Hate crimes are on the increase since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. This according to several independent monitoring groups, and a swathe of anecdotal and recorded incidents broadcast on social media. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the increased outbreaks of verbal and physical abuse, and public hostility towards immigrants, people of other faiths, and people of colour, is directly related to the use of alarmist images and demeaning slogans during the campaign by certain sections of the Leave campaign. It goes without saying, but it is important to say nevertheless, that such despicable behaviour and hostile treatment of others is absolutely unacceptable to the overhwelming majority of those who voted in the Referendum. Those who voted, whether Remain or Leave, did so for many different reasons, and the underlying motivations are psychologically complex, socially complicated and reflect politically varied responses to the economic, national and cultural realities of our relations with Europe.
Nevertheless. Once the rhetoric of rejection and the objectification of others as a problem has been legitimated in political posturing, it is unsurprising that some of those who hold such views will begin to target minority groups and label them a problem, a threat and an unwelcome presence. That is what has been happening in various cities and towns since last Friday's "vistory" for Leave. As a Christian, who voted Remain, I reflect on a campaign that from both sides has been brutal, ruthless, pervasively dishonest, and sloganised at the cost of substance and evidence. The lack of evidence based argument, indeed at times the deliberate avoidance of such reflective patience and critique, has meant that in the aftermoath many people still only justify their decision by appeal to those slogans, sound bytes and gut feeling reactions embedded in their personal experience and private worldview.
And as a Christian reflecting on all that I have a number of questions, for myself, for my fellow citizens and especially for those who will exploit the lowering of our standards of discourse and use that as a legitimation of hatred, rejection and discrimination against those "others" who are not "us". And as a Christian one of the most pressing questions will be about how in a society where hate crimes are increasing, the followers of Jesus can be just as vocal, public and visbly performative of acts of love, peace, reconciliation and welcome. Whichever way each Christian has voted, there is a Kingdom obligation to be a people of welcome, love, peace and conciliation.
During the Referendum campaign there were statements made, images used, arguments and slogans thrown around without regard to who they hurt or what toxins they released into an atmosphere volatile with fear, uncertainty and amongst many, a determined closing of the ears to voices different from their own. These spores of toxic rhetoric are now infecting our environment. It is now less safe for immigrant workers, people of colour, and any number of "others", to move freely and live without fear amongst us. That is a disgrace. By which I mean as a Christian, that is such an affront to the God I believe in I will not tolerate it, and I will act in ways opposite to that.
Because some have taken the Leave decision as a mandate to reject, abuse and unfriend (literally as well as on FB), it becomes important that Christians take the Gospel as their mandate and welcome, affirm and befriend those who are now afraid, feeling unwelcome, and uncertain both of their future and of their place amongst us. Gestures of welcome such as shared meals, solidarity and public befriending of those whose path crosses our own, defending those ill-treated and ill-spoken to, prayers explicit and specific for people, their families and their struggles to settle amongst us.
I guess what I am saying is - listen carefully, hear God's call in Christ the Crucified to confront hate crimes with love gifts, hear the divine imperative to retaliate against destructive words and actions with redemptive words and gestures, and obey the Gospel's scandalously subversive policies of doing good to those who hate and overcoming evil with good.