Responding to Hate with Love and Justice

Report to Presbytery on May 26, 2022 from Presbytery Co-Executive for Vison & Mission, Tom Cramer

Greetings, siblings in Christ. Grace and peace to you.

As you well know, the recent weeks, and even days, have brought loss, disaster and tragedy to our nation and presbytery. While many of us were still in shock from the sudden death of our friend and Ruling Elder Henry Mayhew, a day later, the “Coastal Fire” ignited, consuming the home of a member of the Laguna Niguel Presbyterian Church, and damaging many more.

And while those losses were still fresh on our hearts and minds, we experienced two unspeakable acts of gun violence on our nation’s soil, bringing the U.S. total to over 200 mass shootings in 2022 alone.

Let me read just a few paragraphs from the PC(USA)’s Stated Clerk in a response he wrote to those hate crimes, which happened, of course, before this Monday’s most recent massacre of nineteen children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas.

J. Herbert Nelson asks these questions: “What consumed the 18-year-old suspect in Buffalo with so much hate that he felt the only way to deal with it was to kill innocent people? What would prompt a man in his 60s to walk into a Presbyterian church and open fire during a luncheon to honor a former pastor?”

He continues, “We live in a world divided by political and religious beliefs, skin color, sexual identity and class structure. Anger resonates from the halls of our government leaders to the classrooms and sanctuaries of our neighborhoods. We’ve built walls that alienate and discriminate, and yet we are blind to our own role in the chaos we’ve created.”

So, what are we Christians to do if there is any hope for our world?

Well, the first thing, of course, is to pray, as we have already begun to do in our congregations and together as a presbytery, even as we gathered on Sunday evening at Canyon Hills Presbyterian Church.

But we also need to do something else, and J. Herbert alluded to it. We need to open our eyes to our own role in the chaos we’ve created, and I would say, must stop creating in the years ahead.

At Sunday evening’s prayer service, Pastor Kirk Winslow from Canvas Church said something poignant in his reflection. He said, “The first step to confront a ‘hate problem’ is to acknowledge that there is a hate problem. And the second step is to realize that you can’t fight a hate problem with more hatred; it only causes hate to win out.”

I find this true about myself.

When I see men, yes men, over and over again, using military-style weapons, weapons whose sole purpose is to inflict maximum damage on fellow human beings, I am filled with hate.

You might try to tell me that what I’m actually feeling is “righteous indignation.” Or you might use another religious word like “lament.” But when I see my Black siblings and all siblings of Color living in terror because of white-supremacist ideologies like “replacement theory,” I am filled with hate. Pure and simple.

And guess what? I hate that about myself, because I follow a Lord who went to the cross for me, who died for me, and who says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If love is to win out over hate, it has to begin with me. Indeed, it has to begin with us.

You see, as Pastor Kirk explained on Sunday night, hate is a deficit. It is the absence of love and charity and justice. It is the absence of humanity. And the only way to overcome it is by filling the world up with the love and charity and justice that hate takes away.

In these past eleven days since the shooting at ITPC [Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church], I’ve seen the way our presbytery, denomination, and civil servants are filling the world up with love. Hundreds of people and many agencies have reached out to ITPC and Geneva’s leaders offering their resources and solidarity.

Last Friday morning, just five days after the shooting at ITPC, Jim Kirk, Associate Director for the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program, invited me to attend a Zoom meeting with various directors from the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and the White House. I thought to myself, “I’m not sure what all those agencies do, or at least have to do with our crisis,” but as soon as I understood what Jim was inviting me to, I realized that I needed to invite as many leaders from our Taiwanese communities as I could, so Pastor Elizabeth Chu was there, as was Andrew Huang, and several others. And here is what we discovered.

These public servants are real people with real hearts that care about us, and they will do summersaults to send us the resources they possess to protect our houses of worship. They are people of collaboration and cooperation and community who are here for faith communities like ours.

And this is what Melissa Rodgers said on the Zoom call. Melissa is none other than Director of the White House Office of Faith Based & Neighborhood Partnerships (and I thought my title was long). But she had this to say to our Taiwanese congregations and our presbytery:

“We are just heartbroken about what happened in Laguna Woods, and our president wishes to extend our deepest condolences to you, and to laud your incredible resourcefulness and bravery and courage in the face of an unimaginable attack on your house of worship.

“As the president said in his comments about Buffalo recently, we shouldn’t have to live in a country where people are gunned down just going about their weekly grocery duties.

“And, of course, that is so true in your case as well. No one – no one – should ever have to worry about being gunned down when they are bowing their head in prayer at their house of worship. It is just anathema, and the president is deeply concerned about this situation and wants us to do our utmost to care for you and your community and do all we can to prevent this moving forward.”

Regardless of politics, it is beautiful to know that we followers of Jesus are accompanied by countless others filling the world up with love and charity and justice. God works sovereignly through all sorts of people to give back what hate takes away. And I wanted you to hear that from me today.

I have a written report on page 179 of the presbytery meeting packet. It describes from my perspective the most important and strategic work that we as a presbytery are doing this year.

As important as that work is, however (and I strongly encourage every commissioner to take five minutes to read it), our work will only be accomplished if we see ourselves as an organic whole, called together by Christ himself, and seeking to be the best stewards of everything that God has given us to the end of healing and restoring the world God loves.

This concludes my report.