Freedom From Hatred

Freedom From Hatred

We have all been shocked by the attacks in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and on shoppers in a Jewish grocery. They are assaults on our core values in a democratic society, values which are dear to our hearts. Paris is a Western city which many of us have visited and it is easy to imagine similar attacks happening in Canada, as has indeed already happened. We may be less aware of the repeated attacks by the extremist Islamic organization, Boko Haram, in northern Nigeria. The scale of the violence in Nigeria is, nevertheless, much greater. Twelve people died in the Paris attacks, which is 12 too many. The deliberately minimized official estimate of civilian deaths from a recent attack on Baga, Nigeria, is 150. Most informed parties think the actual death toll is many times higher. It is worthy to note that Christians are particularly singled out in the Nigerian attacks.

It is not my task today to consider why we hear more about attacks in the West than in Africa. Presbyterians should remember, however, that we have a long history of missionary work in Nigeria.

These are our friends and partners. More importantly, Nigerian victims too are created in the image of God and for them Christ died. In short, they are human beings and they matter immensely. Let us be clear about all such attacks, wherever they take place and whoever the perpetrators may be, and let us use the language of the Christian faith to describe them, rather than merely borrowing from the culture: these attacks are sinful and wicked and repugnant in the eyes of God. These crimes will be judged by the one who says, “Thou shalt not kill.”

The Paris attacks are often described as attacks upon our freedoms, particularly freedom of expression. With that description I have no quarrel. But it is too small a description. Such attacks are an assault on freedom from fear and its close relation, freedom from hatred. The attackers themselves can never do this, but we can do it to ourselves. In this as in all things we are told, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” If truth is the first casualty of war, hatred is its first recruit. But followers of Jesus need not fear and we must not hate.

There is one specific consequence of this. Do you recall the Irish “Troubles” when “Protestant” and “Catholic” extremists perpetrated atrocities? All this was presented to the world as representative of our faith. I was ashamed and often said, “This has nothing to do with Christianity. It is a violation of everything our faith believes. It is not Christian.” Accept it when your Muslim neighbour says something very like that. Oh, and about that neighbour … we might remember to our soul’s benefit that Jesus did not make any exceptions when he said: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

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About Stephen Farris

Rev. Dr. Stephen Farris is Moderator of the 140th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and dean of St. Andrew's Hall, Vancouver.