If you don’t already know, I attend Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. Yesterday classes were cancelled for seminary wide Anti-Racism Training. We came together as a community to discuss where we are as an institution in terms of fighting systemic racism and how we are going to commit to move forward from here. At our tables we discussed what racism is, how it manifests itself in our community, what effect it has on us as a community, and what commitments we are going to make. Somewhere in the middle of all of this we were asked to reflect on God’s will for creation and why, theologically, we must oppose racism. My table agreed that God’s will is for creation to thrive. We are meant to live in harmony and peace, loving and caring for each other.
At this point it dawned on me what our problem is: we think it’s up to us to decide who deserves love. We look at the people around us and try to defend hating them because of something they have done. But where do we draw the line? I offered my table this example: It is easy to say we can hate ISIS because of the atrocious crimes they have committed, but that becomes hating any Muslim extremist, which becomes hating any Muslim, which becomes hating anyone Middle Eastern, which becomes hating anyone not American. Eventually we are left with only a small group of people who are just like us. God did not command us to love only the people who do good, or only the people who are like us. It is not up to us to decide who to love, God has already decided for us. All people are God’s creation, and it is our task to love all people.
After a long, exhausting day of talking about racism, I still had to go to Worship on Wednesdays (WOW) at the church where I am currently doing my field education. This was my first WOW with them and, because the pastor was unable to be there, it fell to me to lead Bible Study. As we wrapped up the study, one of the men asked me what I thought of the situation in Europe with the Syrian refugees. I explained that the Hebrew Scriptures on several occasions tell us to love the foreigner, the sojourner, the stranger, or in our case, the refugee (Deuteronomy 10:19, Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:34). After a few minutes of discussion an older woman spoke up and said she was worried about the Syrian refugees coming here because they are Muslim and she is scared of Muslims. Another woman quickly spoke up to remind her that most Muslims condemn the extremists like ISIS.
Most days I would have left it at that, but after the discussion earlier that day, I felt compelled to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. If you are not familiar with it, or need a refresher, in Luke 10:25-37, an expert of the law asks Jesus who his neighbor is, in reference to the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan: a man is attacked by robbers and left for dead. First a Priest, and then a Levite pass by without helping. Then a Samaritan comes by and picks the man up, bandages his wounds, and gives him the care he needs. The significance of this that many don’t realize anymore is that Samaritans and Jews hated each other. They did not even talk to each other. At the end of the parable, the expert in the law admits that it was the Samaritan who treated the injured man as his neighbor, and Jesus tells him to “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). I think many Americans view Middle Eastern Muslims in a similar way the Jews and Samaritans viewed each other. But if that is the case, we must treat them with the love, respect, and kindness with which the Samaritan in the story treated the Jewish man.
This morning when I checked Facebook I was greeted with pictures of the vandalized mosque and an invitation to go down there to show support for the community. It took me only a few minutes of reflecting on the past twenty four hours to decide I had to go. When we arrived there was already a crowd gathered, including the Imam, the Mayor of Louisville, the Chief of Police, and a local Rabbi. The Imam spoke, offering forgiveness to the vandals and condemning terrorism. The Mayor called the community to show their support by helping to repaint the mosque. The Rabbi condemned the act and the vandals’ use of the Star of David in their graffiti. Through it all I fought back tears, looking at those bright red messages of hate, wondering how people think this is right. No one knows who did this, but if it was done by “Christians” I would like to say this: This is not who Christ is, and it is not what Christ taught. The Gospels tell us to spread the love of Christ to everyone. God is love, and no one can come to know God if we only spread hate. As I laid my hand on the mosque this morning, I prayed for peace and healing for my Muslim brothers and sisters, and for those who did this to be healed of their hate. Join me in prayer and action to end the hate that poisons our society. Let us spread the love of God to all peoples, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or religion.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.