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Church of Ireland General Synod: racial hatred must be stamped out, members hear

19 May 2023

Church of Ireland  

Stella Obe seconds the ethnic-diversity motion.

Stella Obe seconds the ethnic-diversity motion.


A RISE in the expression of hatred against migrants and refugees must be stamped out in Ireland before it became established, the Synod heard on Saturday. Lucy Michael, speaking on behalf of the Primate’s Reference Group on Ethnic Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice, spoke to introduce her private member’s motion, which sought the Church to mobilise against anti-refugee and migrant hatred.

How could the Church communicate a strong message of Christian welcome to all, she urged the Synod to consider. “Hate is a problem of our time, and directed squarely at victims of war and persecution who have survived treacherous journeys,” she said. In 2021, more than 3000 lost their lives trying to reach Europe by sea. Many more were dying inside Europe’s borders.

Attacks and protests against migrants and refugee reception centres were rising, in Ireland and elsewhere, Dr Michael warned. Just the previous night, some migrants she knew personally were attacked in Dublin by far-right activists, who later set fire to tents at a refugee camp. The leader of this group even claimed online “God blessed” their actions, she said, as she held back tears of frustration.

Christians everywhere must be concerned about the growth of this kind of hate, she said; solidarity work was always most effective at the local level, as was the language of unity and hope from trusted community leaders. “Therein lies the opportunity for our churches.”

Stella Obe (Dublin & Glendalough) seconded the motion. Who is my neighbour, she asked, the one who talks, walks, looks, and dresses like me? She had been in Ireland for more than 40 years, she said, but still had stories of how hateful rhetoric “cuts me to the bone”. Thinly veiled racism was not rare even among political leaders in Ireland, she said, but the rise of far-Right politics must not be tolerated.

She praised the stance of the Methodist Church in Ireland, which had joined a recent pro-migrant rally. “Where was my beloved Church? They were nowhere to be found.” Jesus was a friend of the poor and the downtrodden, the champion of all human beings, and the Church must be his hands and feet, mouth and ears, she said.

Flower Paddy (Dublin), who chairs the Uganda Association of Ireland, strongly supported the motion. Racism could not be tolerated, she said. Pat Barker (Dublin) also supported the motion, telling the Synod that she regularly protested as a member of “Irish Grandmothers Against Racism”. Her group had had to listen to vitriol and hatred, but also many people who had thanked them, passing on stories of racism and disrespect. The problem was not just the “bad people” who did this, but that “good people” stood by and did nothing.

The Revd Nigel Quinn (Down & Dromore) urged the Synod to back the motion wholeheartedly. He recalled a trip to a Baptist church in Lebanon, which had been packed with Syrian refugees, who had come to faith because of fleeing the civil war. The pastor explained that they had prayed for years to reach the Arab world, and then the Arab world had come to them.

The same was true now of Ireland, north and south, he said, where one in five was now foreign-born. Unlike the “shameful” anti-migrant policies in the UK, Ireland must embrace migrants. Perhaps they could even be the answer to the Church’s empty pews, Mr Quinn suggested.

The Bishop of Tuam, Limerick & Killaloe, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, said that this debate had moved him. The Synod was all about being led by the Holy Spirit into truth, and this meant facing the truth about themselves, he said. He endorsed the motion, but reminded the Synod that anti-migrant hatred and racism were present in the Church of Ireland itself. There were still far too few people of colour in the Synod and church bodies. That will continue unless “supposedly decent people” do something.

The motion was then passed by the Synod.

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