Every person is unique, thank goodness, and by being individual, each person has the potential of offering something wonderful to their family, friends, community, country and the human race. This week, I have been writing about how a local pastor has been promoting messages that divide and categorize people. (Today is the second part of Pastor Mark Smith’s sermon “Justice Mocked by the Jews.”) And as I further contemplate how his actions, his choices, lay the groundwork for anti-Semitism and hate in my community, I realize how much I feel sorry for him and the people to whom he preaches.
Yesterday, I wrote about how he separates people into those who are saved by Jesus, and those who are not. The latter group, he insists, ultimately will be damned if they do not believe what he does; what his church believes. If that is one’s belief, then one has the right to adhere to that belief…as long as one does not force that belief onto someone else, or intentionally hurt others in the name of said belief.
So why do I feel sorry for them?
It saddens me that the pastor’s messages serve to confine his flock within solidly-constructed walls adhered by severe rules and restrictions. Unfortunately, it is those strict regulations—rules meant to divide the “believers” from “non-believers”—that ultimately divide people into “us” versus “them.” The wider that gap grows—whether that divide is self-imposed according to religious dogma or as result of messages sullied by hate—the more closed off people become. Ultimately, intolerance strangles the ability to recognize the wonders in the world we share, and it steals human connection and the beauty offered by variety.
With rising tensions in the world, it was an amazing image that transcended a gruesome incident and gave me hope people could begin demolishing the walls of hatred. That image was watching throngs of people representing a multitude of nations crowding the streets of France after the Charlie Hebdo massacre; watching people from around the globe displaying the message “Je Suis Chalie,” first as an expression of freedom of speech, but ultimately, as a message representing unity. That message proved people could overcome their differences and unite for the sake of humanity, decency and compassion.
“I am Chalie,” people proclaimed. That simple message eliminated the need for labels and divisions according to grouped identities. It didn’t matter your skin color or race or language or country or religion. It only mattered that humanity must unite for common good to end hatred, cruel words, foul deeds, and senseless killing.
By no means does this unity cause anyone to lose their voice; their individuality. Rather, the freedom to be unique allows for diversity, greater understanding and stronger community.
As details about the Charlie Hebdo murders were revealed, I remember listening to the news and the media pointing out the irony that one of the murdered police officers was a Muslim man. While this detail was ironic considering extremist Muslims stormed the magazine’s office, I thought, his religion shouldn’t matter.
Did his faith truly make it any worse or more significant than the execution of any others? Why should it matter about the race, religion, sex, age, nationality, or any other label you want to place on a person who is about to be executed?
In that moment when these criminals were braying how great is Allah—God—I’m not so sure the prostrate and surrendering Muslim officer would have been agreeing with their dichotomous boast. Along with the lives of too many others, his life was unjustly stolen by the hands of terrorists in the name of fanatic idiocy and the massive divide created by hate. Just like the other 11 people who were murdered that day, it was hatred based on division and unnecessary labels that resulted in the world losing an individual who tried to help others, no matter their race or religion. Hatred and intolerance stole that man’s last breath and was replaced by a lasting residue of grief and sorrow for the world community and those he left behind: family, friends, community.