While several of our church folk went off on an idyllic ramble to Canterbury today, Katy and I were a bit stuck for health reasons. So we went to the cinema instead. We saw a great film called The Promise.
It’s all about the Armenian minority in Turkey in 1914-16 and the genocide that happened in that country. The film tells the story of a young Armenian man who leaves his village to go to the capital city, Constantinople, to train to be a doctor. While there he falls in love with a beautiful and talented young teacher. It is bad timing though, as Armenians (predominantly Christian) are rounded up, beaten & shot by the thousand. When our hero returns to his home village they are all found dead. This film really is worth a look, telling the true story of 1.5 million Christians killed in this atrocity.
Reminiscent of Schindler’s List, ‘The Promise’ shows how hatred builds up. What starts as small acts of intolerant behaviour, when left unchallenged grow to become systematic discrimination or, as we might call it nowadays, ‘institutionalised racism’. I’m chilled by the reminder I read a couple of years ago in the Holocaust Memorial Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London. I read there that the German church did nothing at first to stand against the persecution of the Jews because they feared Jews having too much influence in society. In a culture today where tolerance seems to be in decline and both the centre ground in society and freedom to disagree well are less and less valued, these stories become very important.
A couple of well known quotes.
For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.
Simon Wiesenthal, campaigner to track down Nazi war criminals
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Pastor Niemöller, the Confessing Church in Germany who stood up to Hitler.
I find it appalling that so often people use belief in God as an excuse to oppress others because their beliefs are different. I can’t really comment on other faiths, but the Jesus I follow said ‘Love your enemies and be kind to those who persecute you,’ and ‘Pick up your cross and follow me’.
Right at the beginning of the Bible Abraham is told that all nations, all peoples, will be blessed through him. Jesus comes to save women and men from every tribe and nation. In him, we are told in the book of Galatians, all cultural boundaries are broken down. There is no longer Greek nor Jew, male nor female, slave nor free.
So how on earth can we use faith as a tool to exclude people? To dehumanise and persecute others, even if we think their beliefs are all wrong? Yes, I believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I believe that nobody comes to God but through Him. But all humanity is made in God’s image. When we forget that, when we treat others cruelly who bear the image of God, we do blasphemy of the very worst kind.
So do go watch a great little film. But more than this.
Challenge casual racist comments. Make a stand against divisions made on the basis of creed or colour. This is not just Turkey or Germany’s problem. It is not only an issues for fifty or a hundred years ago. It is an issue for now, and it is time to make a stand.