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In the Image of God

We all have the right to be loved and the responsibility to love.

    

The recent viral video footage of two black men being arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks for “loitering” has once again invited us into a conversation about the prevalence of racism today.  While the two men waited in Starbucks for a friend, their presence caused the cashier to feel threatened. She called the police, who arrived and arrested the men without investigation. They’re not always caught on video, but such incidents occur regularly and each time they force us to consider why and how to respond. Whether or not racist motives led to the arrest of these men, we must admit that the occurrence of scenarios like this, and the passionate debate they stimulate, is indicative of a deeply-rooted problem in our society concerning the ways we respond to differences in others.

Stephen Broadbent’s bronze statue, entitled “Slavery Reconciliation,” in Richmond, VA, is one of three worldwide symbolizing new beginnings.

    

In a recent Courier article, Sean Schat observed that while overt examples of racism may be decreasing, the mistreatment of visible minorities continues in the form of microaggressions which are not easily recognized and as a result are often allowed to exist without consequences to the perpetrator (“When Racism Goes Underground,” April 23).

Unfortunately, the Starbucks incident, as well as injustices described by Schat, are not isolated occurrences. More significantly, they are not limited to race. Micro-aggressions result from differences in gender, sexual orientation, religion or anything else that sets someone apart from the crowd. Many of these characteristics are central to a person’s identity, which makes discriminatory comments feel like an attack on the core of the individual.  

As Christians, we tend to point outward at the places in society where we see these things occur, and fail to recognize where they are present in our own communities. I have witnessed countless situations in Christian communities where differences in race, gender and sexual orientation have resulted in tension or cruelty that has led to significant pain and suffering. In Canada in 2018, I have heard visible minorities referred to as “monkeys” or “brownies” and told to “get back to the fields.” I’ve heard labels like “dirty lesbian” or “tranny.” I have seen students pretend to whip other students of colour. I have seen groups of people laughing in hallways and classes at jokes made at the expense of one of these groups of people. When confronted, the jokers might respond with comments like “racism is okay, as long as it’s funny.” These words and actions indicate a complete lack of respect for individuals from different (and often marginalized) minority groups, and the fact that they are being used even in our Christian communities is a significant concern.  

How then shall we live?
Unfortunately, in addition to overt examples of racism and homophobia, our society (including Christian communities) often mistreats those who are “different.” It might not be from malicious intent; more often it is a result of discomfort, a lack of understanding or a different perspective that manifests itself in harmful ways. This is where the issue becomes even more convoluted. With so many different beliefs regarding what it means to live in accordance with Biblical principles, it can be difficult to discern the correct response to the differences in culture, lifestyle or opinions that we encounter.

But regardless of our opinions, we have a responsibility to respond in love. In some circumstances, it will be our own hostility and judgement towards those who are different from us that must be overcome. Other times it will be the hostility and judgement of others that must be addressed. When confronting these issues, we must remember to act in a way that is consistent with the respect for others that we seek to promote. When we defend any of God’s children, we must also love their adversaries, because they too are God’s children.

It is important to take a moment to clear our head of the conflicting messages that we hear on a daily basis from the media and from those in our social circles, and to re-orient ourselves to the central message of scripture: love and grace. As recipients of God’s incredible gift of life, we have a responsibility to ensure that those around us are treated with the care and respect that they deserve. Our posture towards everyone must be one of love: like the incredible love that God has for us, which led him to send his Son to die on the cross to save us, despite our disobedience.

As image bearers of Christ, we are called to embody the same love in our interactions with those around us. With this as our focus, our differences no longer become the defining factor in our relationships. Instead, we can choose to define ourselves with the recognition that we are all different, we are all sinful, we are all redeemed, we are all loved and we are all called to love others.

  • Kyra is a senior at Hamilton District Christian High School. She plans to study Social Work and Psychology at Redeemer University College in the fall.

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