sectarianism fosters working class sectarian violence and hides behind it. The same is true of racism. Though harder to spot, racism can be found in the leafy suburbs when neighbours come face to face with newcomers to our society.What does this all say of us and of how we live out our Christianity?
Lets face it we are all both sectarian and racist. Both appear at some level. I have to admit my prejudices. I struggle for example every time I visit a project for former street girls in Romania who are mostly from a Roma background and I deeply admire those whose love for them so obviously overflows.
Individual Christians and Christian churches should continually be protesting against racism and sectarianism – with no spurious justification, no weighing of economics, politics and morality in the balance. And the actions of churches must match their statements. Some are already doing this well but the work of para-church groups to challenge is still needed for we continue to create barriers to the gospel and the love of Christ.
So let us say to the stranger and alien: Welcome! Failte! It might be that they could enrich us. If not economically then maybe through learning from them how in past times they have coped when their countries have been carved up by vested interests from the West and the East. Their presence here might challenge our local preoccupations with what are, on an eternal scale, small minded ‘under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1:14) issues. In light of the positive view of cultural diversity in scripture we, as Christians, can expect benefits from the mixing of tribes, tongues and nations (Revelation 7:9). Their witness has the potential to make our differences pale into insignificance.
Noel McCune is Chairperson of Contemporary Christianity.