Relaxed immigration laws, generous welfare benefits and free public housing have made countries like Sweden an attractive destination for people escaping from impoverished and politically unstable nations. Many “native” Swedes reacted to the riots with shock and confusion. Why would people who came to Sweden voluntarily, seeking a better life and opportunity, be so filled with rage toward Swedish authorities?
The answer to this question is difficult to unpack. The persistent wealth gap between immigrants and native Europeans is certainly a factor. Most agree that even after a couple of generations of living in Europe, many immigrants do not feel like part of the mainstream culture. Some believe this is deliberate—that such individuals, Muslims in particular, have no desire to acculturate to the ways of their adopted homeland. Others believe the “native” Europeans themselves consider such immigrants “the other” and do not welcome them culturally, even if they welcome them on paper. As with most things in life, it is probably a little bit of both.
But perhaps all those who would lecture America to look to Europe for lessons in harmonious multicultural living may begin to reconsider their advice. The fact is that ethnic tensions began rising in Europe as soon as the population of non-white immigrants grew to a significant size. (In just ten years, the percentage of immigrants in Sweden has almost doubled.) Their previous reputation for racial and cultural enlightenment was surely due as much to the rarity of non-whites as to anything else.
As any pastor leading a multiethnic congregation knows, it is tough to teach people from different backgrounds to get along. Unless there is a common set a values—ideals that transcend skin color and other cultural preferences—harmony is nearly impossible. In this country, the basis for common ground was once found in the Judeo-Christian tradition: that all humans bear God’s image and are thus equal in value and worthy of liberty. Much of Europe jettisoned these “antiquated” thoughts long ago. But in a rapidly shrinking world, where are we to find hope, if not in Truth that has stood the test of time?
Standing against racism is the responsibility of all Christians. We each can be sure our daily talk is sprinkled with the acceptance of people of all ethnicities. We can be sure we reach out to those who are different than us and become examples of reconciliation. And we can initiate conversations with our children to help them understand what their response should be when they see such injustice.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.