The following is based on vocal ministry that I gave at Frederick Friends Meeting on 8/13/2017.
Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness. (1 John 2:9-11 NRSV)
I have always been puzzled by the duality at play in this letter, as well as in the other letters and gospel attributed to the same author. It is John who tells us that the Light of Christ shines in every person, that God is love and that everyone who loves knows God. Yet it is this same John who says that if you hate your brother or sister, you are a murderer and the kin of Cain and the devil. It seems that, as great as the love of God may be, so too is the condemnation for those who oppose that love.
In the wake of the eruption of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville yesterday, we face two temptations. The first is to give in to the kind of hate we saw on display there, or to let hate have the last word. I admit that I let the phrase “goosestepping morons” escape my lips watching the alt-right marchers on TV, and that was among the milder things that I said. Yet I cannot but hope that those in thrall to white supremacist ideology might find a way out of that trap.
The other temptation, though, is more insidious, particularly for peace churches like the Society of Friends: namely, to not see the darkness for what it is. So long as these racist and fascist elements in our country feel that they can espouse their hatred with impunity, so long as they enjoy the sympathy of our president and his advisors, so long as the structures of racial oppression that enable them are left untouched, the love of God is aggrieved. Our empathy for whatever pain these white supremacists may be in should not eclipse our empathy for those who have suffered and died at their hands, nor should it be construed as a passive “niceness” that fails to resist what they stand for.
If God is love, then love is the most powerful force in the universe. Let us live in that power and hope that it can bring those who are in the squalor of darkness into the splendor of the light.