OPINIONLet’s give up hate speech for Lent
In Western churches, it begins on Ash Wednesday, six and a half weeks before Easter (April 12), and provides for a 40-day fast (Sundays are excluded), in imitation of Jesus Christ fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.
And while strict fasting laws have been relaxed — only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are now kept as Lenten fast days — the emphasis on repentance and almsgiving remains, and many Catholics also observe a meatless fast on Friday during Lent.
In addition, many Christians often choose to give up specific pleasures, such as sweets, alcohol or social media, for Lent as a way to foster simplicity and self-control; many use their cravings or desires for these items as a reminder to pray and to refocus on spiritual matters.
And, now, for the sake of all humanity, I want to propose that people of faith and of no faith give up another practice during Lent, a practice that is now tragically commonplace in the U.S., infecting even the holiest of places: the use of dehumanizing language against the marginalized of our society.
Each of us must stop this practice immediately, and we must take on the practice of confronting those who continue this abhorrent behavior.
Just recently, I learned of a March 2019 meeting held in Manhattan with a Democratic candidate for president of the United States who spoke about how Democrats running for office risk alienating voters when they discuss our transgender community.
Well, let me lovingly confront Mike Bloomberg:
Mr. Bloomberg, our transgender siblings are a vital part of our church, Cathedral of Hope, and our community and are in no way negotiable. I rebuke the vile comments about my transgender community and will fight for the LGBTQ (emphasizing the T) community with every breath in my body. Candidate Bloomberg, you should personally apologize for your harmful comments.
In the interest of bipartisanship, we know that President Donald Trump’s often false, fear-stoking language has left him ill-equipped to provide the kind of unifying, healing leadership that other presidents projected in times of national tragedy. His hateful name-calling — as is the case with other elected leaders — is too often normalized as “just politics.”
But all of us know better.
Sadly, today, we find ourselves in a social space in which hatred and hate speech have been mainstreamed in ways that exceed anything we have seen in the recent past.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, displays and demonstrations in support of hateful white supremacy ideology in the U.S. doubled last year, and Texas led the nation in numbers of instances in which supremacists distributed material that was racist, anti-Semitic or anti-LGBTQ.
And this increase in hateful speech is happening at the same time that we are experiencing more violence against ethnic and religious minorities in our nation.
Personal attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16-year-high in 2018 in the U.S., according to the FBI, with a significant increase in violence against Latinos. Further, the murders of the faithful while they are attending worship services is a horrific recurring event in our nation.
Dehumanizing language is dangerous. Let us never forget something we don’t often talk about publicly in the United States: Stage 4 of Gregory Stanton’s Ten Stages of Genocide: dehumanization.
“Dehumanization is when one group treats another group as second-class citizens,” Stanton describes. “Members of a persecuted group may be compared with animals, parasites, insects or diseases. When a group of people is thought of as ‘less than human,’ it is easier for the group in control to murder them. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to make the victims seem like villains. In fighting this dehumanization, one must remember that there is no right of ‘freedom of speech’ to tell people to commit murder.”
I am saddened that I even ask this of my human family members, but we’ve reached an apex in our public discourse where I must speak up as a person of faith or risk the well-being of my soul. This Lent, all of us must give up dehumanizing language and confront, in love, those who still practice it.
The Rev. Neil G. Thomas is senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, a member congregation of the United Church of Christ. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.