Respond locally to the year of fear
Over the past 12 months, Australia has changed. Fear has taken hold of people’s minds and hearts. There has been an upsurge in support for political parties advocating discriminatory policies against Muslims. Pauline Hanson, in her second maiden speech in Federal Parliament, said Australia was in danger of being ‘swamped by Muslims.’ But Muslims comprise 2.2 per cent of the Australian population.
What Australia risks being swamped by is not Muslims — but fear.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It does not respond readily to rational argument; it does not comprehend the language of careful thought. It lies hidden and inaccessible. It takes hold of us. The American Quaker educator, Parker Palmer, notes: ‘Fear is the air we breathe. We subscribe to religions that exploit our dread of death. We do business in an economy of fear, driven by consumer worries about keeping up with the neighbours. And we practice a politics of fear in which candidates are elected by playing on voter’s anxieties about race and class.’
This year, Gordon Uniting celebrated Interfaith September. Like last year, we invited Dr. Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, the Grand Mufti, to speak to us about Islam. Last year, the event was well received; this year, less so. We received a torrent of hate mail. Some who condemned Gordon Uniting were Christians. One came to the service and accused us of misleading people. (In her view, we should have converted Dr. Ibrahim to Christianity.)
Her critique was advanced with great sincerity and piety. Such piety is disturbing because it purports to be religious and well-meaning but it was, in fact, fear masquerading as concern. Parker Palmer’s comment about religion alerts us to the troubling fact that while religious language evokes love, it also evokes fear. Using religious language is no guarantee of truth.
When Dr. Ibrahim visited on 25th September, Gordon Uniting faced the possibility of a church invasion, as had happened at Gosford Anglican. The church community was informed beforehand of this threat and of the precautions that had been taken. Some might have chosen to stay away, but they didn’t. They came in great numbers. It was very moving. It reminded me of 1 John 4:18, ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’
That day in worship, we caught a glimpse of love casting out fear. We felt what I had previously experienced in my contact with Dr. Ibrahim: there was no reason for fear. That day, we were enriched by the visit of someone designated by many as ‘other’.
Whenever communities take steps in love, they put fear in its place.
Rev. Michael Barnes, Gordon Uniting Church