Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this message at an interfaith prayer service Aug. 19 at St. Mary Church in Hot Springs.
Jesus calls us to be a “light for the world” and so we have gathered here in the wake of the racial violence in Charlottesville, which included an act of domestic terrorism, to bring the light of our faith to bear on what could be a volatile situation here in Hot Springs today.
There is much darkness in our world and many wounds. Our country is still deeply wounded by more than two centuries of slavery, and we still have people who look back at that brutal period with nostalgia, some of whom will be gathering just a few blocks from here at 10 a.m. in our city, in a rally for the stated purpose of working to preserve monuments to the Confederacy at a time when an increasing number of Americans believe the time has come for them to be removed — although there are in fact no plans to do so here in Hot Springs, at least not yet.
It is worth noting that the monuments to the Confederacy in Arkansas were not erected right after the Civil War in memory of the recent dead, but rather decades later during the height of the Jim Crow period of racial segregation during which we lived under laws designed to prevent the descendants of those slaves from exercising their human and civil rights.
In any event, our fear is that like in Charlottesville, others may come to this rally looking for trouble, hence this gathering to pray for peace and to pray for the police and others who will be providing security and working to prevent confrontations. I do have a couple of things to say:
• We should not lose sight of the humanity of those we disagree with. There are many realities at play: fear, feeling displaced, people feeling frustrated in their aspirations. We all have blind spots and it does no good to demonize another person. No one of us is in a position to judge the state of another person’s soul. So we need to keep our souls pure in their regard.
• We should not, however, act as if there is some sort of equivalency that we need to pretend exists in order to come across as even handed.
There is no equivalency between racist positions and positions that recognize racial equality, no equivalency between hatred and love, no equivalency between darkness and the light. The light is stronger than the darkness, so if we let our light shine, the darkness will of necessity have to recede. Love is stronger than hatred, so all we need to do is continue to extend love and eventually hardened hearts will begin to soften.
In my opinion, the place for monuments to the Confederacy is in cemeteries in which Confederate war veterans are buried — places of memory and prayer — and not in places where the monument could be construed as public approval and even admiration for those who fought to keep their brothers and sisters in bondage.
If you go to Germany today, you will find that almost all the memorials to German soldiers who died in World War II are in cemeteries; you will never find a memorial to the Third Reich in any public place, nor a monument honoring any Nazi leader anywhere.
Germany has repudiated the racial ideology of the Third Reich but clearly we have some who have not yet repudiated the racial ideology of the Confederacy, and the presence of monuments that commemorate that inhumane period are not helpful in bringing us together as a country.
One thing that can bring us together is prayer and one prayer that all Christians pray is the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that you and I can say along with many of those who will gather in the rally to take place today, a prayer that serves to lift us above the passions of the moment and enable us to view things from a higher perspective.
• “Our Father”: he’s their father as much as he is mine or yours.
• Who art in heaven: God’s perspective embraces far more than we will ever understand.
• Hallowed be thy name: may all our efforts, including our efforts today, give him glory, not us.
• Thy Kingdom come: we commit ourselves to work for the coming of his kingdom of peace and justice.
• Thy will be done: no matter how convinced we are that we are right, it is not my will or your will, but his will that matters.
• On earth as it is in heaven: and since his will is done perfectly in heaven, we commit ourselves to doing it as perfectly as we can on earth, not half way, no unworthy compromises.
• Give us this day our daily bread: we trust him to provide us with all we need, which may not be all that we desire, but it will be all we need. Remember the manna in the desert? Not gourmet food but the people were fed, their needs were met.
• Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us: meaning that we have to forgive even those who for whatever reason are up to no good, at least if we want to be forgiven for wrong things that for whatever reason we have done.
• And lead us not into temptation: may the Lord preserve us in areas that we are weak, for instance not getting angry when we are provoked.
• But deliver us from evil: protect us from every kind of harm.
Brothers and sisters, we have gathered in this place to pray for peace and justice. We have gathered to pray that the Lord will use us as light shining in the darkness, a source of hope and healing and understanding. This means standing up for what is right, but it also means doing so in a way that respects the intrinsic human dignity of those we disagree with.
Let us not forget that God loves them just as much as he does us. He may disapprove of their actions, but he doesn’t therefore withdraw his love. We can be separated from his love only by our own choice and even then he continues to love us. And he calls us to love others as he loves, meaning completely, unconditionally and sacrificially. And as I said, love is capable of softening even the hardest hearts.
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