4 Biblical Truths That Respond to Hatred

We desperately need public compassion in the wake of senseless tragedy.

How do we pick up the pieces after a senseless tragedy? The racist hatred of one man — Dylann Roof — resulted in the shooting death of Pastor and State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight members of his church. Neither the historic Emanuel AME Church nor our national community will ever be the same again.

As lead pastor of a church with more than 60 nationalities represented, and as diversity consultant to the National Basketball Association, I cannot turn away from Jesus’ call to love my neighbor as myself. To do so would be contrary to the core message of the gospel. Plus, there’s too much at stake.

With that in mind, here are four things I try to keep in mind during times like this:

1. Justice is medicinal.

Thankfully, within 24 hours of the massacre the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, was caught. The justice system now stands front and center. The nation — and the African American community in particular — now holds its collective breath because healing springs when justice is meted out.

Justice is the working of God in our fallen society. That is why David sang in Psalm 103:6, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When society acts justly toward victims, particularly in the instance of “hate crimes,” it buoys their self-esteem and value. Justice injects medicine into the soul of the oppressed because it says, “You matter. You are valuable. You’re worth fighting for.”

Without justice the oppressed languish in pain and despair, which over time morphs into anger, hatred, and deep-seated prejudice.

2. Prejudice is a cancer.

In his book The Nature of Prejudice, renowned Harvard sociologist Gordon Allport defines prejudice as “prejudgment with emotions.” Someone who is prejudiced actually harbors deep-seated negative emotions that are inseparable from his prejudgment. If left untreated, like cancer it can spread to the point of violent rage — as was the case with Roof’s actions.

Allport identified the mushrooming effect of prejudice as moving like this: (1) talking about it with friends, (2) avoiding a certain group, (3) excluding all members of the group from social privileges, employment opportunity, residential housing, and so on, (4) physically attacking members of the group, and (5) exterminating the group (massacres, lynching, ethnic cleansings).

Imagine what our world would look like if we applied our faith to this biblical promise: “Where sin increased, grace [God’s empowering presence] increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). Our love toward members of other races would graduate like this: (1) from merely talking about making cross-race connections with our same-race friends; (2) to including all groups into our circle of friends; (3) to including all members of other groups in social privileges, employment opportunity, and residential housing; (4) to demonstrating tangible acts of love to members of other groups; and finally, (5) to practicing social justice, ensuring equity and equal rights, and protecting ethnic survivability in order to build up groups who’ve experienced large-scale ethnic abuses.

3. Forgiveness is non-negotiable.

Having myself been a victim of hate crime, I know firsthand the non-negotiable role of forgiveness. When I was 10 years old, my house was fire-bombed when five white teenage boys threw a Molotov of cocktail into the rear bedroom window of my home in Rosedale, Queens. By no means am I equating the crime against my family to what occurred in Charleston, South Carolina. No one in my family was hurt; just the house was damaged. But the boys were caught and released without any jail time or punishment. Healing had to come from a higher source — God.

At 20 years old — the age I became born again — I forgave the teenagers for their crime against me. Forgiveness was not for them. It was a gift I gave myself. At times, forgiveness occurs instantaneously. Other times, it is a process (or the result of a process) that involves a change in emotion and attitude toward the offender. Regardless of the time it takes you to unshackle yourself from your victimizer, forgiveness is non-negotiable if you want to experience freedom and healing.

4. Public compassion quiets public rage.

How do you quell the brewing rage and unrest of the African-American community in the aftermath of a barrage of deadly hate crimes? The answer is found in compassion. This word — compassion — is medicinal to even the pain caused by social trauma. Compassion means to suffer together with.

Regardless of the murderer’s mental state , which remains to be discovered, nine black people were killed while tending to the welfare of their souls. Roof’s alleged statement that he was there “to shoot black people” must awaken vocal statements of compassion by people of other races, especially whites, since Dylann is white.

If compassion is only heard from the voices of black leaders and social activists, anger from within the black community will reach a piercing cry. Thankfully this has not been the case. The white community has been quite vocal with its compassion.

As this action becomes more widespread we will see a reduction in hate crimes. We’ve learned that silent compassion from the white, Asian, and Latino communities only perpetuates the anger and feelings of injustice among African Americans. Shouts of compassion from all sides must be heard amidst the cry for justice if healing is to occur.

The redemptive power of public compassion is what caused Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to say, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” King wasn’t alone in this sentiment. Elie Wiesel, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Public rage must be met head on by public compassion. According to Jesus, reconciliation is everyone’s responsibility. That is another way of saying: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

Image courtesy of John M. Cropper.

David D. Ireland
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  • allinthistogether

    Mr. Ireland: Thank you for this clear, wise and powerful response to the shootings at Emanuel AME Church. Though there are multiple sources for the core principles of your prescription, as they are universal, your reasoned strategy for a compassionate, constructive and effective response to the killings is inspiring. I hope to do my best to speak up with compassion against prejudice and rage.

  • cj

    This horrific racist act in Charleston SC is such a tragedy and has weighed heavy on my heart. After reading your inspiring message I realized I had to let go of some ill feelings and find forgiveness towards the perpetrator. Thanks Pastor for this needed Inspiring message.

  • Joyce Giddens

    Pastor David, your message is so encouraging, not only to your flock, but to the church universal, as well as to our country. Such a horrendous act in the SC church affects us all. Prayer is vital for the healing of our Nation. Our upcoming journey in prayer & fasting is so timely, and we must be vigilant during those 40 days! Let’s bring down Heaven to shut out hatred. God’s healing love must prevail!

  • Martin Hughes

    But how does this all work out? If we apply the medicine of justice it must work by killing the perpetrator or imprisoning him in unpleasant conditions indefinitely. How can that action express forgiveness?

    • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

      Criminals are punished for multiple reasons: prevention, rehabilitation, and justice. When forgiveness cancels out justice there are still two other reasons for dangerous people to be imprisoned.

      • Martin Hughes

        Death and life imprisonment are not methods of rehabilitation. Justice is normally thought of as giving each person what is due, always considering the overall good of society, which does, I accept, include prevention by deterrence of similar acts in the future. Forgiveness is releasing people from some of what, in these terms, is due to them and – at least if it is unreserved forgiveness – being ready to live with them on a friendly or cooperative basis with them from now on. It makes no sense- is self-deceptive- to say ‘I forgive you but I’m going to kill you or punish you very severely in some other way.’ If my main reason is to deter others I still act because the badness of the deed, which includes its influence on others, is so great that I cannot remit even the most harsh aspects of the due punishment, which means cannot forgive.

        • Ryan M.

          I would argue that M Maxwell has left an important item off the list – criminals can be punished for prevention (in the sense of deterrence), rehabilitation and justice/retribution, yes, but they can also be punished as a form of restraint. I believe that a criminal justice system built on forgiveness preferences rehabilitation and restraint as far as possible. Someone who has committed a crime should, if possible, be rehabilitated; if this succeeds, then the person is released back into society and welcomed, and forgiveness is shown. On the other hand, if a person cannot be rehabilitated, we detain them not as a deterrent to others or as retribution for their crimes, but because it would be placing other people at risk to permit release. I don’t believe that the way the Charleston Church attack will be prosecuted will involve a whole lot of forgiveness; I may find myself pleasantly surprised when the time comes, but my expectation is that plenty of people will be seeking eye for an eye retribution. Nevertheless, we can forgive while recognising that somebody is unsafe to allow among the general population until treated; in my opinion, that’s what our justice systems should be driven by philosophically.

          • Martin Hughes

            We may all use words as we think fit. If forgiveness implies no change in the treatment meted out and it is possible to be forgiving but unmerciful (that’s not what it means to me) there is no conflict with justice, I agree. But at that rate forgiveness – not defined or explained in the original article – may not be of much moral or theological importance, would you think?
            Ryan M thinks of forgiveness in terms of rehabilitation- what happens at the end of a (possibly very long) process of punishment. If that is what we mean by the idea then it is important to note that the time of forgiveness is not yet.
            Again, if justice is what is due to an individual I would think that what is due depends to some extent on how the individual’s actions have affected society. If you define justice without reference to society but consider that the interests of society matter the original article is morally incomplete.

          • Ryan M.

            I may not have been sufficiently clear in my original post – forgiveness is present throughout the entire process by forgoing the right to punish for the sake of retribution or deterrence. We give less than what is deserved (that is, we give mercy) by refusing to punish simply so that we can feel like an eye for an eye has been fulfilled. Rehabilitation is focused on benefitting the offender, helping them to overcome whatever caused them to offend in the first place. If someone is rehabilitated quickly, we release them quickly; if rehabilitation takes longer, release comes later. Because we have forgiven, it shouldn’t matter how long rehabilitation takes, because we’re not looking at getting retribution. Forgiveness comes at the very beginning of the process when we forget our desire to soothe the pain by giving the offender what they deserve, and we replace that desire with desiring the best possible outcome for the person who caused the pain. And, if we have forgiven, should rehabilitation prove impossible and restraint become necessary, that should provoke a feeling of sadness and loss, not satisfaction that the offender will be imprisoned indefinitely.

        • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

          True on the first point and my wording was unclear, I didn’t mean rehabilitation was a reason for punishment but that prisons in general can do rehabilitation.

          “Justice is normally thought of as giving each person what is due, always considering the overall good of society, which does, I accept, include prevention by deterrence of similar acts in the future.”

          I don’t accept that. While justice does mean giving people “what they’re due”, I do not accept that it considers the overall good of society nor includes deterrence. Deterrence and justice are two distinct and separate motivations. Deterrence has two sides; general and specific. Specific means that killing an individual or keeping that person in jail prevents that individual from recommitting, general means consistent punishment messages to others who might commit similar crimes.

          In this case it is logically possible for all involved to fully forgive the perp, and for him to still get a significant or life prison sentence. Forgiveness negates the justice motivation, and though general deterrence may not be relevant in this case, specific deterrence remains as a valid motivation.

          Forgiveness is not the abnegation of punishment, mercy is. Forgiveness and mercy are often seen together, but not tied by necessity.

  • Angelina Rivera

    Dr. Ireland, you are a man of faith and a voice of God’s reasoning. Thank you for giving us the right perspective, even though for some it may be hard to understand. In the end and from the beginning, our hearts must live out the responses of God’s own heart, where compassion is the root of reconciliation, even in the midst of hate. We can either stop or continue the cycles of injustice, if love conquers all, then let us love one another as God loves us!