25 Aug Radical Love: The Path to Healing
Today marks the one year anniversary of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. We are re-posting this piece, written last August, as Christ’s call to radical love,alongside conversations about racism and injustice, continue to ring true and remain urgent. Together we can do better, striving as a church to reflect the peace of Christ. We pray for a weekend of peace, steps toward unity, and a safer environment for all of God’s children.
How do you process? Whether it is new information, emotional stimulus, or making meaning of a particular event or relationship, some people are external processors and some people are internal processors. External processors discover what they “think” about something by talking out loud about it. Words—lots and lots of words—are necessary for them to arrive at the crux of any substantial issue. Internal processors are the opposite. They process by turning inward, by pulling away from noise and people into a quiet space where they can think and reflect. For some reason known only to God, these two very different types often end up marrying each other—and the adjustment to understanding and appreciating each other’s styles can be challenging. But, that is a blog for another day!
I am an internal processor, and I am still reflecting on the tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville two weekends ago, still working to find the right language to articulate what I am thinking and feeling. Some things are clear, as the statement from the Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) boldly affirms. There is no moral ambiguity when it comes to racism. Racism is abhorrent, and the church must stand on the side of justice alongside all who are willing to stand with us, as well as alongside racism’s victims. Our voice must be unequivocal. There is no place for the sin of racism in the church or in society.
It is tempting to rush to judgment, to point the finger at those racists “over there”—“How could they? How could they think or act like that? What about ‘we are all created in God’s image and loved by God’ have they not understood?” But the truth is that the seeds of racism exist in all of us. We see a person of a particular heritage, gender, and age walking toward us, and we are afraid. We criticize cultural norms that are different from our own—music, dress or names; family size; attitudes about education or religion; aspirations; decisions about money. We buy into and even repeat stereotypes—about work ethic, or physical or mental prowess, or integrity. We judge others based on our own experiences, opportunities and values, and of course, they never measure up. How could they? They don’t even necessarily share those values, and we can’t imagine why.
In the midst of my ruminations I have heard again Jesus’ call to radical love. And remember, Jesus calls us to love friend and enemy alike. What, then, does radical love look like in the face of racism? Certainly, it doesn’t mean that we condone racism. It doesn’t mean that we stay silent or fail to speak the truth. But, it also doesn’t mean that we become the very thing we decry. Anger, violence, and insults cannot be the tools of those who practice radical love, even and perhaps especially, when we are dealing with our “enemies.”
Here’s a truth that I’m afraid many of us are loathe to face: racism will not disappear because of our moral outrage. If our words of protest and rejection of despicable ideology were enough to make it go away, racism would have been left in the dustbin of America’s common life long ago. Instead, our hope and our efforts must be focused on healing the causes and the wounds of racism. In the years following apartheid, South Africa provided the world with a roadmap of how this might be done. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission invited victims and oppressors alike to participate in a process in which they could share their stories, tell and hear the truth, and eventually, extend and receive forgiveness. It was not quick and it was not easy. Radical love never is, but it is the only way that makes healing and restoration possible.
Yours for the Kingdom,
P.S. The conversation about race, justice, and radical love is an ongoing conversation, of course. This blog is in no way intended to say all that needs to be said on these matters. I invite you to think along with me in the coming months and to share your reflections here or on our Facebook page.