“Fear no one,” our Lord tells us.
That’s a challenge in human society. It may be a depressing thought, but for most of human existence, historic and prehistoric, we have lived in fear; fear of starvation, fear of disease, and sadly, fear of others, and the violence they might do to us—physical harm, of course; but perhaps more plausible today and for us likely more alarming, the threat of being cut off from society, ostracized, ridiculed. As much as we see the former, the violence of rioting and looting of late; that is still exceptional. What is becoming commonplace is the latter, through social media in particular: the persecution of those who do not share in what is presented by a movement of growing power as the correct set of beliefs, the right answers to pressing political and social problems, the proper perspective on the issues of the day.
Our Lord had to face threats, and of course, we know the prophets too. We read today in Jeremiah the prophet’s thoughts, his fearful contemplation of his enemies and their conspiring against him. We have insight then into how it is that he was able to find the courage to speak out in the midst of crisis, in spite of the many powerful enemies he had. It was because of a deep and abiding confidence in God and a trust in the power of the truth, (“the Lord is with me like a dread warrior”) even as he knew that his speaking would be a difficult trial (“you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind…).
There are those who are taking advantage of crises to advance their agenda; but not for the sake of “having a conversation” but rather to impose policies to govern us all in our thought and behaviour, censor opinions, and eliminate information that does not support their positions. They bring on a crisis or deepen and prolong and existing one so as to fill us all with a panic, and so distract us from the contradictions in their argument, and keep us from considering the larger picture that would provide a far better frame of understanding.
It’s important to remember that those we see bullying, using facile and contradictory arguments, who lace their speeches with veiled threats of violent consequences if they are not obeyed; most of them believe they are agents of good, truth and justice, all the kinds of wonderful things we as Christians hope to realize in our community, and eventually enjoy in their fullness at the culmination of history according to God’s plan.
That is what is often so seductive, what dupes many good people into following those whose methods, and whose very ideas, are contrary to the gospel.
Who is in favour of racism? Sexism? Who wants war? Poverty?
I think it fair and reasonable to say that in contemporary Canadian society, very few, vanishingly few.
Now this is not to say that within Canada we don’t have problems; most of them are a legacy of our past that has trapped some into a cycle of poverty; but equally we can see good things here, and how our society can offer people opportunity to flourish.
As to “systemic” forms of prejudice and discrimination, I fear that too many are chasing after the insubstantial based on vague assertions without good evidence, while the concrete instances that we really can point to, are ignored.
In Canada, for example, we have legislated and constitutional arrangements that are obviously discriminatory, based on language and race, and predicated on questionable assumptions. The Indian Act is one example. Since the middle of the last century it has had many harsh critics, among them the late Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau who rightly pointed out that its effect was to create a class of person with different rights, obligations and privileges determined by their race; and so effectively create segregation.
Again, not to say we don’t have problems in need of addressing, but the answers being offered by those who shout the loudest are simplistic, and often unjustly aimed at people innocent of the charges who then either submit to humiliation or get their backs up and are no longer open to discussing anything. A very popular and ridiculous impulse has been to tear the whole structure of our civilization down, as if there is nothing redeemable when common sense and a rudimentary knowledge of history tells us that if there is a civilization that has a chance at providing justice to its people, its this one.
What is disturbing is how so many major corporations, political parties, cultural leaders have been so quick to endorse this kind of thing. You’ve heard me from the pulpit point out that much of the social tension we experience, economic distress and political division can be laid at the feet of these major players in our society, and their obvious reluctance to allow true systemic change that allows for all to flourish. Rather they benefit from the status quo and keep their positions in the midst of all this dysfunction, virtue signalling all the time, rather than risk their power and profits by really doing what needs to be done.
Jeremiah in his day was calling out the leadership, but also levelling some pretty harsh words at all the people.
Both were complicit. Judea and Jerusalem were facing invasion from the powerful Babylonian empire. Jeremiah rightly diagnosed the weakness of Judea as coming from their failure to put God first, to follow the law in both its moral and social dimensions: to have kept virtuous lives and to have been good neighbours to each other. He also condemned the king, the nobility, the priests and religious establishment for failing to lead by example, teaching and upholding the law in its spirit, let alone letter.
Their response to Jeremiah was, “shut up” and to argue that no, the real problem was Babylon. They didn’t understand that Babylon as a threat was the end result of years of neglect of their duties, of allowing their society to grow weak, and so easy pickings for those looking to build an empire. A strong Judea would have been in a better situation to negotiate, to make a deal. Instead, the political leadership, the king, they were weak, feckless, at one moment full of bluster and defiance, at another obviously fearful and anxious. Why wouldn’t the Babylonians be contemptuous of them, and be eager to crush them and take the land and rob the treasuries of the king and the Temple?
These realities could have been seen by anyone willing to look. It was true then; it is true now. Nothing that is covered, hidden, obscured by propaganda, fake news, clever marketing, political spin, none of that will not be revealed by the light of truth. And no one has the privilege of exempting themselves. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet through Christ, we can be renewed by His grace, become sons and daughters of light, a light by which we can be honest and fair about ourselves and others, and so live the life of God’s eternal kingdom here and now, and eventually, forever. Amen.