A beard isn’t just a beard
I’m letting my beard grow in again, and it’s adding to the Lenten suffering since it’s getting pretty itchy. But along with the beard growth is the lingering idea that I will definitely look more “Arab” by the end of it. I think about these things because I know I live in a world where my skin color is used against me. Racism is just a fact of life in the United States and it always has been. So while I don’t grow my beard in trepidation, I do grow it with the consciousness that it definitely does make me look in a way that will attract more prejudice. I think many minorities live their lives with this sort of awareness. I did it growing up because I knew mom made food my white friends thought was weird. Or when I realized that not every kid’s mom was packing them peanut butter and jelly in pita bread. We kind of bump into our own ethnicity when we experience prejudice as a result.
And I bumped into it again last week. Because I look like the victims of the Christchurch massacre. Even though I don’t observe their faith, with my last name, my skin color, and the required ignorance of racists, it’s easy for me to imagine getting caught in the crossfire. The fact that white nationalists are drawing anti-Arab inspiration from people like the president of the United States is even more concerning because his racist rhetoric is actually posing an existential threat on us, even if his wall never gets built. So it’s just not a matter of policy, the language, and thus the empowerment, of white nationalists and racists spews toxic venom into the atmosphere that palpably affects me and others like me. It’s a little scary, I have to admit.
Taking courage means not being afraid to love
I think we need to have courage in these times, though, and I think that being united in spirit, with allies, is good, especially for me ones who are in the Body of Christ. We need not fear death because we are related to the defeater of death, one who was killed for the same hate-fueled reasons we are killed today. Jesus relates to my suffering and has experienced it personally and experiences it through me today. That is comforting and courage-building.
Clinging to Jesus for courage is important because I not only need the courage to not fear, but also the courage to love. I am not, and will never, say that hating white nationalists is comparable to white nationalist hate, but I do know that when people are making references to the Sermon on the Mount and enemy love, I’m convicted in a different way than my white Christian counterparts. For many of them, Muslims are the enemies they should love. And I think posing Muslims as enemies has problems, but there is still significant Christian persecution of Muslims in the Middle East, so it’s not a huge stretch in a sense. And of course, my family has experienced prejudice for being Christians in the Middle East (and Christian Palestinians feel it from both sides, if you will). But when I hear about enemy-love, I do not think of Muslims. The existential threat posed against me in the United States isn’t by brown terrorists; it’s by white ones.
When memes become murder
The toxic anti-immigrant language that is often used to convince Americans that their hatred of immigrants protects them against terrorists is actually the stuff that fuels white nationalist terrorists to commit acts like the one that happened in New Zealand. And the rhetoric trickles down from on high and radicalizes on the Internet, fueled by an algorithm that pushes people to ideological extremes. And then puts us in the situation we’re in. There is a evil end to the half-jokes that riddle the killers’ manifesto, and that riddle the Internet. That racist friend of yours who is always ‘just joking,’ was predicted by Sartre in the 1940s, referring to Nazi Germany:
“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”
Nevertheless, my point here isn’t just to quote a French existentialist who delivered a surprisingly relevant prophecy to a 2019 audience, but to note that my enemies are the ones who kill people that look like me and they’ll trick people into thinking they are just joking.
If we’re doling out justice, we’ll need more than eggs
So I admit, it’s tempting to enjoy the white nationalist Fraser Anning getting an egg smashed on his head by a prankster teenager. There is a little amusement in seeing him get embarrassed. It’s technically battery, but it seems like a gag to me. But it’s still not what enemy love looks like. I’m convicted otherwise, even though I was tempted to contribute to his “buy more eggs” campaign. Eggboy isn’t my king; and my king moves to love my enemies and to pray for those who persecute me.
But it feels much less satisfying to do that, doesn’t it? It’s not like the Eggboy’s act was supremely brave or just. It is possibly another example of a white man getting away with a crime that a brown or black man would’ve received time for; just like Anning’s subsequent slap and punch went unpunished. It’s not like Anning’s violent-inducing rhetoric was matched by an egg to a head. This is not nearly the eye-for-an-eye theology that Jesus undoes in his Sermon on the Mount, but nevertheless Jesus undoes it, and if I am called to love my enemies, I have to love white nationalists.
Love doesn’t make excuses, it makes converts
Practically that doesn’t mean I need to excuse them, negotiate with them, or appease them. It does not mean I need to cooperate with them or “respect” their ideas. Or certainly say that they are “fine people.” It means I should not celebrate their death, suffering, or imprisonment (but I shouldn’t be surprised by it either).
It probably means I need to wish for them to change their minds and find Jesus and be redeemed. It means my ultimate desire for them is repentance and liberation from their hatred. So we may need to pray for racist white nationalists to be liberated from their anti-Christ behavior. That’s what enemy love looks like. It means converting the racist to become an anti-racist. It means venturing out of our enclave to start changing people’s hearts and minds. This is exactly why Circle of Hope has been an anti-racist church from our start. We say we will do what it takes to be an anti-racist, diverse community that represents the new humanity. We say racial reconciliation is a matter of demanding justice, not just peace. And we also admit in the United States the sin of racism impacts all we experience. It is a fact of life for which the dominators are accountable.
Some of us have more wherewithal to speak to one another the truth in love than others do (some of us have more skin in the game, so to speak), so I think we need to take care with how we love our enemies. But I do know that not telling them the truth about the evil in their lives with the hope of moving them to change how they behave is not love. Enemy love means holding out hope that our enemies, and God’s enemies like the white nationalists are, can learn to be lovers of God, of God’s creatures, and God’s creation.
So pray for me today. Pray for all the brown Christians who are faced with the impossible task of loving and forgiving the people that want to kill us. We can’t do it without God, and all things are possible with God.
But also pray for repentance and redemption for those people celebrating the deaths of 50 Muslims in New Zealand (or the ones who are indifferent to it or find some other way to excuse it or lessen its gravity). Pray that peace and love prosper, that liberation and reconciliation move hand-in-hand. Pray that we can build an anti-racist world. Pray that we stop killing people because of what they look like or what they believe in. Pray for a new humanity united by God in love and truth.