I spent some time last Sunday at the Bethlehem Baptist Church at an event sponsored by the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance and others. The event was called the "Hate Won't Win" Challenge.
It was an outgrowth of the murder of nine people at the Charleston, SC Emanuel AME Church and victims’ families’ reaction to their loss. You may remember the event: nine people, including three clergy, were killed by a young racial terrorist bent on starting a race war.
Here was my reaction at the time: "If we wish to see racism in its purest form, we need look no farther than the events at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last night. Disgust, contempt and anger are the appropriate reactions to the murder of nine people gathered in prayer."
But then, in the aftermath of this mass murder, something totally extraordinary happened. At the arraignment hearing for the murderer, family members of the victims stood up, condemned the act and then went on to express forgiveness to the shooter. Forgiveness. Now that takes some kind of grit: more grit than I think I have.
Fast forward to Sunday at Bethlehem Baptist in Tacoma. Addressing those in attendance were Alana and Ava Simmons. They are two young adult granddaughters of victim Rev. Daniel Simmons. They were among the people willing to express forgiveness to the perpetrator of the atrocity. And at Bethlehem Baptist, they spoke to members of our community.
They explained why they chose the difficult path of forgiveness. They claimed it was because they saw it as the single most powerful weapon to counter the evil that was shown to them.
And then they threw down a moral challenge. The challenge was (1) for each of us to examine our own attitudes, ideas and conduct, and root out bits of hatred we may find and (2) for each of us to call out hate and stand against it when we see it.
Now, I tend to be somewhat cynical, so I know that this may well sound overly idealistic. But Alana and Ava Simmons are not starry-eyed people speaking theoretically about how hate is a "bad thing." These two young women recently suffered a deep loss. They admitted that the approach they took was counter-intuitive. They said it was not their first inclination. But, in the terrible, painful aftermath of murder, they joined with other families determined to see that "hate won't win." They took a central component of Christian belief and actually applied it in the real world.
I spoke to those gathered at the church. I noted that I work with men and women in the Sheriff's Department who regularly deal with complex, dangerous situations and who often show courage and moral strength.
But I told the two Simmons sisters that their courage and their strength and that of the other victims’ family members who offered forgiveness and foreswore hatred – their courage and their strength – humbled me and humbled many people that I know.
"Hate won't win." That was the message.
It is a pretty radical idea. It means we should forego hate when much of what is inside of us leans toward righteous anger. I know the anger part. I know it from when my brother was shot. I know it when I see victims of terrible violent crimes.
"Hate won't win." A simple phrase. But tough to put into practice. "Hate won't win." It has lots of applications in America today.
Perhaps we could start by applying it to on-going personal disputes. And then we could extend it into our political discourse and tone down over-heated rhetoric about liberals hating conservatives and conservatives hating liberals.
It certainly deserves to be applied to America’s complex racial divide: all of the mistrust and resentment and derogation of “those other people.” Perhaps we can also apply it at the street level so gang members stop targeting one another and targeting their communities. Perhaps we in law enforcement could look within and re-dedicate ourselves to the hard task of doing justice and undoing injustice. And finally, we might apply it to stop violent rhetoric against police and attacks on law enforcement officers.
"Hate won't win." With some real work on our part, it can be more than a slogan. Even if we lack the strength for courageous forgiveness, we all have something to gain from undermining hate.