By Revd Shelagh Pollard
It was a sobering sight – arriving at church on Sunday morning in St. Etienne to see 4 soldiers at the entrance, weapons at the ready, protecting the building, as indeed they are protecting all religious buildings at this time of heightened security. Our friends in the congregation have come to accept this as normal and perhaps feel safer because of it. I was simply unnerved by the experience.
I have always taken for granted my right to worship freely and without fear and it gave me pause for thought that others might not respect that freedom.
As I write this, news has come through of another terrorist attack in London … I suspect that very quickly and almost inevitably, the blame will be laid with Muslims, and once again some of the media will fuel anti-Muslim feeling by claiming that somehow all Muslims are involved in incidents like this.
At the very same time, across the world in Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of Muslims are fleeing attack from the Buddhist majority in that country.
And I’ve recently been catching up on some of the excellent programmes describing the partition of India in 1947, allegedly to give Muslims a homeland separate from Hindus and Sikhs.
Just a few examples of religious differences driving people apart. And yet, in India before partition, in Myanmar and in communities across Britain, people of different faiths have lived together peacefully for many years.
So how are we to respond? It would be easy to allow ourselves to be sucked into the media generalisations and to join in the blame game. It would be easy to become suspicious of those who are different from us and form unjustified assumptions from peoples’ appearances. But in doing so, we would be wrong.
Our Christian faith teaches that all people are children of our loving God: that makes them our brothers and sisters and cousins. Our faith encourages us to bring people together, not drive them apart. Yes, there are different faiths, but most have at their roots an understanding that we belong together and a desire for peace, however different may be the details of our beliefs and the ways in which we worship.
Let us hold strong to the faith we have, while not denying the validity of the faith of others. Let us speak out against intolerance and injustice. Let us draw closer to one another in kindness and love, rather than turn away from one another in suspicion and fear. Let us speak and act as Jesus’ disciples.