One of the most difficult passages of the Bible for me to wrestle with is during the account of the crucifixion of Christ, and he says, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus’s statement informs us how we as Christians are to respond to people who are our enemies. People who are against our way of life. People who hate us because of our beliefs, because of our culture, because of our heritage or the color of our skin. The reason it is so difficult is because Jesus responds to them in love, grace, mercy, and kindness.
I distinctly remember being on stage in church as a worship leader the weekend after the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders. I was in a room full of people – some of them my family, some friends, some strangers – and I knew we were all thinking about it, but I had no idea what to do or say. I didn’t know if I should say anything at all. Last weekend I found myself there again. On stage in church after the hate crimes in Charlottesville, VA. And again I had no idea what to say.
In the days since then, I’ve come up with some thoughts about how we as worship leaders and church leaders should respond. More specifically, what kinds of things we should say from the platform. I should also note that I in no way claim to have the right answers or be some kind of expert – these are just things that I think are important for us to remind ourselves and our churches after terrible events in our world happen.
1) We should say something
The reality is everybody in the room is going to be thinking about it. Some people will be there because of it. People will be looking for hope and comfort – some kind of an answer as to why this happened or what we should do because of it. We need to address it.
The easiest thing is just not to say anything at all. It’s also the cowardly thing. 2nd Timothy 1:7 tells us that we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2) Remind ourselves and our congregations that the Church is the hope of the world
I believe with all my heart that the church is the hope of the world – specifically that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world – through the work of the church. Many people in our churches probably believe this in their heads but not really in their hearts. Many of us, although we may not admit it – place our hope in other things – a President or political party – an organization that may even do a lot of good in the world. But the truth is there is only one source of hope, and that is Jesus, and we – His church – are the instrument through which that hope will be shown to the world.
The second half of this point is where it gets hard. It’s not enough just to say ‘The church is the hope of the world’ – we have to actually live that out. It’s our job as church leaders to figure out how to actually be the hope of the world – what it actually means in our communities. And then we have to lead our congregations to take action. If we would better lead our congregations to tithe, the church could finance social injustices. If we could lead our congregations to actually love our neighbors (as Jesus taught us through the parable of the Good Samaritan), we would begin to replace hatred and injustice with love and kindness. I’m convinced that if the church would do the work of the church even more passionately, we could begin to erase fear and hatred with hope and love.
3) We should inform our response through the teachings of the Bible and the life of Christ
The way we respond should be derived solely from the Bible and from the life of Jesus. Not from our President. Not from what your friends post on Facebook.
There are two main examples of how to respond to hatred and injustice from the life of Jesus that stand out to me. The first is the one I mentioned earlier in this article: Jesus had been tortured and was being killed by people who hated him because of his beliefs and his proclaimed heritage, and he said “Forgive them for they do not know what they do”. The second is in the garden of Gethsemane. The Roman soldiers had come to capture Jesus, and Peter – one of his disciples – did something that many of us, if we truly put ourselves in his shoes, might think is a normal – even appropriate response. Peter attacks those who are attacking him. Jesus then rebukes him and heals the soldier, while allowing himself to be capture.
You might argue with me that Jesus’s treatment of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in the Bible is not so merciful. And I agree with you – but overwhelmingly in the Bible the teaching of Jesus is to respond to evil and hatred with love and grace. Never does Jesus say we should respond to hatred with more hatred, yet that is our knee-jerk reaction.
To be honest, when I watched the news on Saturday night and saw neo-nazis and white supremecists marching in Virginia – and when I heard they had murdered someone – I was angry. You might have been angry, too – and that’s OK. What is not OK is for us to act out of that anger in a way that is anything counter to what Jesus taught or did.
Finally, be encouraged. In situations like this, I often think of John 16:33 – the word of Christ:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”