On Saturday, a group of people rallied in Charlottesville, VA to boast of their pride over an ugly seam of hate that still runs through America. Things quickly got out of control and due the act of an unbalanced 20 year old from Ohio who decided to use his car as a weapon, one woman died on the street of that beautiful college town. I, along with thousands of others prayed for unity in America yesterday, as was fitting. Anger, fear, and loathing of others who are ‘different’ is as old as humanity. Hateful words and violent acts are not new in this day. As much as ever, this nation (indeed, this world) needs the robust message of Christ’s Gospel, one that goes beyond pulpit prayers to overtake our Monday morning lives! Some seem to think that the best response to people like the Neo-Nazi’s in Charlottesville is to silence them. I wonder if that is really true? Might we instead let the ignorance of their words become evident even as we surround them with demonstrated unity and powerful acts of caring?
Today you and I will have opportunities to interact with people who are hateful, prejudiced, repeating things they have heard. We need to learn to say “talk to me,” and, in an honest, courageous conversation, bring to light those things that are repugnant without anger. Asking another if they have really thought about that statement, asking them to go deeper than their emotions, could provide a exposure that leads to change. Is it hard? Yes, it is difficult to listen wisely! This is not appeal to just give an uncritical forum to prejudice or hatred. Please do not read it that way. Proverbs reminds us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” (Proverbs 15:1-2, NIV)
The further wisdom of the Word teaches us to meet evil and overcome it, not with violence or power, but with love. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NIV)
Not along ago, I sat with a man who spewed hatred and racism. My first inclination was to tell him to shut his mouth, that he was an ignorant fool! But, I decided to let him talk, listening attentively and prayerfully. I wondered to myself, “If I let him talk, will he think that I agree with him?” At appropriate moments, I interjected gentle objections, asked for clarity, and eventually his rant lost steam and he moved on. Did he repent? Not at that moment, but he met a reaction I could tell was not familiar. He was ready for me to rise up in anger and was disarmed when instead I let him talk. I continue to pray for him to experience the love of Christ that will change him from the inside out.
It takes a bold love, a mind full of the Spirit, and a heart secured in the peace of God to stand courageously in the face of hatred and gently insist on the Truth without resorting to anger that only escalates tension, but, Christian, this is our calling. Like our Savior, we meet our world, not with closed fists but rather with engagement, with a powerful desire to drag evil into the Light.
Here is a word from the Word to ponder today.
“Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person
than the shouts of a foolish king.
Better to have wisdom
than weapons of war,
but one sinner can destroy much that is good.” (Ecclesiastes 9:17-18, NLT)
Shine Jesus Shine
Lord the light of Your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness shining
Jesus Light of the world shine upon us
Set us free by the truth You now bring us
Shine on me shine on me
Shine Jesus shine
Fill this land
With the Father’s glory
Blaze Spirit blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow river flow
Flood the nations
With grace and mercy
Send forth Your word Lord
And let there be light
Graham Kendrick © 1987 Make Way Music (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
CCLI License # 810055