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Dehumanising language has consequences, Bishop declares

17 February 2023

Bishop Arun Arora was preaching a Racial Justice Sunday sermon in Blackburn Cathedral

Alamy

A burnt-out police van in Knowsley, Merseyside, last Friday, after protests outside a hotel housing asylum-seekers

A burnt-out police van in Knowsley, Merseyside, last Friday, after protests outside a hotel housing asylum-seekers

THE Area Bishop of Kirkstall, in the diocese of Leeds, the Rt Revd Arun Arora, has urged politicians to avoid using language that “dehumanises” asylum-seekers and refugees.

Bishop Arora was preaching a Racial Justice Sunday sermon this week in Blackburn Cathedral, days after riot police were called to a right-wing demonstration outside a hotel in Knowsley, Liverpool, in which asylum-seekers were staying. In Leeds, four people were arrested during a similar protest.

On Saturday afternoon, the Home Secretary, Suella Braveman, had tweeted: “I condemn the appalling disorder in Knowsley last night. The alleged behaviour of some asylum seekers is never an excuse for violence and intimidation. Thank you to @merseypolice officers for keeping everyone safe.”

Bishop Arora said on Sunday: “The pulpit is not a place to be party-political, but it is a place to reckon with politicians whose own words and rhetoric . . . speak of an invasion of asylum-seekers, and swarms of refugees.

“The language that our politicians use matters: language which dehumanises; language which incites; language that enables those bad actors of the far right to march from the margins and threaten the common good. The political arithmetic of our leaders needs to multiply hope, enabling cohesion rather than dividing communities through enabling hatred.

“Over recent weeks, there has been a disturbing rise in the actions of those who label themselves as patriots. People who have fled countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, those who have risked life and limb, fleeing persecution, being met with hatred found on the internet and amplified by social media.

“There has been violence and vituperation flowing from the lips of mobs who feel powerless when they perceive the injustice of a system which preferences incomers over those for whom their birthright seem to result in little.”

He recalled being surprised during an anti-racism training day for diocesan interns and ministry-experience volunteers to find that almost none of them knew of Stephen Lawrence, the black London teenager murdered by racists in 1993. “His death has become an emblematic reminder of the continuing call and work for justice that forms a core part of our discipleship.

“Justice is not an arbitrary add-on to being a disciple of Christ. It is not some form of wokery that has infected an otherwise unsullied path of prayer and worship.

“Rather, it is at the core of our response as disciples, individually and collectively, in our saying ‘Yes’ to becoming followers of Christ. Our mandate lies not in ideology, sociology, or critical theory: it is a biblical mandate.”

He concluded: “The news over recent days suggests we may well all need to spend some time getting out of our beautiful houses of worship and to be out praying on the streets.”

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