For the past few days, I have been trying to find words to explain my feelings about the past week. And though it has been a constant thought, I have not found the words. I have read many things---some moving, others annoying, some just ephemeral platitudes---but very few that touch on something profound or new.
I realize that when it comes to race, I am exhausted. Not of fighting for justice, but of witnessing the same discrimination, the same backlash, the same hate, over and over and over again. It is exhausting. Unfortunately, this exhaustion is making the fight for justice seem overwhelming. The psalm last Sunday asked the question, “how long?” Like an excited kid on a road trip that just wants to get where they are going, our work towards justice seems to be just as futile, though every little bit of action brings us closer to the community Christ calls us to be.
Some of you reading this will be asking yourself, “Where is this going?” or even, “What is he talking about?” And that is the thing: the crisis we are in is so ingrained within our society and our faith that many do not even perceive it. This is a crisis of evil. It is an evil that causes discrimination and visibly manifests itself though racism, or sexism, or Islamophobia, or homophobia, and so on. But beyond the visible manifestations, it is an insidious evil that is active in ways that we are not even aware of, and ends up showing itself in bias.
Hate is a byproduct of evil, and hate causes us to do many things that we otherwise would not do. You know the line, “The devil made me do it.” This is one of my great problems with the person of “the devil” or “Satan,” the way people often use the person of “Satan” as a copout. By ascribing our actions to the devil, we can bypass them and choose not to deal with it, or we can try to ignore the situation entirely.
The truth is that often when evil is present, the perpetrator is a victim as much as those hurt. Both are stripped of their relationship with each other, and that is how evil manifests itself within the world. Personally, I see evil as a malignant cancer. First it corrupts us, then it changes us, and finally it allows us to justify the evil that we purvey, blocking us from real relationships and community.
Often times we look to the hate groups or groups that we feel at the time are the purveyors of hate and point our fingers in that direction, saying, “If we can get rid of them, or change them …” The problem is that, like Satan, they are the manifestation of something that is much bigger and wholly more profound. They are a product of a broken world. Our job as people of faith is to name and rebuild those broken relationships. Just as Christ needed to fight the power of Satan, we need to take on the groups which use hate as their weapon. But we will never have a real impact, and we will never be able to effectively address hate, until we look at ourselves and ask why and in what ways do we perpetuate hate?
From mass shootings to schoolyard bullying, from increasing gay bashing to police murders of Black and Latino people, from the backlash against the police to harassment of other religious groups¾all of this is linked. It all points back to hate, and not the hate of certain groups, but the hate and judgment that come from years of decrees by the church, the insecurity of the electorate, and the greed of the powerful. But it is even more, since hate is something that we do without even knowing. When it goes unnamed and unchecked, like the cancerous evil it is, it creeps into a place where we cannot recognize it until it is too late.
So is it too late? I don’t know. I hope not, but until we look at ourselves and begin to ask how we are part of the hate, things will not change. Until we are ready to go through the difficult battles and struggles to stop it, things will not change. Until we can admit our role in hate with all groups, things will not change! We must name the hate, and we must live into the love, and every time we see hate, we must name it. But every time we see hate, let us also look for the many ways its insidious nature has overcome our lives.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen