Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fear and loathing in Aotearoa - By Annaliese Johnston

Today is World Refugee Day. It marks a day when tens of thousands of people around the world take time to recognize and applaud the contribution of forcibly displaced people throughout the world. This recognition of the importance of welcoming vulnerable people to our borders made me think of the famous verse from Galatians; that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Refugees travelling via boat.

The Apostle Paul reasserting that the lines and barriers that for so long divided communities of people was radical, more radical than we might imagine. Using “all one” to define community as opposed to defining by difference was pretty gear-shifting in a context where a male Jew would never dare speak to nor go near a female Samaritan. The famous verse is as pertinent today as it would have been when it was written in 1st Century, and throughout a chequered global church history of wars, crusades, and racial and state conflict. In Aotearoa we don’t necessarily face the ripping apart of a society from Apartheid or civil war but we do have our own stigmas, our own inequalities and our own discomfort with difference.

The Human Rights Commission recently released stats that revealed that beneficiaries are the most discriminated against group of people in our society. “Nimbyism” is the term used to refer to the concept of “Not In My Backyard”, where residents fight against a proposal for a new development because it is close to them, often with the connotation that such residents believe that the developments are needed in society but should be further away from them. Calls to “stop the Asian invasion” and the claim that “our jobs” are being stolen by foreigners is often used to cover underlying fears of a new multi-cultural nation. In this backdrop, “Xenophobia”, defined as the “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”, starts to sound very apt. 

This is an area where Christians can be radically different. The call from Paul in Galatians speaks of a Kingdom picture, a Christ-like picture: One where we have equal regard to people from all nations, backgrounds, races and socio economic statuses. It is not one where we differentiate on these things, but where we choose to live a different narrative; where being different or coming from somewhere else is not something to fear, but to celebrate.

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