Not until signing the Preacher’s Book after this evening’s Easter Vigil did the thought occur that it was Saint George’s Day. There is no reason why it the thought should have occurred before; 23rd April is just another date in the calendar to those who live outside of England, and doesn’t mean much to those who live there. One of the readings for tomorrow morning from Acts Chapter 10 seems apposite to thoughts on a patron saint’s day, “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
God doesn’t show favouritism, it’s more than just a theological point, it’s important to understanding what is needed for a healthy society.
During a Lent programme a few years ago, we were challenged about the welcome we gave to strangers. One of the questions it was, “Do you think an outward-looking church will make a difference compared to an inward-looking one?
The answer to the question was obviously ‘yes’ if people look out and see things they find attractive. However, if they look out and feel threatened, or feel that their own culture is not being treated as of equal value, then problems will arise. Problems are arising in England because people feel threatened; that threat may be nothing more than a matter of perception, but anyone who has lived in Northern Ireland will point to the importance of perceptions.
I read a book in 2004 called ‘The Likes of Us: A Biography of the White Working-Class’. It begins with a quote from a publication that lists all the different communities living in a part of London, all except for one, the ordinary white working-class people. The writer of the book, Michael Collins talks of the sense of exclusion felt by people whose culture and traditions are being treated as of no value.
If we concern ourselves with those from outside, to the exclusion of people in our own community, then we will create problems for the future. It is equality that Saint Peter urges, not favouritism; all communities must be cherished equally.
As the English local elections approach; the way to marginalize the extreme Right, to undermine the grievances on which the prey; is to ensure that, in perception and in fact, there is no favouritism, that no-one feels excluded.