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27 February 2015

Do we need to talk about Kevin (or Harry)?

Do we need to talk about Kevin (or Harry)?

Wikicommons CC: Catherine Kõrtsmik, Flickr: U-19

In a week of troubling stories, one that has piqued my interest, but not received much coverage so far, is the case of West Ham supporters being reported to the FA by Kevin Kilbane, a former footballer turned TV pundit. The reason for the report was that a large number of fans were heard chanting about the Tottenham striker Harry Kane, that "he talks like a mong and plays like one too.” 

In the little reporting of the story that there has been, it has been noted that Kilbane himself was not present at the game. This fact seems to have set off the social media comments. What right does Kilbane have to, as some see it, victimise West Ham fans? Many say Kilbane was raising the issue because he has two daughters who have Down’s Syndrome, and is a patron of the Down’s Syndrome Association. 

Being charitable, one might suggest that those fans – and there were several hundred by all accounts – chanting about Kane didn’t know the derogatory power of the words they were using. But perhaps they did, and that was the point. Of course, football supporters often chant to try to gain one up on the opposition, to support their team in the ultimate quest of victory at all costs. I

s it right, though, that anything can be done or said, in the pursuit of this aim? What if the chants had related to race, gender, or sexual orientation? Certainly one would expect more prominent reporting, ejection from the ground and perhaps even prosecution. Most clubs have a zero tolerance policy on discrimination these days. 

So, why is this troubling? It shows that disability, and difference, is seen as fair game as a tool for oppression. It is symptomatic of something of a current societal curse in my view that those who are different can be laughed at, dismissed, or worse, cast aside and trodden underfoot. 

Are we in danger of creating an ever-bigger underclass, of deciding who is deserving of compassion or support based on their ability or contribution to society? Is this something that we are comfortable with? 

As Christians we are called to “love God, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, love ourselves and love our neighbours” (Mark 12:31). What does this look like, and how can we shine the light of Christ prophetically into our society, so that we do not discriminate against or diminish another on the basis of any perceived lack and that, instead, we see the beauty of God in each person that He has made? Victory at any cost has no place in the kingdom of God. Disabling and diminishing others has no place in the kingdom of God. Elevating ourselves over another or over a group, on any basis, has no place in the kingdom of God. 

We are called to lives of humility, loving service of God and others, and joyful obedience to God’s call to follow Him in laying ourselves down in lives of love. Our society may, or may not, realise it yet, but we have a gospel imperative to live lives that point to the radical alternative offered by Jesus as the only way to truly live. In the meantime, let’s show love by acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. 

Haydon Spenceley is assistant curate in the Emmanuel Group of Churches, Northampton.