Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Aftermath (3): There are no foreigners

One thing that the referendum brought into the light - and this has been widely-noted - is that we don't know each other.  I believe I may have remarked on this in advance of the event, but my point in raising it is not really to glory in my own prescience.  Rather, I just want to point out the multi-layered and complex 'othering' that is going on right now, and suggest that perhaps we might want to stop it if at all possible.  Also, I'd like to say something about Jesus.

To start with, there is the well-documented racist abuse directed at ethnic minorities in the wake of the referendum result.  That is the most urgent issue, because this is the most vulnerable group.  Anything that can be done to put an end to the scape-goating of those who are ethnically different should be done.

Then there is the obvious fact that the referendum vote largely went along geographical and class lines, implying that the concerns of those in the countryside are different from those in the cities, and that those in the working class are different from the middle class.  Of course that's no surprise - people living differently will have different political concerns.  But I think we've all been struck by just how different our visions have become, and how little we understand each other.  We are foreigners to one another, foreigners sharing a language and a country.

Then there are all the comments from people who are disowning half the country.  In the run up, this was mostly on the 'leave' side - let's take back our country etc.  The implicit message behind this is that not only 'immigrants' but also all those 'natives' currently in power are 'foreigners', others, those from whom we need to reclaim 'our country'.  In the aftermath, it's been more the 'remain' side - I don't feel like I belong in my country anymore etc.  The implicit message here is that everyone who voted leave is a 'foreigner' who has somehow infiltrated and taken over 'our country'.

This stuff really is complex, and it concerns us all.  The obvious xenophobia - other-fearing - which shows itself in racist attacks, and the more subtle other-fearing which demonises those who share our ethnicity but no longer share our culture...  It all needs attention, even if it is not all equally urgent (see above).  But at one level it's so extraordinarily simple: we need to widen our networks of relationships, to deliberately seek out friends of different ethnicities, economic backgrounds...  Simple, but really hard.  I am challenged and don't know practically how to go forward.

What I do know is Jesus.  Jesus is the one who persuades me of our common humanity, and he is the one who does not allow me to close the door on anyone - he won't let me 'other' anyone.  Jesus really is 'other' than me - better, above, transcendently superior.  But what he does with that glorious otherness is step down and become 'one' - one of us, one with us.  He 'un-others' himself, declaring that none of us is a foreigner to God, and in so doing he 'un-others' us to one another.

And he does it to the depths.  Perhaps it might be tempting to think that there is at least one legitimate piece of othering to do - we should obviously refuse to be identified with the genuinely vile racist, shouldn't we?  But it won't do, because of Jesus.  Even the genuine racist, the most vile, is no foreigner, because Jesus has 'un-othered' the vile by so closely associating with them that he has taken on their guilt and died for them.  So I can't disown the racist.  I can bear responsibility for his actions, but I can't just call him 'other'.  Like me, he is a sinner whose guilt was paid for at Calvary, whether he will acknowledge it and benefit from it or not.

We are all one.  This is often advanced as a pious creedal statement of humanism.  But it is not true in that sense.  It is true only in the sense that we have been made one, by Jesus.


  1. So good (typos in paragraph 3 aside)

    1. Some typos corrected - I will have to fire my editor.