In 1964, I was a fourth grader in an all-white elementary school in Alabama when we had two African American girls become part of our class as desegregation reached our little school. I was a big-eyed nine year old wondering what to make of it all.
The first day we were all anxious because it was a new thing for us. I can’t even imagine what was going through the minds and emotions of our two new classmates. In my memory, after a few days we were just a bunch of silly fourth graders. I hope this is their memory too.
In my high school in the 70’s, we experienced some racial problems. There was a stabbing during a morning break and the days that followed were tense. I remember riding a school bus with a deputy sheriff escort behind our bus. It was a scary time with tensions running high.
Just so you know, I am a southern born and reared, white conservative male. Only to give more credibility to my words, you must know that black people have slept in my home, ate at my table, and preached from my pulpit. I too have slept in their home, ate at their table, and preached from their pulpit. Yet, I am not perfect, and many are my flaws.
This past week, racism with its actions and reactions has been at the forefront of the news as we witnessed George Floyd, an African American man, die under the knee of a white police officer while he was pleading for his life. There was a collective national denouncement and outrage over Mr. Floyd’s senseless death. This kind of thing should never happen.
The pent-up anger started with peaceful and legal protest and then certain groups and individuals have escalated it into looting and destructive activities. It has been troubling to watch from the man dying to the cities being destroyed. As Americans, we have a constitutional right to protest but no one has a right to destroy. No one can build their community by burning their house down.
After watching and listening, I had this overriding thought— “The antidote for hate is love”. I know that may sound like a worn-out cliché, but it is the truth. We do not need more hate; we need more love. The only way hate can be eliminated is by the displacement by love. Jesus commanded that we love our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 19:19).
He even takes it a step further, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,/ that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45 NKJV).
Jesus places a high standard on love in our dealings with each other. Here are five points concerning love as an antidote for hate. Please read and consider these points on the reflective side of the mirror.
Love is Sacrificial.
Jesus gave us His standard of sacrificial love, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you./ Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:12-13 NKJV).
Jesus gave His life for the world. We are to lay our lives down for our neighbors. The term “friend” is not an opt out for us but should be interpreted as “others”. And the “lay down one’s life” includes more than martyrdom, it is also sacrificial giving, living, and serving.
If the way of love was the easiest route, everyone would take it, but it is difficult. We emotionalize love in trivia fashion, but real Christ-like love is laden with sacrifice. When we put others’ interest ahead of our own, it is a sacrifice in the truest sense. This is what Jesus calls us to.
Love Seeks to Understand.
No two people have the same experiences and there are emotions attached to each of our experiences. This is evident in so many situations including and beyond racism. Peoples’ actions and reactions are influenced by their history. A young girl who was abused by her father may have a difficulty in trusting men. In another example, someone who has been lied to all their life may have difficulty believing anyone. Those who have been unjustly treated by persons of authority may not trust authority. The list goes on and on.
If we take the time to listen, we will understand each other better. It will take a true conversation with both sides seeking to listen first. Real love wants to really understand more than to lecture.
Just remember, everyone has a story and it may be painful to hear.
Love is Patient and Kind.
Words from the scriptural chapter on charity says that “Love suffers long and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4a NKJV). This phrase is so greeting card familiar, the salt may have lost its seasoning with us. Real love causes discomfort—it hurts. This does not mean we tolerate abuse. It means, in our journey with Jesus on the road of love, there will be some difficulties we endure. The life of love is not only rose petals but also of thorns.
Serving and loving others is often inconvenient and burdensome. The true lover of humanity will bear under the difficulties to help and to heal. We are to bear one another’s burdens and to be kind in the process. Hate and hurt engrained over centuries and decades takes patience and kindness to heal. Just as love is to be given, it also must be received.
Love Does Not Have a Selfish Agenda.
The very essence of Christian love is “otherness”. We are commanded to love God and love others. When we really love others, most people will overlook our faults and see our good intentions. Humility is the key to loving others and humility opens the door for mutual understanding.
We will be heard when we whisper not when we shout.
“Love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;/ does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil (1 Corinthians 13:4b-5 NKJV).
The Effect of Love Takes Time.
One of the problems with love being the antidote for hate is time. A culture of hate dies slowly, and love is a systemic antidote that takes a long time to be effective. In the battle against prejudice, racism, and hate, there are some short term victories but many are a long time in coming.
Think about a weed in your yard. You could just yank it up by the roots which is a quick fix, but you damage everything around it. Yet, if you carefully spray a systemic week-killer on it, it may not seem immediately affected but over days you will see the weed begin to wither away until it is gone.
A person of one race who has been wronged by one of another race, may not feel any different on the first application of genuine love. He/she who experiences genuine love will eventually begin to see the difference after some time. It takes time and many applications of Christ-like love to displace hate and even the perception of hate.
It is a sad paradox that many of the historic personalities who have been advocates of non-violence have died violent deaths. Beginning with Jesus Christ and to name a few others, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, these all died at the hands of angry men, yet their deaths liberated the hearts of many who were bound by hate.
In this broken world, there will always be hate. But there will also be those who love God and who love their brothers. The light of Christ has come into this darkness, we must commit to be sons of God who shine with the light and love of Jesus.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21 NKJV).
How do we change the world? We change the world by first changing ourselves. Every person lives in the middle of a circle of his own influence; so sow seeds of love in that circle. Seeds spread to other circles and when the circles of love connect to form larger circles, then a culture changes into one dominated by love not hate. Go look in the mirror—start there!
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice./ And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NKJV).
Yours on the Journey,
Harry L. Whitt