I generally try to make a blog post about once a week. So when I posted last night, I figured I was done for the week. However, during my hike this morning before church, while listening to the Daily Audio Bible for today, God let me know He had other ideas. The thought occurred to me, courtesy of God, I believe, that I needed to add a part two to my post from last night. And that I need to do it today. So, here I am, and there you are, probably thinking I’m weird. That’s OK, though–everyone thought Noah was weird for building a giant boat in the middle of the desert…
So here goes. Following my post with thoughts and a plea to end racism, here are some ideas that address the present, increasingly unpleasant outcomes that are resulting from racist violence, idiotic and cowardly though they may be.
My first observation is that violence begets more violence. If you punch me once, I may punch you three times to retaliate and “teach you a lesson.” The lesson you learn, though, is that you need to use a better weapon than your fist, so you pull out a knife and give me a nasty cut. Do you think that will be the end of it? Not if I have a gun and am inclined to use it. And so it goes with the escalating cycle of violence. By worldly standards, hardly anyone would blame either of us for acting the way we did, with the possible exception of your initial action of punching me. Unless, of course, I cut you off on the freeway or slighted you in some other way.
So here’s an important lesson: violence is not the answer for ending violence. It only leads to the crazy situations we’re seeing now where extreme, violent protesters at both crazy ends of the political spectrum show up to protest and counter-protest. Does anyone really think either group has as their primary goal an immediate end to racism? Or even helping a particular racial group, or anyone other than themselves?
Well then, you may ask, how can we possibly break this escalating cycle of violence happening in so many cities across our country?
Here’s a crazy idea, straight from the lips of God’s Son: Forgiveness.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
But how are we going to eradicate violent, racist behavior by forgiving people? That’s a very fair question, and I don’t really have a good answer for you, other than to say that this is God’s plan to achieve that.
I would also point out that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was aware of the futility of violence and riots in response to the blight of racism, and the need for forgiveness:
“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Still, forgiveness may not seem like much of an answer. It may seem so passive and weak. But it is really just the opposite. It takes much more courage and strength of character not to repay evil for evil. Imagine the fortitude required to follow Jesus’ directions about this, from the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)
Although you may not be convinced, at least consider these idea that by forgiving a slight against you (or a race of people):
- You are not saying that what happened was OK–there could and should be consequences, and something needs to be changed to keep it from happening again, and,
- You enable yourself to stay calm and rational.
Good decisions can only be made when people are calm and rational. Only good decisions can lead to lasting and meaningful change. Yes, it’s entirely possible that an ancestor of mine mistreated an ancestor of yours. Of course, the reverse is also possible. As tragic as that may be, we must find a way to set that aside, to forgive one another and our ancestors, and to seek or create that common ground upon which we can stand to drive us toward the brighter future envisioned by Dr. King and other intelligent men of God and of peace:
I know I’m running long, but this is important stuff. Let me leave you with some real-world examples where people have demonstrated forgiveness against impossible odds. It seems really hard to imaging having the grace to offer forgiveness in these situations, but God has a way of helping us through trying times, and helping us to shine His light in the darkness by doing so.
Corrie Ten Boom and her family were leaders in the Dutch Underground, hiding countless Jewish people from the Nazis and helping them escape to safety. When they were discovered, she and her family were sent to various Nazi concentration camps themselves. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, spent several long and grueling years at Ravensbruck, where Betsie was eventually executed, but Corrie survived.
Following the war, Corrie was faced with one of the Nazi guards responsible for the death of her sister. Instead of bitterness and hatred, Corrie chose to forgive them man. She and Betsie had learned in Ravensbruck that "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." (quote from her book, The Hiding Place).
From this experience, Corrie Ten Book launched a worldwide ministry in which she proclaimed God's love and encouraged everyone she met with the message that "Jesus is Victor."
For 100 days beginning in April, 1994, thousands of people from Rwanda's Hutu ethnic majority perpetrated unspeakable violence against their fellow countrymen from the Tutsi minority, as well as Hutu people who refused to take part in the genocide. Nearly one million people were killed.
How can a nation move forward after a devastating episode like that?
Since then, Rwanda has been very intentional about reconciliation. The government created a National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. Christian organizations have stepped in to help, including once called Prison Fellowship Rwanda. This group formed seven "reconciliation villages," which are small groups of homes for those convicted of violent crimes during the genocide and those impacted by their crimes. Prison Fellowship Rwanda created a way to connect the perpetrators with the families they harmed. Reconciliation has been happening and continues to happen through open discussions across the two groups, and via community-centered activities in which they must work together for the good of their community. Pastor Deo Gashagaza, one of the organization's founders, said, "It's painful, but it's a journey of healing."
The govenment's National Unity and Reconciliation Commission created a "reconciliation barometer," which looks at quite a few factors that attempt to measure how well people are living together. In 2015, just over 20 years after the attempted genocide, the country determined that reconciliation in Rwanda was at 92.5%.
Closer to home and even more recently, there was a mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, on June 17, 2015. Nine African Americans were killed during a Bible study by a white supremacist, whom I won't give the dignity of naming here. At a hearing for the perpetrator just two days later, relatives of the nine victims had the chance to address the assailant via video teleconference. Although not everyone was able to speak or bring themselves to forgiveness, some people conveyed their anger or profound sadness and sense of loss, but also expressed that they were extending God's grace and forgiveness to the villain.
For example, Nadine Collier, whose mother Ethel Lance was killed, said, ""I forgive you.... You took something really precious from me. I will never talk to her ever again, I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you and have mercy on your soul."
Also, the sister of DePayne Middleton-Doctor said, “I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family...is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”
Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simmons, summarized that the forgiveness and pleas for the perpetrator's soul were proof that “hate won’t win.”
Here is the list of the people who died in that shooting, to honor their memories and the legacy of love and forgiveness that they left behind:
Clementa C. Pinckney(41) – the church's pastor
Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54) – a Bible study member and manager for the Charleston County Public Library system
Susie Jackson (87) – a Bible study and church choir member
Ethel Lee Lance (70) – a church officer
Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49) – a pastor who was also employed as a school administrator and admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University
Tywanza Sanders (26) – a Bible study member; grandnephew of victim Susie Jackson
Daniel L. Simmons (74) – a pastor who also served at Greater Zion AME Church in Awendaw, SC
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45) – a pastor; also a speech therapist and track coach at Goose Creek High School
Myra Thompson (59) – a Bible study teacher