Did you happen to see The New York Times on Wednesday, August 16? On page A7, the United Methodist Church had taken out a full-page ad. In small white letters on a black background were the words from Romans 12:21.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
That was it. This short exhortation from scripture stood in stark contrast to the multitude of stories about the clash in Charlottesville and the president’s controversial response to the violence. The words brought a cool perspective to the heated strife. Who among us would dispute the admonition?
Struck by the timeliness of the message, I immediately sent out an email to friends with the subject “Good for the Methodists.” One response I received read “how about good for all of us?” followed by a link to a National Public Radio story.
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The NPR story cited former President Obama’s tweet in response to Charlottesville. Quoting Nelson Mandela, Obama wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion...”
Twitter stated that it was the “most-liked tweet ever.”
Being born without hate certainly warrants comment and notice. But before we get too deep into self-congratulation, we would do well to take into account our being born with a tendency to err. To do wrong. Even to hate others based on skin color, culture and religion.
But Obama’s statement, unlike that of the Methodist Church, offered no guidance for responding to evil. What if the haters marching in Charlottesville had been met with a silent crowd bearing signs reading “Love One Another”?
Violence most likely would not have erupted. Perhaps someone among the marchers might have felt shame. Maybe a few minds would have been changed.
Earlier in Romans 12, we are instructed to “Bless those who persecute you. Bless and curse not.” Further on we are commanded to “Repay no one evil for evil.”
I admit, I must swallow hard when I read those words. I can think of three people right now whom I find difficult to “bless.” But if every individual made an effort to abide by these injunctions, would we resort so readily to beating each other in the streets?
To be sure, a “good” nation that suffers chronic evil from another must defend itself with violence in extreme instances. But that opens up inquiries into the morality of actions in combat. As the saying goes, that’s a whole ‘nother subject, and I am no philosopher.
It remains that the most potent reaction to hate is love. It is also the most difficult and the most contrary to our human inclination. I know this from experience. Yet the fact that a praiseworthy attitude is challenging to cultivate, let alone execute, does not excuse us from striving toward it.
Obama’s Mandela tweet is incomplete. The quotation he cites continues with these words:
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Whether love comes more naturally or not, it renders such peace that it merits every ounce of selflessness it demands.
“God is love,” and his people are called to offer that love to everyone. Everyone. After the Christian church has succored the poor and spread the gospel, it might do well to advertise its message. Marketing influences behavior. Ask the Marlboro Man.
So it bears repeating. Good for the Methodists.
Carol Megathlin is a writer living in Fairhope, Alabama, and Savannah.