by Monique Ford - Stuff

The Acceptance of Others - School House Chapel Service Sermon

Not everyone thinks the way you think, knows the things you know, believes the things you believe or acts the way you act. It’s not our differences that divide us, it’s our inability to recognise and accept those differences.

With a population of over seven billion, all with different beliefs, there is more to life than just ourselves. If deep down, we all strive for the same things; happiness, peace, success; then why is it that we’re all so conflicted? Do we gain more from confrontation and isolation, or from realisation and acceptance?

Israel Folau, a high-profile Australian rugby star with a strong connection to his religion. By virtue of his status, Israel has a massive influence, but it’s how he uses that influence that has cast him under the spotlight. On two separate occasions, Israel Folau has shared his views and passed his religious judgement on social media. One such confusing view was that although he says he loves and respects all people, he doesn’t accept gay marriage. Folau also says that those living in sin — for example; homosexuals, fornicators, atheists — will all end up in Hell unless they repent and turn to God. Where must the line be drawn between free speech and hate speech?

Folau’s social media is the perfect example of the adage “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Whilst he’s well within his right to express his religious faith, it should never have been done to the detriment of others. Israel Folau can choose to love and accept others, even if he doesn’t agree with them. The Bible states that we shouldn’t be concerned about what another person is doing, but rather we should be concerned about our own actions as each of us will give an account of himself to God. It’s a case of living your values versus preaching them. We need to tolerate others when they have different opinions on an issue, as we ourselves are not in charge of them; their choices and beliefs about themselves are ultimately theirs alone.

As a nation, New Zealand is renowned for its friendliness, safety and acceptance of other cultures. But up until the 15 March of this year, the world had never seen what our reaction was to modern-day terrorism on our soil. Regarded as one of New Zealand’s darkest days, the Christchurch mosque attacks left 51 dead and another 49 injured. This left the world wondering: how would New Zealand act in the face of such tragedy? We didn’t react with hostility. We didn’t withdraw ourselves and build walls between us. Instead of building walls, we, as a country, built bridges and embraced the Islamic faith. Over 20,000 people attended the call-to-prayer the week after the attacks, including All Black Sonny Bill Williams. In contrast to Israel Folau, Sonny Bill Williams has illustrated his faith positively and hasn’t brought his beliefs in Islam under a negative spotlight. As both an All Black and a Muslim, Sonny Bill’s use of his platform has been massive. His attendance at the Christchurch memorial, as a proud Muslim and a proud New Zealander, showed hope in the face of a great sadness. We too, can unconsciously judge others by their religion, without even realizing that we’re judging them. Most of us aren’t consciously aware of what Islam truly is at its heart and as a collective, we have all painted Muslims with the same brush, whether we’ve known it or not. We shouldn’t just accept or reject others based on their faith and what they believe in. We can show others what acceptance is when we treat others how we want to be treated. If we put up walls instead of opening up to others, it leads to mistrust with one another, regardless of religion and it sows the seeds for extremists to act upon. Metaphorically, the global knowledge and understanding of Islam is the light that can get rid of the darkness of terrorism.

In a society where only an incredibly small group of peoples’ opinions are valued, how can there be acceptance? How can that small group somehow manage to represent the entirety of a nation? From a political standpoint, this group can take a number of names; despotism, a monarchy, a dictatorship. But regardless of its name, the word of the group is final and all other ideas and alternate viewpoints are rejected. These types of ideologies can lead to massive amounts of suffering, and can completely stop the healthy progression of a society. It isn’t difficult to find examples of where horrible evils were committed due to a leader’s failure to accept others. Queen Mary and the English Monarchy, whose failure to accept Protestantism in England led to the deaths of over 300 Protestants. Adolf Hitler, whose hatred towards Judaism was so strong that it led to one of the greatest genocidal events in modern history: the Holocaust. Contrast this with Jacinda Ardern; after an attack that could’ve divided the Muslim community from the rest of New Zealand, Jacinda made it her mission to beg, to plead for unity.

Sometimes the hardest demand on a person is to accept responsibility after a mistake. Jacinda set down the guidelines for how Kiwis must act and behave; not towards Muslims, but to our fellow brothers and sisters, because they, like all of us, are New Zealand.

I want to finish this sermon with a short excerpt from Jacinda Ardern’s speech at the Christchurch memorial: “We have heard the stories of those impacted by this terrorist attack… stories of those who had made New Zealand their home… who sought a better life for themselves or their families. These stories… now form part of our collective memories. They will remain with us forever. They are us.”

The Acceptance of Others - School House Chapel Service Sermon by Lucas Goodwin