Our nation’s ongoing battle with racism has come to the fore again, and those of you who know me may wonder at my recent silence. I wish I could say that it was due to the tempo of operations where I am deployed with the Army National Guard, but that would be a lie. The truth is more difficult to unravel, and do so in a way that does not run me afoul of one oath or the other. For me to address the shift in our nation which I believe has led to the outburst of racism and intolerance could place me in hot water with my chain of command. And, the thoughts and feelings which ran through me when I read about the deaths of Heather Heyer and the two troopers in Charlottesville, and saw the hate-filled faces of the torch-carrying racists, and the pictures of the Nazi and Confederate flags being paraded through the streets of our nation could see me defrocked from the ministry, were I to act on them. In my mind, I heard a voice say, “all enemies, foreign and domestic”, and as I looked at those swastikas and those stars and bars, I was ready to go all Captain America on them. But thankfully, the Unity minister that I am and will continue to be took over, and said, “Let’s give this some more thought.” So, I’ve been thinking.
It is so easy and so tempting to hate. When the object of the hate is injustice. When the object of the hate is racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, or just plain evil, hate comes so naturally, and it seems so justified; so right. And that’s the trap. We as human beings have been caught in the recurring cycle of hatred, violence, revenge, and hatred again for thousands of years. Some disputes have risen and died away, whether through genocide or peace, or all that lies between. But some have lived on for thousands of years, like the dispute between the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews of Israel, which began in the earliest books of the Hebrew Scriptures, and rages on today. But it rages on still, costing lives, treasure, freedom, and the promise of life in the Kingdom of God. Because it feels good and right and justifiable to hate something as evil as Nazism, as repugnant as racism. And it seems perfectly natural to hate those who hurt others; who hurt us. Hurt people hurt people. But at some point, someone has to stop.
It boggles my mind that over 150 years after the American Civil War, someone is marching, and holding in their hands the symbol of those traitorous, racist losers. Or that over70 years after World War Two, someone is marching, holding in their hands the symbol of those genocidal, fascist losers. Yet someone is. And what that suggests to me today is that as “right” as those wars were, as “justified” as those wars were, all of the violence that was required to defeat those two evil regimes was not sufficient to defeating the ideologies that spawned them, it just forced them underground. In order to truly defeat those ideologies once and for all time, we as a human race are going to have to find a different solution. There must be another way.
In “The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century”, Thomas Barnett looks at the commonalities in the places where recent US military intervention was required, and draws a new map of the world with two sides: the Functioning Core (no interventions), and the Non-Integrated Gap (where the interventions have occurred). In a nutshell, the difference between them is this: in the Core, there is easy access to information, and economic opportunity. Both of these are missing in the Gap. And I believe what he has discovered in the macro rings true all the way down to the micro, through the layers of society, to the streets of our neighborhoods. When we communicate, and when we have hope (for what else does economic opportunity represent, really?), we are much more likely to live in peace and harmony. But when we isolate, and when we feel we have no hope of a better life, we begin looking for scapegoats, for an “Other” to blame. Nazi Germany was born out of the isolated and economically depressed post-Versailles Treaty nation in ruins. The KKK and much of the “South will rise again” sentiment was born in the Reconstruction, particularly during years of heavy immigration, when there was much pressure on white jobs. The ideologies of racism and xenophobia thrive in poverty and isolation. As Barnett says, “…it is disconnectedness that defines danger.” And therein, perhaps, lies the key.
If we are to truly and for all time end the scourge of racism, then we must forever denounce the luxury of hate, even of the racist. If we are ever to live in a truly free and equal society, we must denounce intolerance, even of the fascist. In this critical time in our nation’s, even in our world’s history, it is clear that we must do two things: we must open up the lines of communication with one another, that we may come to know each other’s griefs and pains; joys and hopes, and by knowing “The Other”, realize we are One. And we must create a world of opportunity for all, a place where food and clean water, shelter, medical care and treatment, education and safety become foundational, and not aspirational. A nation and a world where hope, not hate, fills every heart. In the words of President Lincoln, let us “With malice toward none, with charity for all, … strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”