Let Us Show We Are Christians By Our Love

Friday, Jul. 03, 2020
Let Us Show We Are Christians By Our Love + Enlarge
By Jean Hill
Director, Diocese of Salt Lake City Peace and Justice Commission

At the risk of dating myself, when I was in elementary school, one of the common songs for school Mass reminded us that “they will know we are Christian by our love.”  In these times of daily marches for justice and the upheaval of our normal routines due to pandemic, it seems the perfect moment to ask, is our Christian love obvious to our neighbors and fellow Utahns?
The pandemic offers one particularly easy way to show our love – wear a mask. There is no simpler way to show love for our neighbor and respect for their life. 
More difficult is showing we are Christian through our love for justice, from the larger issue of unraveling systemic racism to the seemingly smaller steps of ensuring our language doesn’t impinge on the dignity that is due to every human being.  
It may sound silly to focus on language, but history is replete with examples of propaganda dehumanizing people of certain races, ethnicities, religions and gender to make more palatable inhumane actions against those within the suspect category. For decades, leaders of nations and movements have understood that it is far easier to convince your followers to do the unspeakable if you first convince them their actions don’t impact real human beings.
That trend continues in the present day, with derogatory language for people of color, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and others designed to render members of the targeted demographic as lesser beings undeserving of respect.
Thus, here in 2020, LGBTQ individuals still face government-sanctioned executions in some countries or from unstable actors in our own, as we saw in the horrific shooting at the Pulse nightclub in 2016 or the crimes committed against Matthew Shepard in 1998. Black men and women face daily threats to their lives and safety, a reality no can realistically claim to be unaware of thanks to the committed efforts of protestors across this nation and globally.
At the same time, immigrants, or those perceived to be immigrants, are termed “illegal” and subjected to an ever-changing legal landscape increasingly designed to send them back to the horrendous situations they have come to this country to escape.  
While we as individuals may not be able to overcome all of the political, social and economic challenges needed to remove the barriers minorities face, we can at the very least show we are Christian by striking language from our vocabulary that makes it easier to persecute individuals who are LGBTQ, non-Catholic, Black, immigrants or any other category that tends to end up the subject of vitriolic statements and very real death threats. We can move past our defensiveness and ask how to help move our nation, our workplaces, our schools and our parishes forward on issues of systemic racism. We can live our belief in the dignity of life and demand that our congressional delegation and federal officials provide asylum seekers with fair trials, and immigrants who have been here since they were children an opportunity to become full citizens. We can promote the complementarity of men and women without denigrating those men and women who are lesbian or gay or transgender.
We can start simply, with the realization that being “color-blind” means not seeing the whole human being before us. Our race, our ethnicity, our religion, our gender are integral parts of the whole person. The experiences of someone who is Black or Jewish or gay or female are different from those of someone who is white or an atheist or straight or male. Maybe no better or worse, but different enough to make each of us unique human beings who deserve to be recognized as such.
As members of a universal church with a body of doctrine that celebrates our shared brother- and sisterhood in Christ, we show we are Christian when we engage in the debates of the day with the critical understanding that our positions and our language are not based in the secular and political, but in the Gospel and the ultimate commandment that we love others as we love ourselves.
 Jean Hill is director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace. Reach her at jeanhill@dioslc.org.

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