Michael Haldas is the author of Sacramental Living: Understanding Christianity as a Way of Life. Michael’s focus is on understanding and applying our faith to everyday living, which supports OCN’s mission to provide material “to provoke discussion and contemplation about the issues we face in daily life.” His work has been featured in Theosis Magazine, The National Herald, Pravmir, and other publications. He is a member of the Orientale Lumen Foundation, the Orthodox Speakers Bureau and is on the board of the Washington Theological Consortium. He teaches adult religious education and high school Sunday school at the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George in Bethesda, Maryland, and has worked with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Religious Education Department to create educational lessons and materials.
“And when you perceive the Spirit moving and speaking in your heart, inciting you to proclaim in the great congregation the saving power and truth of God, do not keep your lips sealed for fear of provoking the envy of bigoted men.” (St. Niketas Stethatos)
The recent events in Charlottesville were a terrible demonstration of behavior completely antithetical to our faith. There is no excuse for racism, bigotry, and prejudice of any sort. Yet they have been a prevalent part of our society for years, and some very hateful and terrible tragedies have been, and continue to be, the result. A young lady lost her life in Charlottesville as a result. Anyone who thinks and refers to themselves as Christians, yet acts in a racist and bigoted manner is acting in direct opposition to the love and teachings of Christ and His church. Make no mistake, from a Christian point of view, prejudice is a severe wrong because it is sacrilegious.
Sacrilege, as defined by the Oxford American Dictionary, is “disrespect or damage to something sacred.” As Christians, we believe life comes from God and that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). To then disrespect or damage others in our thoughts and actions is to profane God’s creation.
Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-38, Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:26-28). In his farewell discourse to His Disciples before He was crucified, He implored them to love one another (John 13:34). Prejudice, in all its guises, to include the obvious and the subtle, is a violation of these commands of love from our Lord, and it separates us from Christ. Professor Kyriacos C. Markides reminds us regarding prejudiced persons, “such a person is outside the spiritual teachings as set down by Christ and the great saints who followed His footsteps…To follow Christ means to have the capacity to coexist with other people who may be radically different from you.”
The Importance of Relationship Building and Preservation
Prejudice also strikes at the heart of what Christianity is all about, which is relationships, that is relationships with God and with each other. Christianity is always about the well-being of persons. Ideological and identity zealotry in today’s political climate is fueling a narcissism that is driving us apart and is causing us to regard each other more as categories than persons. We quickly brand each other as alt-right, alt-left, neo-cons, hacks, liberals, conservatives, and other categories. And what gets lost in this branding are the persons being branded. This type of danger isn’t unique to politics but the passion of politics is perhaps more dangerous in this regard, since it involves so much emotion and leads to us thinking of people as categories so very easily. Many of us who are Christian leaders, teachers, and writers also flirt with the danger of filtering our Christianity through our politics instead of doing the opposite. This can also lead us to see each other as less than persons and distort our faith at the same time.
People are not categories, nor are they only a few views they support. They are persons. Being a person means we have many dimensions to ourselves, not just our political and social views. It is all too easy in the polarizing political climate we live in today to lose sight of this. To see a person as anything less than a person is simply wrong no matter how hard we may try to convince ourselves otherwise. We need to treat everyone with the respect they deserve as persons, not categories, even if we vehemently disagree with them about everything. Anything less is not Christian. God created us to be in mutually dependent relationships with one another, yet we spend so much time opposing and mistreating each other.
Following Christ in Our Interactions
As Christians, if we are ever tempted to think poorly about someone, or worse yet, act poorly toward someone, because of their race, political affiliation, economic bracket, or characteristics, we should correct our thinking and always try to remember when we look at someone, we are looking at an icon of Christ. Love doesn’t mean we must like everyone. Love is an action and deliberate act of will, not an emotion. As such, it does mean we should treat everyone with dignity and respect and do our best in whatever encounter we have with them to be mindful and solicitous of their well-being.
As much as possible, we need to be as Jesus was to others in the Gospels. He expressed love to all including lepers, prostitutes, Samaritans, and tax collectors. The only people He ever condemned were those that were self-righteous because this is the attitude that led them and others away from God. As always, it is our sacramental and prayerful life that leads to our growth in Christ and our ability to be as He would be in all situations.
“I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.” (1 Timothy 5:21)
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