Thursday 21st March 2019 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Australians call it ‘Harmony Day’. New Zealanders know it as ‘Race Relations Day’.
The day focusses on ‘building bridges’ with people who are different from us. It’s about committing ourselves to show courtesy and hospitality to people of other racial, cultural, ideological and religious backgrounds. It’s about getting to know them, hearing their stories over food and drink, and watching our children play together. It’s about discovering shared values and growing in understanding, trust and respect. It’s also about standing with and supporting each other in times of need—such as in the aftermath of last Friday’s terrible shootings in Christchurch.
For Christians, setting aside such a day in the calendar reminds us to be the good neighbours Jesus teaches us about in Mark 12:31. Loving our neighbour, he said, is second only to the love of God. In Matthew 5:43-48 he also says our love and kindness will reach out, not just to our natural friends, but to everyone, even persecutors and enemies. That’s what God’s children do, just as God himself does.
True Christian communities transcend ethnicity, race, culture and country of origin as we give and receive gifts from each another, learn from and befriend each other and care for one another. They are a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven: diverse people who all belong.
We understand, given our human nature, that building and maintaining caring, harmonious communities takes ongoing care, effort, and attention to detail. The temptation to sin guarantees that communities like ours will have problems and disagreements. That’s why we must be all the more vigilant, especially in this time of ‘identity politics’ and rising tension. The more human nature pushes back, the more God wants us to love others and participate in building healthy communities. In Jeremiah 29:7, for instance, when the Israelites were living in exile among hostile foreign captors, God still told them to work for the welfare of that society. Its prosperity was to be their prosperity.
Are you aware of the Harmony Day/Race Relations Day activities planned for your local council area? How might you, your family, congregation, sporting club, school community or workplace promote and live out a culture of harmony?
- God our Father, we thank you for the gifts Australians and New Zealanders of all racial and cultural backgrounds have brought and continue to bring to our countries.
- In the wake of the terrible murder of Muslim worshippers last Friday in Christchurch, we are thankful for the expressions of solidarity and support for the families of the people who were killed, for the survivors and their families, and for Muslims more generally, at whom the attack was directed. Help our people to find ways to bring good out of evil events like this one.
- Lord Jesus, in your love you gave your life for all people. Forgive us for holding prejudices against others who are different to us and attitudes and assumptions which hinder us from being good neighbours to them. Holy Spirit, free us from prejudice so we can love and serve better.
- Help us to be good neighbours to people who do not share our faith in you, but practice other beliefs or ideologies. Guide our thoughts, words and actions so that we may faithfully witness of you. Grant us the assurance and faith we need to be confident of your love under all circumstances.
- Help us to find good ways to act both as agents of harmony in our society and as salt and light in the world.
- We ask you for greater harmony in our countries, that we may not overlook what unites us when disagreements arise.
- We pray for the upcoming federal election campaign in Australia, for honest and constructive and respectful debate over the policies that will guide us into the future.
- We pray that all Australians and people living in Australia will be treated with courtesy and fairness, especially those most prone to prejudice, such as African Australians, asylum seekers, Jews, Muslims and Chinese.
- And we pray that the same courtesy and fairness will be extended to all people in every country.
Pastor John Henderson
Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand.
20th March 2019