Photo: Washington Star-Bernie Boston (1967)
When you see them, it is easy to let rage overtake you–yes, I feel it, too. These angry men shouting disgusting things, wearing symbols of hate, carrying flags of oppression, they are easy targets for retaliatory hatred. Human nature drives us to pick up baseball bats and meet them in the streets matching shout for shout and, eventually, blow for blow. That’s what would feel good in the heat of the moment. But human nature almost always fails us and hate does not kill hate, hate fuels hate.
Empathy kills hate.
Kindness kills hate.
Love kills hate.
I realize that, in our current national climate, what I am suggesting sounds weak and unproductive but that is human nature talking.
Jesus gave us the example of how to treat these people. He calls us to be meek, to make peace, and to love our enemies and pray for them.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Matthew 5:9
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:44
All of this flies in the face of human nature, but history shows us that it is a more effective way to protest against hate and injustice. When I think of world changing resistance movements, I normally visualize those which met hate with love. I picture Martin Luther King walking arm in arm in solidarity with peaceful blacks and whites singing We Shall Overcome. I picture young people of the 60s and 70s spreading love through flower power, meekly facing the business ends of rifles with daisies. I envision Nelson Mandela coming to realize that civil resistance was much more effective in bringing about change than violence.
How can we stave off our human nature, which is screaming at us to go down to the klan rally and crack skulls?
We have to try to find some empathy for those hate-filled brothers and sisters–and remember that they are, indeed, our brothers and sisters.
Without empathy, we are lost–empathy slowly melts hate.
When I see a group of klansmen rallying in the public square, I try to also picture an image like this one…
Photo: Gainesville Times-Todd Robertson (1992)
Barack Obama, in reaction to the events in Charlottesville, wrote the most popular tweet in the history of Twitter…
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…”
-Barack Obama (quoting Nelson Mandela on Twitter)
His message is simple, but true. Hate of other races is taught. Place toddlers of all shades in a playground together and you aren’t likely to get a race riot. Little kids don’t care what color skin their playmate has. Those angry men in Charlottesville were toddlers once, too. But because of their unique situations, they were taught to fear, mistrust, and hate whole groups of people. They were taught that God gave them a nation and that these “other groups” of people were invading and threatening to take away what was rightfully theirs. As they grew older, their confirmation bias reinforced their fears. Over time, their hate, thus fueled, blossomed into a vile bloom.
If any one of us were born into such families, we could find ourselves in their shoes–there but by the grace of God…
When we gather in the streets to meet hate with hate, we are reinforcing their fears and fueling their hate.
What if, instead of engaging them with angry shouts and counter-insults, we met them, arm in arm in solidarity and love?
What if, instead of wielding picket signs and baseball bats, we brought them bottled water and refreshments and sang songs of unity?
What if, instead of sending the message that we hate them right back, we offered to them that we are not their enemy, that we are all on the same team–that God loves us all in spite of our failed human nature?
What if, instead of using our bullhorns to cover up their message with insults, we used them to lift up the oppressors in amplified prayer?
I submit that if the resistance could approach hate like that, history would smile upon us–and so would God Almighty.
Wouldn’t that be radical resistance?