‘Language of Unity and Hope Can Counter Hate’ – Motion Calls for Synod Solidarity
A powerful message opposing racism and anti–migrant sentiment and actions has been sent out by General Synod.
Members of Synod unanimously passed a Private Members Motion calling on Synod to acknowledge the impact of anti–refugee and migrant hatred in our communities. The motion also requested the Honorary Secretaries to write to Diocesan Councils seeking suggestions on ways in which the Church can counter the language of anti–refugee and migrant hatred at the local level and communicate a strong message of Christian welcome to all.
Proposing the motion on behalf of the Primate’s Ethnic Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice Reference Group, Dr Lucy Michael said it was a small strike against an emerging thread of hate in our society but that it spoke to the third and fourth marks of mission: to tend and to transform unjust structures.
She said it was important to acknowledge the emergence of hate in our society against refugees and migrants. She said that attacks on refugees and reception centres now occurred regularly across Europe and in Ireland there had been high profile protests at refugee accommodation centres and an increase in attacks on refugee and migrant homes in our parishes on this island north and south.
Dr Michael said that this morning she learnt of an attack on asylum seekers on Mount Street who she had sat with last week. She said that the leader of the attack posted on social media that God blessed those who carried out the attack on migrants in Dublin.
She said that extreme hate did not start with violence but started much smaller and that the Church could do something about it.
“The main driver of anti–immigrant attitudes is the perception of threat, fears that refugees and migrants will have a negative impact on our lives and societies, fears that hate groups are all too happy to create and leverage. The cost of living crisis, the housing crisis, and constant media coverage framing migrants and refugees as illegal or suspicious are creating the perfect storm in our communities, in your parishes,” she stated.
She continued: “In some places this is highly visible, in others, it’s the quietly growing chatter questioning the humanity and the rights of refugees and migrants to exist and participate in our society. It’s in the online media we read every day and which influences us much more deeply than we care to admit. The emergence of hate like this should be of concern to Christians everywhere, not only because of the extreme harm to individuals and families who, like us, are made in the likeness of God, but because of the millions of insidious ways that hate works to divide communities through prejudice, mistrust and segregation.”
She said the challenge now was how to respond to the increase in anti–refugee and migrant sentiment. She said that there was pushback against the anti–migrant sentiment and there were community groups working to address the politics of hate and counter the impact of extreme hate groups.
“Solidarity work is most effective when it is at the local level, acknowledging the insecurities which drive hate and working to bind rather than divide communities in our social justice work. Language of unity and hope is proven to help counter hate, but it must come from trusted people within a community, it cannot be endowed to it from outside. Therein lies the opportunity for our churches to listen, to respond with love, and to build new and local responses to hate,” Dr Michael stated. “Let us not be blind to what is now around us. Let us not later say, we should have done something. Let solidarity and love be our watch words, and tend and transform be our actions.”
Seconding the motion, Stella Obe (Dublin) asked “Who is my neighbour?” She wondered if it was the person that looks, walks, talks, dresses like me. The person who asked the question of Jesus was asking what was the minimum he could do to enter the Kingdom of God.
“I have been here 40 years and I can tell you how the language of hatred cuts to the bone,” she said. She spoke of experiences in work where people asked to speak to an Irish person and didn’t accept her response that she was an Irish citizen. “I would have thought that after all of these years being a productive member of society that I would be given recognition,” she said. She said people picked up the rhetoric that migrants were coming to Ireland to take our jobs but she said there were so many jobs available in Ireland that no one was taking.
Ms Obe said that the diversity working group was looking at the deeper systemic racism. Looking at the rise of far right across Europe, she said she was surprised that it was being tolerated on this island considering the history of emigration from this country.
She commended the work of the Methodist Church in Ireland and their statement about the attempts to stoke racial tension. “They have stood up and been counted. They were at the rally in Dublin in February. Where was my church? It was nowhere to be found. We are still in the season of Easter. Jesus died for everyone – he was a friend of the poor the downtrodden those who have no voice. He was a champion of all human beings. We are his hands and feet and mouth and ears on earth. We need to be heard. I urge this house to stand up and be counted. He said love one another as even I have loved you,” she concluded.
Flower Paddy (Dublin) and chairperson of Uganda Association of Ireland said she believed the motion represented a very important moment. “Racism is not something that can be tolerated,” she stated.
Dr Pat Barker (Dublin) supported the motion. She told Synod of her involvement in a recently established group in Dublin. Grandmothers Against Racism stand in the city centre for one hour each Thursday. They say nothing but stand behind their banner.
“At first we were nervous about doing it. We were afraid we might be abused, attacked laughed at or ignored. But as we have stood there in the wind and the rain and the cold and sometimes the sunshine, we have found that we have had an enormous response. People asked didn’t we realise that these people are taking our jobs, our houses, our girls. We have listened to an amount of vitriol and hatred. But more importantly we have listened to a lot of young men from various parts of the world who have come up to us and thanked us. They have told us about the abuse, discrimination and violence they have experienced. They have told us there are people in Ireland that are bad people. It is not really so much what a few bad people say and do. The problem is more when good people do and say nothing,” Dr Barker said.
Nigel Quinn (Down and Dromore) urged synod to support the motion. He told Synod of a trip to Lebanon with Tearfund where they met a Baptist pastor who spoke of the reinvigoration of his church as a result of their outreach to Syrian refugees. He said 17% of the population of the Republic of Ireland is not from Ireland and the north is catching up. He spoke of his parish in Lisburn that reached out to the migrant community and invited them to Christmas carol service. They had a packed church over 200 people, 147 of whom were from the migrant community. “They came and listened to our carols the words were on the screens in Arabic and English. And afterwards we sat down and ate with them. The answer for our empty churches is to ask people to come along and to reach out to the migrant community and we can share the Gospel with them,” he stated.
Bishop Michael Burrows (Tuam Limerick and Killaloe) said the debate on the motion had been the “glory of this Synod”. He encouraged members of Synod to face the truth and realise that the reference to ‘our communities’ was not just ‘the people around us’, it was ‘us’. “The paucity of people of colour in the house, the lack of young people, the difficulty of integrating people into the culture of governance in this church. That is us . That is the truth and that is that decent people do nothing,” he stated.
The motion was passed unanimously by Synod.