Thinking Anew: No neutrality in the Kingdom of God

God always takes the side of the oppressed and the powerless.

God always takes the side of the oppressed and the powerless.

 

Appreciating last Saturday’s Thinking Anew column by Gordon Linney I was reminded of this: “Nice people made the best Nazis. My mother spent her childhood in Nazi Germany surrounded by nice people who refused to make waves . . . they chose not to focus on ‘politics’, instead busying themselves with happier things. They were lovely, kind people who turned their heads away as their neighbours were dragged away”.

So wrote essayist Naomi Shulman in her 2017 article “No time to be nice: now is not the time to remain silent”.

My mum is quite small, but she can be fierce. Years ago, when targeting Muslims was starting to become fashionable, my mum was over from Dublin on a visit.

She popped out to Tesco round the corner from where I lived in Portsmouth when she came upon a few lads who were blocking the path of a Muslim woman. One of them was shouting at the woman “Go home, Osama!”

My mum was appalled and told the boys in no uncertain manner to let the lady past immediately and to stop this disgraceful behaviour.

Displaying enlightened self-interest, the young lads cycled off. I was very proud of my mum for her spontaneous instinct to protect someone who was being bullied – such interventions are not without their risks.

However, a different approach is usually recommended when dealing with bullies. Rather than taking on the tormentors, the advice is to draw alongside the victim, check in with them, be aligned to them, sideline the bullies themselves. “Are you okay? May I stand beside you here? You are not alone...” This seems to be how Jesus himself operated.

He did on occasion speak truth to power but in the main he seems to have intentionally sought the company of those with little to lose, befriending them, healing them, challenging them, taking them seriously – lepers, bleeding women, foreigners, beggars, collaborators.

I realised recently that I have been using the words neutrality and impartiality interchangeably, when in fact they mean very different things. A friend of mine Moray defines the difference like this: Impartiality – “I’ll be the judge of that”. Neutrality – “Nothing to do with me, mate”. These simple definitions are as helpful as anything else I have come across.

Jesus was never neutral, and reading the gospels we can only be left with the conviction that neutrality has no place in the Kingdom of God.

In the oft-quoted words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel should know.

I think back to my mum outside Tesco all those years ago. If my mum had witnessed what had gone on between the boys and the Muslim woman and remained neutral, and said to herself, “It’s not my problem; nothing to do with me; it’s not for me to judge”, who would have benefited?

Certainly not the woman. She would have realised that she was on her own, that those around her did not care and would not protect her, that she did not belong, she was not safe. And she would have been right.

It was the bullies who would have benefited – superficially at least. This would have been a formational incident for them – they would have taken my mum’s silence for indifference or approval. “We can do anything we want and get away with it!”, they would have thought.

A byproduct of my mum’s courage was that the boys were delivered from this pernicious and impoverishing message.

God always takes the side of the oppressed and the powerless.

In tomorrow’s gospel passage Jesus urges us to extend hospitality not to our own friends and family but to those who are broken and excluded and marginalised, who cannot repay the favour. He reminds us that it is those who have nothing to lose who will be, mysteriously, the most blessed.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.