The weeks leading up to Easter have witnessed some of the worst mud slinging Australians have thrown at each other for quite some time. Just a few short years ago tolerance was lauded as a national virtue. Showing respect to another person with whom there was disagreement was part of the course of conversation. There was space not only to express an opinion, but freedom to persuade others of that view. After all, is this not a basic tenet of a democratic society?
Recently however, it appears as though tolerance has been given the flick, and a neo-Orwellian temperament has come to the fore, especially in Victoria.
Education Minister, James Merlino, is among a number of politicians labelling people ‘bigots’, simply for raising concerns about Safe Schools. And despite proven flaws with the Safe Schools material and agenda, the Victorian Government insist that it will be mandatory for schools. There has even been backlash at the Federal Government’s decision to give parents information about the program, and the right to opt-out their children should they choose. When the State wishes to take from parents their responsibility to make decisions for the good of their children there is a fundamental problem in Spring Street.
The message being communicated by the Government is that Victorians must adhere to the current social milieu or be branded as haters; agree with us or shut up.
This however is counter productive. Changing a culture of fear cannot be achieved by the State bullying its own citizens and stifling disagreement, indeed it only further polarise people. No one wants children self-harming. No one wants children bullied. And many believe with fair reason that Safe Schools is not the answer. It is one thing for a Government to disagree with these concerns, it is quite another for them to call the same public bigoted and insist their children attend these classes against parental permission. Have they not become guilty of the very hostility they are alleging needs stamping out?
Perhaps all of us need to look afresh at Easter, and be reminded of that most radical idea which continues to turn inside out haters from all sides.
There is a story in John’s Gospel where Jesus broke with the cultural expectations of his day to speak with a Samaritan woman. At that time Samaritans were considered social outcasts, and they were often discriminated against. Jesus’ conversation was all the more outrageous because the person before him was a woman, and a woman was then living with a man to whom she was not married. In our minds this may not sound particularly shocking, but at that time this woman was guilty of triple-headed social evil. However, it didn’t stop Jesus.
John tells the reader how Jesus understood her heart and her past, and yet he struck up a conversation with her. He showed her kindness, and even offered this astonishing word, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
In other words, Jesus did not agree with her lifestyle and yet he loved her and he dismantled cultural barriers to express kindness to her.
This account is one of many that preempt the supreme act of love that Jesus would express, that which we remember at Easter; the cross and resurrection.
Both the religious and political establishment were convinced that Jesus’ views could not be tolerated, and therefore must be silenced. And yet without his volition they could not have enacted their plan. It is one of the extraordinary juxtapositions we see in the cross: people conspired Jesus’ death and he himself chose that path. He responded to hate not with hate but laying down his life for the good of those who ridiculed and mocked him.
We are losing the art of disagreement and because of this, true respect and reconciliation becomes evasive. Indeed it appears as though we are entering the Autumn of tolerance, and winter is on the horizon. It is only fair to ask, is this a sign of how dissent will be treated in the future?
The message of Easter is one all of us need to hear afresh. At its heart, Easter is God reconciling to himself those who disagree with him and he with them. The cross demonstrates disagreement and love, grace and truth. Jesus did not choose the path of the self-acclaimed intelligentsia, or the self-righteous. He sided with the oppressed and unpopular, not because he agreed with their values but because he loved them
Miroslav Volf put it like this, “I don’t think we need to agree with anyone in order to love the person. The command for Christians to love the other person, to be benevolent and beneficent toward them, is independent of what the other believes.”