Fifty years ago, I was 12. It was 1968.
When I was 12 my grandparents talked about the Great Depression. To me it was ancient history. To our children, the 1960s are ancient history. And just like my grandparents tried to teach me the lessons of the Depression, I have tried to teach my children the lessons of our nation during my childhood - a time when hate and fear resulted in neighborhoods and cities burning, when even children cried out in venomous hate for those whom their parents identified as the despised “others,” and when defending “our way of life” was seen as a justification for acts of uncivilized evil.
I remember the April evening when we heard that Dr. King was assassinated. I remember watching some people cry inconsolably, and I remember watching my next door neighbors celebrate. I remember the morning two months later when we woke up to the news that Robert Kennedy had been killed. I remember watching the smoke rise above the city of Baltimore from the riots that summer. And I remember my parents telling us that the schools and streets of the city were no longer safe, and the next year we moved to the suburbs.
I remember seeing men like Bull Connor, George Wallace and Lester Maddox on television, spewing hate and venom and encouraging others to do the same. I remember scary pictures of people in white sheets, talking of hate in the name of the God of love. And I remember children mimicking their parents, doing the same.
And that is when I began attempting to understand why people hate.
I have spent my life studying theology, philosophy, and psychology, in order to understand. I have come to the conclusion that we hate because we are afraid, and we are afraid because we have not been completely transformed by the gospel. We hate because we are afraid, and we are afraid because we do not fully love. We do not accept the love that we have been given in Christ, and because we do not accept it for ourselves, we do not know how to share it with others.
These days I am concerned about the language of hate that I hear, the words that describe our neighbor as our enemy, and the need to defend “our way of life.” I am concerned because I believe that, while our cities are not burning as they did in 1968, we have not learned all of the lessons. We still define people by how they look, and how they are different from us, and how they arouse our fears. And far too many of us live in fear, and practice hate.
And we still need to allow God to not just save us, but change us.
“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” -MLK Jr.