Last Friday, a white man killed two men and injured a third who stepped in to stop his hateful racist verbal attack on two teenage girls, both African-American and one a Muslim wearing hijab, riding a commuter train in Portland.
On Sunday, just up the coast on the Olympic Peninsula, a white man drove a large truck through a campout, screaming racial slurs as he ran over two Native American men, members of the Quinault tribe, severely injuring one and killing the other on his 20th birthday.
Hate speech is just plain wrong. Violent and intimidating actions directed at minorities and immigrants is never good. And these are happening today at alarming rates across our state. A recent article in the Oregonian documents 30 incidents over the past six months in our region – one nearly every week, and those are just the situations being investigated or prosecuted. Doubtlessly there are many more that have gone unreported due to fear and lack of faith in law enforcement and politicians. As a society we are mired in deep-rooted and systemic racism.
As God’s people we are called to stand against such hatred. Indeed, we have already promised that we will, in the baptismal covenant that we proclaim over and over:
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
“I will, with God’s help.”
The word “strive” signifies a sense of purpose, intention, and action. In the martyrs of the Portland attack, we saw one possible outcome of that – the sacrifice of life on behalf of another person. And we honor those men: Ricky Best, Taliesin Namkai-Meche, and Micah Fletcher.
Indeed, there is no passive fight against the evils of racism. Not all of us will have occasion to step in between a knife-wielding man and a child, but every day there are opportunities to overcome hatred and put love into action.
Pay attention. Listen with open ears and open hearts to the people who hurt, who fear, whose lives are threatened and diminished by hateful words and actions.
Be aware. Examine our own lives for the hurt, intended or not, that we cause by our ignorance, our prejudice, and discrediting other people’s feelings and experiences.
Do not be silent. Whether it’s a relative or a co-worker or a fellow church-goer, to stand against hate is to speak out against harmful words and actions that stem from racism.
Live in hope. The battle is long but love compels us to persevere. Let us continue, with God’s help, in faith, strength, and courage.
I close these comments with this prayer by Rabbi Debra Kolodny, which the Rev. Chris Craun shared Sunday morning at St. Michael & All Angels, the parish in the neighborhood of the train attack:
When violence and chaos reign, when having integrity, ethics and heart are unsafe, when difference is vilified instead of glorified…
it is necessary but insufficient to pray,
it is necessary but insufficient to love,
it is necessary but insufficient to grieve,
it is necessary but insufficient to write/proclaim,
it is necessary but insufficient to pursue personal healing,
it is necessary but insufficient to gather for a moment to acknowledge,
it is necessary but insufficient to strengthen communities of caring,
it is necessary but insufficient to look within and root out the blame/shame/judgment in our own hearts while still pursuing an end to injust systems and structures,
it is necessary but insufficient to organize strategies of prevention, response and collective healing,
it is necessary but insufficient to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,
it is necessary but insufficient to keep holding and pursuing the vision of love and justice,
it is necessary but insufficient to keep connecting across difference,
it is necessary but insufficient to feed, house, clothe, provide medical care and education to all…
it is all necessary.
And at some point the scales will tip.
And it will be sufficient.