Don't let the cross rot

The BBC North American Correspondent John Sopel presented a frank broadcast in the Radio 4 programme ’From our own correspondent.’ He was heading for Orlando to report on the aftermath of the mass-shooting in the Pulse Nightclub. The passengers on the flight were a combination of journalists and cameramen suddenly heading off to their next assignment, and excited children, bursting with excitement, travelling on the trip of a lifetime to Disneyworld.

John Sopel was filled with foreboding about what lay ahead of him. He wished that rather than reporting on a truly horrid story and witnessing people convulsed with grief, bent double with anguish, he was instead going to Disney.

To witness such distressing scenes is the cross that television reporters have to bear. It is what they have to expect from the line of work they have chosen. The same is true for police officers, firefighters and paramedics, doctors and nurses in casualty departments.

There are certain things we have to expect from our choice of career. No one elected to public office as a councillor or member of parliament should expect to be popular. Few professions these days bring respect. However, no one deserves to expect to be hated, the most extreme consequences of which was suffered by the MP Jo Cox this week.

This has been a week in which the ultimate in hatred has been expressed, in Orlando and Birstall, and against the silent backdrop of ongoing violence in Syria and Fallujah in Iraq.

Such events show what happens when hatred is suffered to get out of control. Hatred eats away the resistance of conscience that the Holy Spirit works upon. Hatred diminishes the other to such an extent that they are no longer seen as a human being with the basic right to the quiet enjoyment of life. Hatred is the very antithesis of the gospel.

So much of Jesus’ teaching was concerned with challenging this root cause of evil and suffering. He takes the commandment not to kill, back to forbidding insult, to curbing the anger that can ultimately lead to character assasination and to murder. The challenge of the gospel is clear, ‘love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.’ That is by no means easy; it is only possible, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, if we want to love our enemies, those we disagree with. We must want to love, and not prefer to hate.

One thing which has surprised the public was what a good MP Jo Cox was, how caring, how connected to her constituents, how passionate about improving life for others, especially Syrian refugees. Most of us had no idea who she was, or of the good work she was doing. There was almost surprise that an MP could be doing any good. She was simply doing what she knew she had to do. 

A prophet will always make enemies. It has been ever thus. Jesus could foresee his destiny. He knew his message could only lead to his murder. It would be a terrible consequence of the murder of Jo Cox if good, passionate people were deterred from seeking public office for fear for their own safety. Let us pray that more people will be inspired by her example and come forward who want to make a difference, who want to improve this country.  

The referendum itself will not solve any of the problems that this country faces. We all have a part to play in making this country a better, more civilized place. There are crosses before each of us.  We have the choice to take up that cross or leave it on the ground to rot. The problems we have to face will not just disappear. One cross of the Christian is to present to the world the answer to the question that people have stopped asking: who do we say Jesus is? As he asked the apostles he asks us, ‘who are you saying I am.’ Within that answer is the antidote to the poison of hatred.

The message of the gospel of Christ of love and respect needs to be heard more clearly than ever if we are to recognize our common humanity in which no divisions of race or nationality, class or politics, gender or sexuality, can diminish that essential understanding that we are all children of God, each of us made in his image and precious in his sight.

That the death on a Yorkshire street of a mother whom we do not know affects us, shows that we are not past caring, and that we recognize in the words of John Donne that  'any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.'