The past few weeks and months have been filled with a lot of hatred. Innocent people have been killed while trying to go about their daily lives, whether that be on the job or worshipping in church. It’s hard to understand how senseless these acts of violence are. Sometimes it seems like God is not with us. However, God is present in the midst of our suffering, and it is our decision how to respond faithfully to the sufferings and debates that flare around us.
One thing that I think that we need to be careful of is the language that we use. Language has power. The words that we use impact our ability to create a society that honors the dignity and worth of all individuals. Lately there has been a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the news: “rapists,” “murderers,” or “anchor babies.” Likewise, symbols, such as the Confederate flag, also have power that goes beyond language. Both language and symbols can cause harm directly or indirectly and have the power to offend, denigrate and frighten. The words that we use (and hear) and the symbols that we display have consequences. While perpetrators cause the actual violence, words, such as stereotypes, slurs and insults, and symbols create a climate in which discrimination and racism can take root, which produces the fruits of violence.
Jesus proclaimed, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” in Matthew 7:17. How do we respond to the bad tree of racism that produces the fruits of violence when we know Jesus’ love? Its rotten fruit is literally separating families and murdering people in broad daylight. There is nothing patriotic or venerable about hatred and hate-fueled violence, which includes the prejudiced and bigoted speech that is fueling that national immigration debate. A popular hymn says, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” however, many of our political leaders claim to be Christians but do not show love in the way that they speak or act. Laws alone cannot cure the disease of hate. We need to change the conversation so that people can recognize the humanity and dignity in those who are different than themselves. As Christians, we need to be preaching and doing works of love while condemning hateful speech and symbols.