Turn off the news and love your neighbor

Published 12:00 pm Friday, July 15, 2016

On Facebook I saw a sign that read: “TURN OFF THE ‘NEWS’ AND LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR.” Clearly this was a reaction to all the violence we’ve seen lately.

Why do some turn to violence? Frustration. Anger. Hopelessness. While we must employ reasonable measures to deter violence in our adult population, we also must recognize that that is treating the symptom, not the disease.

We have a deadly serious racism problem that will destroy us if we don’t do something about it. It is of epidemic proportions and it is a cancer that is woven into the very systems that should promote justice.

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The disease is, in part, a culture of oppression that systematically pushes the poor and minorities into the corner with things like higher rates of incarceration for crimes committed and longer jail sentences. Even traffic tickets are more likely to be given to minorities, and for offenses that we caucasians are often given a pass on. Minorities receive lower wages than others with the same job. What’s the big deal about that? All of that puts more hardship on those who can least afford it and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

Judgmentalism like “Do the crime, do the time” doesn’t help. It’s merciless; it’s ignoring the inequities in the application of our laws. It’s oppression with a smugness that allows us to believe the myth that the hardships minorities face are their own fault

Yes, people do break laws and have to suffer consequences, but we caucasians hold most of the power in the USA and we get to make the rules. Minority prisoners are the slaves of today in that we who make up the majority can point to them and say, like the poor white sharecropper of the 1800’s, “At least I’m better than those slaves.”  That is repulsive and is in direct opposition to any faith that is based on love and justice.

Studies consistently show that violence is preventable. Ideally, preventing violence begins with making a home a loving, caring environment that fosters respect for others and a willingness to work for the betterment of all. When our families, our schools, and our faith communities are healthy they produce positive relationships and through those relationships a more peaceful society can emerge. But that doesn’t just happen. It must be intentional and it takes a level of commitment that most of us are unwilling to give.

What do people of faith do about the violence in our nation and the world as a whole? Retreat behind stained glass and pray? Tell everybody we love them and wait for a miracle? Make converts because we know that if people believed the same as we do that they would all want to stand around a campfire, hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” instead of shooting people and destroying property?

Jesus said that, next to loving God with our whole being, loving our neighbor is the most important thing we can do. Samaritans were despised by the Jews of Jesus’ day; yet in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) Jesus cast a Samaritan in the role of the hero who helped a hurting Jew. So my neighbor is the person or people I most look down on.

When churches, synagogues, mosques, and other faith communities take to the streets to involve themselves in the lives of the poor and the oppressed, they progress from the idea of “helping those people” to “helping Jessie, helping Mary, helping Juan, and helping Jesus.” It is in the context of those bonds that real change can begin. Such change cannot only impact a neighborhood, but it can lead to policy changes that fight injustice rather than breeding it.

If we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, when a neighbor acts out violently or otherwise, we won’t lock them up and throw away the key. We will come along beside them and help restore them to the community, if at all possible. We will even hold their feet to the fire and see to it that they make amends to those who have been injured. But we will refuse to retaliate for hurts received and we won’t condemn an entire group of people for the actions of a few.

When will we say enough is enough? I fear that it will only be when we’re brought to our knees, not in prayer, but in despair, as we realize that we cannot slay the vile monster we have helped create.

Riled up? We all should be — but not over what I’ve written. We should be riled up over the injustice that still lives in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Before you send me a nasty letter or email, read Bill Quigley’s “40 Reasons Our Jails are Full of Black and Poor People.” (http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/06/02/40-reasons-our-jails-and-prisons-are-full-black-and-poor-people)

Then, since most of those reading this are probably Christian, read Micah 6:8, read Matthew 25, read the book of James — especially James 1:27. If you read all that and still think I’m way off the mark, then write.

If we want to do something substantive about violence we must get our heads out of the sand and our noses out of our hymnals. We must turn off the news and start loving our neighbor. Where? Right where we live. When? Now! There’s no time to waste. Our lives and the lives of our children are at stake.

Randy Weeks is a minister and a counselor. He lives and writes in Oxford. He can be reached at peacemill369963@gmail.com.