Challenging idolatry and not standing by

By Savi Hensman
January 27, 2016

'Don’t stand by' has been the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2016 (27 January). This is of crucial importance but easier to say than to put into practice.

Many people know that we should act when others are victimised because of their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. However taking action can be hard – and not just because of personal prejudice or fear.

For a start, we tend to be brought up to believe or at least obey governments, even when they behave in brutally oppressive ways. This especially applies to public officials, police and members of the security forces.

So the state can become an idol. So can certain media, political parties, religious institutions, business organisations and ‘community leaders’. Even non-believers may believe that we should do as we are told if we are to show that we truly belong. Otherwise we can find that we too are in a lonely and sometimes risky place.

In addition, when waves of scapegoating sweep through communities and societies, these can be hard to resist. If defending the human rights of people of a particular ‘type’ is widely thought to be anti-social, this can be difficult to do. The wish to act virtuously can be twisted to persuade us to do the opposite.

However almost all of us can do something, however small, to encourage a broader view of humanity and duty that crosses boundaries of group and nation. We can also get better at questioning what we are told by those with power and encouraging others to do the same.

Faith-based and political groups, trade unions, voluntary organisations and friendship networks can be swept along with the tide. Or they can become communities of resistance to destructive forces, even when backed by authority.

Doing something about hate crime and other abuses which are condemned by those around us is valuable. But even when those being mistreated are supposedly ‘criminal types’, ‘scroungers’, ‘aliens’ or a threat to ‘our’ way of life, it is also vital not to stand by.


* Ekklesia associate Savitri Hensman is the author of Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church, which can be ordered from The Book Depository AbeBooks, and Waterstones, price £12.99, or as an ebook at £3.99 from

© Savitri Hensman is a widely-published Christian commentator on politics, religion, welfare and allied topics. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the care and equalities sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.