Over the March Break, my 15-year-old son Cameron and I spent a good deal of time in downtown Toronto, visiting the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario. We also ate in various ethnic restaurants that serve up the kind of food we can’t get back in our small town.
One morning, while we were having breakfast, we saw news about the Christchurch massacre on the diner’s television. We stopped and read the CP24 captions for a while, then got out our phones and started researching the story online. It was clear, early on, that the murders were the act of a white supremacist. Later on, when his “manifesto” was released, we heard that one of the terrorist’s inspirations was U.S. President Donald Trump – but even without that fact confirmed, it seemed to us that the attack fit a pattern of a rising tide of white, extreme right-wing violence we have all been seeing in the past few years.
My son had only one question for me, over breakfast. He asked, simply: “why?”
As I looked around the restaurant, I pointed out the clientele. “You see this place,” I said. “Look at all the people of different cultures and backgrounds, sitting down and talking to each other, sharing a meal, and enjoying each other’s company. Now, take a look around this city – particularly at how many mixed-race groups of friends there are. What do you think about that?”
“I think it’s pretty cool,” he said.
“Me too. But there are people – really twisted people – who look at that and see a threat. They see the end of white supremacy, the democratization of race, the coming together of different cultures as a threat to their survival. That’s just one prevailing current in the world right now – and it’s a dangerous and an evil way to think.”
Cameron reflected on our trip to the British Museum last summer – which has an excellent exhibit on the rise of fascism, by the way – and remarked that it seems like humanity collectively loses its mind and forgets the lessons of history every 80 years or so. It was a sharp observation on his part.
When we left the restaurant, we hopped in an Uber to travel across the city to a museum. Our driver was a former Physics professor from Iran. He told us that he was only driving Uber while he was waiting for his Ontario Teacher’s Certificate. He also mentioned that he had a daughter studying law at Osgoode Hall – and that her dream was to practice human rights law. He was obviously a very proud dad.
As the door to the Uber closed, Cameron said: “Wow, what a great guy.”
And that’s when it really hit home for me.
Creating a diverse, pluralistic society that works isn’t always easy, but it is worth it. We have so much to learn from each other, and give to each other. And the more we do that, the more we break down artificial barriers between one another, the more get to revel in our shared humanity. And it is a beautiful thing.
But make no mistake – the rising tide of white supremacist hate in the world is not just aimed at a liberal, secular humanist dream of a pluralistic society. White supremacy – and racial hate in all its forms – also contradicts the truth of the gospel that “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female.” It is fundamentally a warped and unchristian viewpoint that rejects the notion that we are all image bearers of God.
So I will repeat what I ultimately said to my son: “All good people – and I don’t care what their political stripe is – have a duty to stand up to the evil monsters who want to sow hate and divide us. We’ve all got to do that without equivocation or hesitation. We can’t give hate an inch to spread, or – as history shows us – it will take a mile. And what we have built together is too precious to lose.”
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