Last week’s news in America was terrible, shocking, depressing, and filled with sadness. The mail bombs from Florida, the targeted killing of African Americans in Kentucky, and the massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh can’t help but raise the questions of our country, “What have we become?”, “What are we becoming?”, and perhaps more troubling, “What are we returning to?” Our current national climate has emboldened sentiments that we may have thought and hoped were fading into history, but in fact seem only to have been waiting for permission to rise up again.Save for the fact that these atrocities were perpetrated by disgruntled and disturbed middle-aged white men, there are not a lot of common denominators to these acts, but there is at least one.
Cesar Sayoc in Florida was an ardent Trump supporter, who hated Democrats.
Robert Bowers in Pittsburgh didn’t seem to like President Trump much at all, but hated Jewish people.
Gregory Bush in Kentucky seemed simply to hate black people.
Each man not only hated a group of people he considered a threat, he had let that emotion grow to the point of being willing to take human lives. Those final acts of violence had been cultivated and allowed to gestate. There were seeds that were allowed to grow into fruit. This points to how we can personally respond to last week.
All Americans and Christians of all people need to be on guard against allowing any hatred or dehumanization of ‘the other’ find a foothold in our hearts, lest it gestate. Surely there are people we may not appreciate, and some we feel threatened by, but encountering them near or afar is an opportunity to exercise our fundamental commitment to love one another and ‘the other’, to show kindness and respect, and conscientiously affirm and uphold the dignity of their human life. Further, our Lord Jesus demonstrates his response to perceived enemies, which is nothing less than sacrificial love (Romans 5.6-9). Jesus’ response to ‘the other’ and the enemy is the benchmark for his follower’s response.
Hatred, whether seeds or fruit, has no place in the Christian heart. Indeed, to hate another human being is the demonstration of not knowing God at all (1 John 4.20 “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar”).
Beyond this individual and private discipline and practice, there are societal practices as well, namely, standing up for and defending those people and communities who are targets of violence or any form of dehumanization, no matter how subtle. In fact, it is particularly when it is subtle that it is most important to act, for seeds become fruit. In our country now, those vulnerable communities would include Jewish people, African Americans, and immigrants.
This Christian’s response to last week’s spasms of hate is twofold: First, it has been to search my own heart for any seeds of hatred to any group or person, to confess it, root it out, and recommit myself to love them and all, as way of life and and as a concrete practice. Second, it is recommitting to efforts to defend, stand up, and speak out for any group of people who find themselves under threat in this national climate of emboldened bigotry and awakened hate.