“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” Proverbs 10: 12
Like you I have been horrified by the latest outburst of racial bigotry in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am reminded that this kind of hatred is often just below the surface; it crops up every so often like an evil Phoenix refusing to die. This is however the first time a U.S. President has tacitly endorsed such bigotry and that alone should be of grave concern. Amid the tragedy the outpouring of love is encouraging and hopefully we can move more in the direction of social justice. Healing though demands a frank conversation about race and justice in America. It will be uncomfortable but if we are to survive as a nation it has never been more needed.
As a Friend I am especially challenged to speak to that of God in an oppressor. How can I be a vehicle for God’s love amid the hatred? First I need to remind myself that redemption is always possible. Loving my “enemy” does not excuse their behavior but it can act as a beacon of Light when someone is ready to see it. The Spirit can eventually break through. I know that “all things which are impossible for people are possible with God (Luke 18: 27), but I have to be willing to be an instrument of peace and reconciliation.
The Religious Society of Friends is not immune from strife, as we have seen in recent years with new schisms in Indiana and North Carolina Yearly Meetings. The divisions there are largely along differences in how we view Scripture and authority. The growing acceptance of LGBT people in our Meetings becomes a point of contention. At times in our history there were outbreaks of extreme intolerance (in rare cases to the point of violence) over who were the “real Quakers.” It seems this question is still very much alive, though I suspect like the earlier divisions between Hicksite and Orthodox Friends the differences will fade with time.
Recently I read “Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship” by Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel. It has been an eye-opener. The history of Friends in dealing with slavery and racism, while ahead of much of the Protestant world, is not free of racial bias. At the most recent Pacific Yearly Meeting Friends of African descent once again pointed out that the terms “Overseer” and “Oversight Committee” remain painful due to the history of enslavement. Those of us of European descent often don’t understand that pain. So we still have work to do among ourselves.
We are all in need of God’s Grace, but that should not stop us from having an ongoing conversation about race. We don’t have to wait for our own perfection to be instruments of God’s peace. By virtue of our humanity we are all connected to the victims of violence in Charlottesville. Beyond doing our part as citizens, there is need for much prayer. Perhaps Friends can play an important role in greater understanding and healing. Along the way we may come to know ourselves better and find that love indeed does cover all offenses.