How do we overcome hate?
Anti-black racism once again rocked the country, as a Black community in Buffalo, NY was the target of racially motivated gun violence this month. We have witnessed another instance of domestic terrorism. Ten families feel immense loss and countless others feel agony over an attack perpetrated and live-streamed for a hateful cause. All of us, especially people of color, are re-traumatized and reminded that hatred persists, and we must be proactive in fighting it.
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (Jn 17:20).
Have you treated someone differently because of their race?
Have you experienced racism or any form of discrimination?
What can you do to address the hate that fills our world?
Today’s first reading from Acts of the Apostles describes the stoning of Stephen, who is venerated as the first Christian martyr. In the larger context of Acts, Stephen is described as a person in good standing in his community who is filled with the Holy Spirit, grace and power. His community selected him for a leadership position in the early Christian church. His effectiveness and influence made him a target for opponents of the Christian movement.
Acts speaks of groups who “instigated and stirred up the people, elders and scribes” (Acts 6:11-12). These opponents incited the community to detain Stephen, put him on trial and stone him to death. The parallels between ancient and modern hate and violence are notable. Like Stephen’s enemies, today’s hatemongers inspire others to commit violent actions, encouraging them to do the dirty work while trying to keep their own hands clean. Online platforms and apps serve as breeding grounds for hateful ideologies. Politicians, pundits and public figures recklessly incite, justify and condone hate. The tragic mass shooting in Buffalo was a hate crime, and all parties who fuel such hate should be held accountable, not only the gunman.
Today’s Gospel is an excerpt of Jesus’ final prayer. It is situated in the Gospel of John just before Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, perhaps making it apt to reflect on in light of the tragic deaths of this month. While preparing for his death, Jesus prays for his followers, and he also prays for the future believers who will be inspired by the disciples. Jesus reiterates the relationship between himself and the Father and how his followers come to know the Father through him. As he nears death, Jesus focuses on how he has built a community bound together by relationships with one another, a community that becomes the foundation for the early church.
The relational aspects of the Trinity are emphasized in today’s Gospel, as the Trinity models how humans are to be in relation with one another. The violence that happened in Buffalo reverberates and affects the larger community. So too, the love, prayers and positive actions that emerge out of tragedy are also important as we all try to heal.
The perpetrators of racist attacks are members of communities of distorted thinking. These are not “lone wolves.” Rather, these are “wolves in a pack,” acting from a place of shared contempt for people who are considered the other. To confront these threats, we must address the multifaceted and interconnected factors that motivate and facilitate attacks. We cannot ignore the abundance of and obsession with guns in our society. We must monitor and apprehend people who are known threats before lives are lost. We should call out the instigators who threaten the common good, those who fill people’s televisions and social media feeds, profiting handsomely on spewing lies and sowing discord. And as hard as it is to do so, we must promote love over hate. Jesus prays for those who believe in him and those who might be impacted by his believers. We, too, must think ahead about ways that we can address the hate in our midst and protect ourselves and future generations from it continuing to do harm.