Commentary
By Jim Wallis 9-14-2017

I was on a plane last week with a resident of Houston who could hardly convey the devastation he saw in his city. More than 50 inches of rain and unprecedented flooding killed 66 Houstonians, displaced 30,000 people, and devastated 100,000 homes (only 10 percent insured for flooding), costing the city almost $200 billion in damages. Seventeen thousand people had to be rescued. But in an article this week at HuffPost, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner and Dr. David Anderson observe:

Yet, the power of God’s unconditional love was undeniably evident as people of diverse races and backgrounds risked their lives to save, comfort, and shelter one another. No citizen, who voluntarily used his or her own boat, first asked the race or religion of the person they rescued. Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and people of every social background, endangered their lives without a moment’s hesitation, to rescue whoever needed to be saved.

These African-American church leaders pointedly ask, “Does America have to be hit in the gut with a catastrophic disaster like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Harvey, or, more recently Hurricane Irma, for love to unconditionally surpass hate?”

The remarkably human and loving response to imperiled neighbors in Houston stands in stark contrast against the hateful racial ugliness that paraded through the streets of Charlottesville earlier in the month as angry white supremacists — KKK, Neo Nazis, “alt-right” members — marched publicly and proudly without sheets shouting anti-black and anti-Semitic assaults, and ultimately led to the death of Heather Heyer. The lighted torches, fear, hate, and violence of Charlottesville was such a shameful juxtaposition to the self-sacrificial love and service across racial lines that the disasters caused by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey evoked from people.

I was deeply struck by story after story from storm-ravaged parts of our country. I watched a woman testify how she was saved — she seemed so incredulous that “people who didn’t know me took care of me.” I saw a terrified older white woman on the steps of her flooding house jump onto the back of a strong African-American man who piggy-backed her to safety. I read a story about a top mixed-martial arts heavyweight fighter — Derrick Lewis, who is black — rescuing a white couple in spite of the fact that the husband insisted on bringing his Confederate flag with him. The way Lewis tells it:

I picked up one guy and his family, his wife – he just kept apologizing to me, because all he really had was his clothes, and he wanted to take his Confederate flag,” Lewis said. “He wanted to take that with him, and he just apologized and said, ‘Man, I’ll sit in the back of your truck, man. I don’t want to have my flag inside of your truck like this.’ I said, ‘Man, I’m not worried about that.’… His wife kept hitting him and saying, ‘You should have just left it.'

The rescue and recovery efforts revealed the love that is possible between us as human beings — even across the racial lines that are dividing our nation in such volatile ways. It showed how neighbors can help each other when they are all in danger. The moving responses of one neighbor to another demonstrated how the best in us can still come out, even when the worst of us has been on frightening display.

Charlottesville revealed many things too. It exposed the infectious power of the disease of white supremacy. It again showed the fear, hate, and violence that false doctrines of racial difference and superiority can raise up in white American hearts and culture. And, very importantly, the White House response to such racial hate and violence conclusively demonstrated the lack of moral authority and leadership in our current president, Donald Trump, and how his lack of clear denunciation of white supremacy and the moral equivocation of “good and bad persons” on “many sides” continues to cultivate the racist elements of his base as exemplified in Charlottesville. That clarity about Donald Trump was important for all to see.

At the end, it is the dramatic confrontation of love versus hate, as Barbara and David point out, and that is a matter of faith for those of us who are Christians. Love overcoming of hate must be a daily battle now, not just after disasters like 9/11, which we observed the anniversary of this week, or massive hurricanes. That only love can overcome hate, in the end, is something we must teach our children every day. Rescuing our neighbors in times of crisis must lead to inviting them into our daily lives and homes and schools and churches. Indeed, this is the conversation we must have in all of our churches now post-Charlottesville and Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

We must get to the roots of hate, like the ideology and idol of white supremacy. When political issues come before Congress, we need to break them down to whether we are going to love or hate. White people, and white Christians in particular, must find the understanding and the courage to speak out and intervene in systems and structures of evil white supremacy.

If we say we believe that love can overcome hate, we need to show that we believe it by what we are willing to say and do.

Because the Charlottesville marches convened in a park with a statue of Robert E. Lee, a recent statement by the great, great, great, great, nephew of the Confederate general who is now a young white pastor in North Carolina attracted some attention. I was blessed to be on a radio and television show with Rev. Rob Lee days after Charlottesville. Earlier in the week, he had this to say:

We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America's original sin. Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God's call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on.

Such statements by white people and white Christians now are testimonies to the belief that love does and will finally overcome hate.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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