Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.
-Maya Angelou, 21st century
Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
-Mark Twain, 19th century
Heather Heyer. The 13 people murdered by the driver of a white van in Barcelona. The list of victims of hate continues to grow daily. Hate is a cancer that spreads and destroys whatever body – human or societal – it infects. Hatred was very much on display in Charlottesville this past weekend.
Hatred creates fear. That was the clear intention of that large group of white males who marched through the Southern town of Charlottesville with torches on Friday night. With chants of “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” their intent and symbolic action cannot be missed. No longer are hoods needed to cause intimidation. No longer is hatred cloaked in anonymity.
And intimidate they did. A large crowd packing a local church, filled with clergy from many denominations gathered to prepare themselves spiritually for the counter-demonstration planned for the next morning to spread a message of love, non-violence, and peace in the face of the planned demonstration spreading as message of racial superiority and hate were intimidated. Because that march was going on outside the church, they were told it would be better if they stayed inside at the conclusion of the worship. So they did, for an hour, waiting for the marchers to leave. They were then told it would be better to leave by the back door.
Intimidation was part of the “Unite the Right” rally the next day. Just ask the 45 members of the Jewish synagogue gathered for Sabbath worship Saturday morning as neo-Nazis marched past with Nazi flags and symbols shouting anti-Jewish slogans. Some of those 45 worshippers had families who had lived in Germany in the 1930’s and had told them stories of the rise of the Nazi party.
When hatred creates fear and intimidation it often leads to responses of hatred and intimidation, even violent lashing out. There were many who stood in the face of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi, KKK, and others gathered to spread their gospel of hate and responded with a non-violent message of love, acceptance, and peace. There were clergy from many denominations and faiths who had gathered to be a presence for non-violence and peace. Many of them were cursed at. Many of them were spit upon. Many of them were threatened. As were the members of the Black Lives Matter movement who also stood up and took abuse without responding in similar fashion.
Not everyone gathered in Charlottesville, however, responded to the hate with non-violence. There were counter-protestors who shouted their own hateful words. There were counter-protestors who also came armed with shields, clubs, and mace anticipating that the white supremacists would be so armed and ready for combat. There were angry, fearful people still present, many Charlottesville residents, the next day after the horrible tragedy who physically assaulted a leader of the Unite the Right rally when he tried to make a public statement. This is where hatred leads.
This is not the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is the counter-intuitive path of forgiveness leading to reconciliation. Forgiveness is not instinctive for us as human creatures. Holding grudges and demanding vengeance is our instinct. The way of forgiveness is the way of the cross that Jesus walked and that he calls us all to walk. It is the way of sacrifice because to offer forgiveness is to offer the greatest gift possible. It is to give the possibility for a new relationship and the possibility for redemption to those who have hurt us and who have no reason to expect any good from us.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu admits how difficult the important work of reconciliation is:
Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing.
Many people will suggest I am crazy, I am turning my back on the history of hurt, I am ignoring the hatred and violence. As Bishop Tutu reminds us, I am doing none of those things. I am trying to follow the hard teaching of Jesus who called us to “turn the other cheek, go the extra mile” – “pray for those who persecute you” – “forgive, as God has forgiven you.”
Again, I offer you the prayer I shared in this space last week as a beginning point for seeking a heart of forgiveness that lets go of hate, hurt, and fear and seeks a positive attitude of love, acceptance, and peace toward all God’s people. Which are all people on this earth.
God, grant me love. Grant me joy. Grant me peace. And grant me life abundant.
God, grant my family love. Grant my family joy. Grant my family peace. And grant my family life abundant.
God, grant my enemy love. Grant my enemy joy. Grant my enemy peace. And grant my enemy life abundant.
God, grant all your children love. Grant all your children joy. Grant all your children peace. And grant all your children life abundant.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida