Orlando Massacre: We Cannot Let Hate Have the Last Word

Memorial for Orlando victims outside the landmark Stonewall Inn in New York City.
Memorial for Orlando victims outside the landmark Stonewall Inn in New York City.  Christopher Penler / Shutterstock.com

The New Testament teaches: Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness. He does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. — 1 John 2:11

Tears are the order of the day. We mourn the loss of life. We grieve the destruction and the hurt and pain of so many in Orlando and across the nation.

Many of our slaughtered and maimed brothers and sisters are members of the LGBTQ community. But in a larger sense, we must say from our hearts, they are from our community. They remain members of our human family of love — in death, as they were in life, children of God, and we weep as one family.

But while we cry, we must also gain our composure and not allow hate or cynicism to have the first, the loudest, or the last word.

We cannot use hate as the path through our pain into our tomorrow. Hate fuels hate: racial hate, homophobic hate, religious hate, class hate, and the rhetoric of hate that drives the terrorist and the mob. The culture of hate creates the actions of hate. It is and always has been a recipe for murder.

The murderous forces of hate have watched people coming together against colonial oppression and systemic exploitation. They have witnessed people coming together and challenging racism, sexism, classism, and the oppression of LGBTQ people. The forces of hate have looked on helplessly as millions of white and straight and male reject the old forms of domination. People of faith are awakening to unity against ancient lines of race and gender identity.

As late as last Friday, on the falls of the Ohio River where the enslaved once fled toward freedom, the forces of hate were the only group unwelcome as we mourned the most beloved Muslim in today’s world with the songs and poems and laughter of love. The full breadth of humanity lifted Muhammad Ali homeward on clouds of love. The forces of hate surely detested this outpouring for an Islamic messenger of love. Hate yearns for division and degradation among the people of the world rather than the beloved community.

On Saturday night, hate slouched into Orlando and tried to seize the moral low ground again. This was not the first time hate lashed out at the rise of love.

During the two and a half centuries of slavery, the oppressors could hear freedom’s call among our enslaved ancestors and reacted with violence and an insistence on obedience to hate among black and white alike; the blood of both black slaves and white abolitionists stained the banks of the Ohio where Ali would grow up under segregation.

On Christmas night of 1951, hate nestled a bundle of dynamite under the home of Harry T. Moore, founder of the Brevard County NAACP, and his wife Harriette Simms Moore. It was their 25th wedding anniversary when the bomb killed both of them.

In 1955, one year after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, hate killed 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black boy from Chicago, after he allegedly flirted with a white woman at a store counter in the Mississippi Delta, where he was visiting his relatives.

On June 12, 1963, just hours after President John F. Kennedy declared civil rights to be a moral issue, hate crept into a thicket near the house of Medgar Evers, field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP, and assassinated him with a high-powered rifle.

At the end of that summer, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. unfurled his dream of a nation cured of race hate before a crowd of a quarter-million blacks and whites, and millions more on television. But two weeks later, hate retaliated by setting off a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing three little African-American girls.

When hundreds of students — black, white, straight, gay, Jewish, Northern, and Southern — came to Mississippi in 1964 to expose the disfranchisement of black citizens, hate murdered three young men: a native black Mississippian and two young white men from New York.

In the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery that won the Voting Rights Act, hate killed a white Unitarian minister from Washington, D.C., a black Baptist deacon from Alabama, and a white union woman from Detroit.

In 1968, hate stole Dr. King from us, though he lives for the ages.

Hate went into a classic rage just a year ago this week. A young white man, eaten up with race hate, took his pistol and attended a Bible study at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C. After sitting with them for a time, he pulled his weapon and murdered nine people who had welcomed him with love.

Hate always reacts. But hate is not the answer.

Down through the years, many who have experienced hate-driven suffering have still refused to respond with hate; they have held to the faith that love was still greater.

Hate always reacts when love is taking hold, when it begins to conquer the fearful heart. Hate wants us to respond and react with hate. Hate seeks an unending circle of hate. But we cannot fall into hate’s trap. Not in our hearts. Not in our actions. Not in our politics. The people always lose in the politics of hate.

The cynical and the sinister among us will try to use this moment of pain to widen divisions among us. History has shown this to be true. There have always been those who want to aggravate the divisions between blacks and poor whites, between immigrant and American-born citizens, between gay and straight. Now they will try to promote divisions between Muslims, non-Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. We cannot allow our hearts in this moment of hurt — born of hate — to succumb to the politics of cynicism. In the shadow of Lincoln, and the relentless suffering and death caused by slavery ended 98 years earlier, Dr. King at the March on Washington said:

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. For many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

Today, even as we abhor violence by anyone, hate by anyone, terror by anyone, we cannot allow those who would prostitute our pain to cause us to distrust all Muslims. Do not generalize, from a man consumed by hatred, an ancient religion based on love.

My friends, despite what you see on television, this is not a mere political moment. This is a moral moment.

Those who know the power of love need to speak up.

Those who have in their history the commonality of suffering from hate know that those who have ultimately won the day are those who chose love. They are those who chose not to let hate define their lives. They are those who rose from the crucifixion of hate to the resurrection of love, truth, and justice.

So now, my sisters and brothers, we must choose whether we will lash out with the fear, division, and petulance that hate hands us or embrace love more boldly and walk with truth and justice.

Let us choose to join those who lived before us, who in the face of hate chose community, who chose love, who chose nonviolence, who chose the way of justice. Three weeks after Dr. King was murdered, Coretta Scott King, his widow, marched in the street and spoke these words in the face of hate:

My dear friends of peace and freedom: I come to New York today with a strong feeling that my dearly beloved husband, who was snatched suddenly from our midst slightly more than three weeks ago now, would have wanted me to be present today.

Though my heart is heavy with grief from having suffered an irreparable personal loss, my faith in the redemptive will of God is stronger today than ever before.

This is the time for us to believe in the redemptive will of God. The Love of God even stronger than before. This is the time for us to stand for love even more. To believe even more. To hold, help, and honor the humanity and Imago Dei in all of us even the more.

So as we cry today, let our tears be a fresh baptism for a commitment to walk together, children, and not get weary, for the promise of love still holds, and love will have the last word.

Rev. William Barber II

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber is the founder and president of Repairers of the Breach. Together with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, he recently published The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement.

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