The alarming increase in racism in Northern Ireland has set the alarm bells ringing. Who would have thought that Belfast would ever be described as some now describe it – “The race-hate capital of the UK”?
It wasn’t always like this. Even in the bad old days of the Troubles, Ulster had a good name in respect of the treatment of foreign nationals. When the Vietnamese boat people arrived in 1979, having fled from the killing fields of Southeast Asia they settled in homes supplied by the Housing Executive and furnished by voluntary organisations.
Today the powers-that-be still aid foreign nationals living in Northern Ireland. And the vast majority of ordinary people welcome the diversity that has enriched life there, as well as the dedicated contribution that Poles, Portuguese, Chinese etc. make to the local economy. But it is the paramilitaries that are the problem. Gerard Stewart, writing for the Institute for Race Relations says – “There is a high correlation between racist attacks and areas which are a traditional heartland for affiliation to prominent Loyalist paramilitary groups.” (www.irr.org.uk).
This new sectarianism is no more for God and Ulster than the ‘old’ sectarianism, and it highlights a problem that has dogged the province for many years – too much religion and not enough Christianity! Extreme secularists baulk at the suggestion that Christianity can solve problems. But the Bible encourages an honourable unity and not division. Think about it.
Abraham (a favourite of Jews and Muslims as well as Christians) had common cause with those who did not share his faith, in the rescuing of the men of Sodom and his nephew Lot from captivity. Paul showed the folly of racism by saying that God made “of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” Peter, who had been a devout Jew, learned that no man is “common or unclean.”
The Gospel itself is the greatest power at combatting division. It breaks down walls between a man and his Maker and walls between men (Ephesians 2:13, 14).
A practical illustration will help. General Robert E. Lee was a devout Christian. Soon after the end of the American Civil War, he visited a church in Washington, D.C. During the communion service he knelt beside a black man. An onlooker said to him later, “How could you do that?” Lee replied, “My friend, all ground is level beneath the cross.”