by Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom
Once again a deranged man armed with a high capacity rifle has entered sacred space, this time in Pittsburgh, taking the lives of as many as possible. Eleven are dead at The Tree of Life Synagogue. Already the political drums are beating with each viewpoint blaming the other. While I have a definite point of view in the placement of blame, such is not the point of this article. There is before us as American people a larger question to be explored.
What is the nature of this hateful dynamic we seem to be experiencing in America?
For the purpose of this article, I accept that we humans are flawed and that hate is not an uncommon condition. What I am pointing towards is the dramatic increase in hate driven behavior over the last year. For example, there has been a 57% increase in anti-Semitic acts over the last year. The figures are similar for immigrants, Latinos, and blacks, so I consider again the nature of this behavioral dynamic. This is not a concern that can or should be minimized as Saturday was the largest slaughter of Jews in the history of America. The aftermath has the feel of the early days post 911.
On the Friday preceding our latest massacre my spouse and I went to see a movie. “The Hate You Give” is currently in selected movie theaters and also exists as a book by the same title. While it is categorized as Young Adult fiction, do not be misled, this is an insightful, sensitive and powerful examination of America’s culture of hate.
The primary person in the narrative is a black, female high school student named Starr. She is with her best childhood friend when they are pulled over by police. The friend is subsequently killed by the officer as he takes a brush and proceeds to comb his hair.
The heart of the story is centered on the power of hate. Without unreasonable bias, there is an examination of how “hate” circulates throughout the community infecting all those it touches. It is with deep disappointment that I note that Mary Ann and I were half of the attendance at the movie.
Our country, to a significant extent, was built on the backs of slaves. Its very foundation is mixed with their blood. If you disagree please note the latest discovery of the bodies of slaves found in Sugar Land, TX. The bodies show the inhuman conditions under which they worked in the sugar cane fields of Texas and Louisiana.
Such inhumanity, such cruelty, such sin is not easily achieved. It is contrary to the goodness that God has placed in each human heart. So in order to act towards our fellow humans in such a manner, we must drown out our goodness with hate. The simple but profound message of “The Hate U Give” is that what goes around will inevitably come around.
Look around and listen for yourself, everywhere those capable of the most hateful rhetoric are rising in prominence. There are times when I find myself energized in a like manner.
Part of me wants to literally hate those with whom I most disagree. And then I remember the one whom I am called to serve. I write here of Jesus the Christ.
Jesus was angry in the Temple but he did not hate. Jesus had every reason to hate the Centurion but he embraced him in love. Please note, we are not talking about one who ran from a fight. Jesus remained prophetic to the very end, but he refused to hate. There in the garden shortly before his death, he knew the cost, and he longed to live. Having turned his face towards Jerusalem, he embraced his own death but he refused to hate.
Eleven are dead in Pittsburgh, others wounded including police, and more will die of senseless violence in the future. There is no level of earthly security that can stop every occasion of cruelty. More guns, more police, increased capital punishment…hate will always find a way.
So, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, leave your guns at home and as Jesus taught, “Do not return evil for evil.” When we speak of love in the face of hate and do good in response to bad, we dampen the fires of hatred. When it is damp enough the fire fades. If you think I write of retreat you misunderstand. Like Jesus, our faces are turned towards Jerusalem whether it be Gethsemane or the Promised Land. We speak up, we write, we protest but we do not give in to hate. We do not de-humanize even the worst of offenders, but rather confront in love. Only love can defeat hate. We follow Jesus.