One of the words that seems to sadly sum up current events in many corners of the globe today, not least here in North America, is division. Not only does division already exist—whether for social, religious, ideological, racial, or political reasons—but on a daily basis we are seeing division stirred up and amplified by people who are supposed to represent us all. Labelling people as “other” and “different” can provide rationale for everything from small attitude adjustments and seemingly insignificant policy changes, to catastrophic legal actions affecting entire people groups. Fostering division leads to so many of the issues and injustices we see around the world today. Which is why it is so incredibly refreshing and life-giving when we see this approach not only resisted, but turned on its head.
Last week, I was flicking through my Twitter feed, and a bright red image immediately caught my attention. It was advertising “The Great Get Together,” an event being organized in memory of the late British MP, Jo Cox. Having followed Jo’s story over the past year, and been inspired by her legacy, I was keen to learn more.
Jo Cox was a Labour Party MP who represented the constituency of Birstall in West Yorkshire, and who was known for her charitable work and commitment to poverty alleviation, justice, and equality. The leader of the Labour Party described her as someone who “was dedicated to getting us to live up to our promises to support the developing world and strengthen human rights.” Jo was married to Brendan Cox, a fellow campaigner and activist, and they had two children.
Tragically, on June 16, 2016, at the age of 41, Jo was killed by a man who claimed he was doing it for Britain. He described himself as a “political activist,” with very evident leanings to the far right, who attacked and murdered Jo for political and ideological reasons. The aftermath of this horrific crime shook people across the UK and abroad, as we were confronted by the horrors of violent extremism, perpetrated towards a person who had spent her life standing for the very opposite.
However, in the midst of this tragedy, the focus very quickly moved to Jo Cox’s legacy, and the very clear determination that this violence and hatred would not have the last word. Jo’s widower, Brendan, immediately set out to ensure that his wife’s death would not lead to more division and disunity, but that instead people would rally around the values Jo held so dear and commit to carrying on her legacy of hope. In his own words:
“The killing of Jo was a political act, an act of terrorism. But in the history of such acts, it was perhaps the most incompetent and self-defeating. An act driven by hatred, which instead has created an outpouring of love. An act designed to drive communities apart, which has instead pulled them together. An act designed to silence a voice, which instead has allowed millions of others to hear it. As a family, we will not respond to hatred with hatred. We will love like Jo did.”
It is for this reason that the Great Get Together has been launched. To mark the one year anniversary of Jo Cox’s death, this campaign is inviting people across the UK to come together on June 17th & 18th for street parties, picnics, and bake-offs, in the hope of creating the biggest street party since the Queen’s Jubilee. And the reason? To show “that there is more that unites us than divides us.”
In the face of grief and loss, this family, along with thousands of supporters across the country, have chosen to respond in a way that demonstrates the very opposite of the hatred that brought about Jo’s death. They know the truth, which is that we are all human, all equal, all created in God’s image, and that celebrating what we share is what is truly worth the effort. In an era when we are so often encouraged, whether subconsciously or blatantly, to define others by what is different, the Great Get Together serves as a powerful reminder that this mentality of otherness can be combatted … even by something as simple as a street party.
This is such an inspiring example of how the simplest of acts can demonstrate the truth of John 1:5, that darkness will never be overcome by light, and how unity and love send a much stronger message than hatred ever will. Jesus calls us to love one another—not just people who look like us or think like us, but all people—and to step outside our comfort zones to pursue unity, reconciliation, and peace.
We may not be able to participate in the Great Get Together in person – but what can we be doing, right where we are, to join in sending this message of hope and solidarity? How can we extend a hand to those we are told to fear, or whose opinions or backgrounds are different to ours? How are our lives reflecting the belief that “there is no other, there is just us”? As this campaign demonstrates, even the smallest of steps can send the loudest message.