Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for September 2022

On 14 May 2022, ten black people were killed by an 18 year old white youth in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. He is said to have been radicalised by Internet message boards which are an outlet for white-supremacist ideology. They promote what has come to be known as the Great Replacement Theory, a seemingly respectable academic proposition that white people in Western countries are being replaced by non-white immigrants with higher birth-rates. And it then slips into claiming that this openness to non-white foreigners is a conspiracy on the part of left-leaning political elites to win elections.  

The shooter who opened fire on a Muslim mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019, killing 51 people, also subscribed to such a conspiracy theory. A recent YouGov poll in the US showed that 61% of Trump supporters and 53% of Fox News viewers believe it to be true; and the Fox News host Tucker Carlson had mentioned replacement theory more than 400 times on his show before the shooting.

Mainstream political discourse in the United States has been infected by such racist scaremongering over non-white immigrants since the nineteenth century. First it was the Chinese, then the Japanese, and in the 1920s and 30s Jews from Europe who were seen as bringing disease, alien cultures and – along with the growing native black population- diluting white racial “purity” and weakening the power of northern Europeans who were the true Americans. The eugenicist policies of the 1920s, designed to weed out undesirable elements in the population, were imitated by Nazi doctors and politicians in Germany and directly influenced Adolf Hitler’s own pseudoscientific, anti-Jewish conspiracy theory.

Since the Second World War, similar sentiments have, from time to time, shaped immigration rhetoric and government policy in Europe and Australia. Far-right nationalist movements have made deep inroads among mainstream parties and media, playing on declining birth rates among white populations and highlighting immigrant crimes.

Suddenly Europe has become “Christian” in the rhetoric of right-wing politicians who have never opened a Bible or stepped into a church worship service. Two days after the Buffalo massacre, Hungary’s prime minister Victor Orban claimed on television that he was fighting against the “the great European population exchange” which was a “suicidal attempt to replace the lack of European, Christian children with adults from other civilizations- migrants.”

The irony, of course, is that it was white European settlers in the Americas and the Pacific who brought disease that decimated indigenous populations. But ignorance of history is rife even in countries with high levels of Internet access.

I am currently in Karlsruhe, Germany, attending the 11th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches. It is my first such Assembly, though I am very familiar with the history of the WCC (founded in 1948) and the various debates, some more acrimonious than others, that have marked its successive gatherings.

I was invited to give the keynote address on the theme “Christ’s Love and Borders” at a pre-Assembly theological track for ecumenical theologians, and am participating in the rest of the Assembly as an observer. I feel a little out of place in the midst of impressively robed Patriarchs, Metropolitans, Archbishops and Bishops. It is a surprise to discover several African Independent Churches and also Pentecostal churches affiliated with the WCC. And the Roman Catholic Church, though not formally affiliated, has been vitally involved in much of the work of the WCC through its ecumenical representatives. If only such a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation would be translated into local church ministries when the delegates return to their respective nations!

Every national church delegation brings its own agenda to the table, wanting the WCC to make official statements on this or that issue. There is criticism that the war in Ukraine has been given far more prominence than other bloody conflicts raging outside Europe. The Palestinians want a resolution condemning Israel as an apartheid state. It is strongly opposed by the Germans, including the German President who addressed the Assembly on the opening day. Talking with Germans and other Europeans, I discover so much ignorance about the Israeli citizenship laws, let alone the numerous violations of international law by the state of Israel. It looks like the Palestinians will continue to suffer from German collective guilt over the Shoa. And all the denunciations of colonialism will ignore Israel (the last European colonizer) and the numerous internal colonialisms in the Global South.

Whatever the outcomes of such resolutions, I hope that the WCC will continue to serve the churches as a forum where different theological voices can be brought into conversation with each other; and that whenever it does address the wider world, it will do so with a message and sensibility that are profoundly Christian.



September 2022