A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
13th August 2006
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Recent unpleasant comments by an actor and a cricket commentator have raised considerable public ire.
The actor was drunk at the time and the cricket commentator thought he was off the air. The actor made ridiculous comments about Jews. The commentator made a jocular reference to a Muslim cricketer as “the terrorist”.
There is no evidence that the commentator thought for a moment that the cricketer in question was in any way associated with terrorism. He apologised for his foolish jest both publicly and to the cricketer.
Unfortunately for the actor, his father is known to hold some very questionable views about Jews. Furthermore some critics labelled his recent movie about the crucifixion of Jesus “anti-Semitic”. This has fuelled the accusation that his drunken expletives about the Jews, reflected his real feelings and attitudes. His public apology has done little to answer his critics.
These two unrelated events raise several issues.
The nature of private and public conversation is different. Our language is tailored to the relationship we have with our hearer or audience. The way we speak in one set of relationships is different to the way we speak in another. There is formal language by which we address public events that is quite different to private communication.
Where in a relationship there is suspicion or hostility, words must be very measured. For harsh words stir up strife and the gentle answer turns aside anger.
The depth of a friendship enables people to say outlandish things without offence given or taken or any misunderstanding. There are family jokes that outsiders never get. It is important that for the sake of public formality that we do not censor out of all private relationships and conversation the sense of fun.
It is the lack of relationship that forces our public communication to be much more circumspect. It is why the community has an interest in censorship of public media. The way things are said, the crudity or violence of language, is important. Offence can and is (in our present public entertainment industry) often given.
Drunks lose their sensitivities to the relationship, place and occasion. They speak and act inappropriately. That this drunken actor spoke stupid lies is not surprising - it is what drunks do. That our society tolerates and promotes drunkenness is appalling. That he was driving while drunk is criminal. As a public role model who has benefited enormously from his public position it is to be hoped that rather than being excused for drink driving he is made an example. Drunk driving is one of the scourges of modern society.
Members of the public media love to catch the people they do not like saying something in one context and use it another (inappropriate) context. It is meant to expose hypocrisy but it just exposes the duplicity of the modern media. It presents the media in high moral ground when in fact it is unnecessarily stirring up strife between people.
However having made allowance for all these things it is still important to object strongly to what these two men said.
It is important that whenever tribalism or racism raises its ugly head that we denounce it.
There have been many horrific genocides in the twentieth century. Few of them have been so specifically intentionally ethnic based as the holocaust. Any hint of anti-Semitic racism should immediately make us nervous.
This is not to approve of anything or everything that the State of Israel does. It is not to give to the State of Israel a special place in the purposes of God. It is not to deny the historical fact that Jesus was crucified by the Romans at the instigation of the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem. But it is to object to calling all Jews Christ-killers. He died for our sins. It was my sin that held him on the cross. I must blame nobody else. In particular I must not blame the Jews.
Similarly given the present tensions between nations and people over Islam and terrorism, we cannot afford to make jokes that could worsen the situation. This is not to whitewash Islamic terrorists, nor to raise important questions about religious freedoms in Islamic society, nor to challenge the Islamic claim for truth. But Muslims are not the only people throwing bombs and not all Muslims are terrorists or the supporters of terrorism.
Sinfulness is a universal phenomenon. No one group of people have a monopoly on sin. We are not to excuse any group as if they do not sin, nor accuse them as if they only sin. We rather should look to ourselves, knowing that Jesus warned that every idle word will be judged.
Thankfully just as sin is a universal phenomenon, Jesus death was for the sins of the whole world. So whether we are Jewish, Arabic or Australian we can find forgiveness and transformation in him.