November 6, 2016 — All Saints’ Day
Rev. Alison Quin
Love’s Power to Transform
A few weeks ago, I read an astonishing article in the Washington Post. It was about Derek Black, a young man raised in a family that champions white supremacist ideology. Some of you may have read it as well but it is such a powerful story that it bears repeating.
Derek was raised by parents who are leaders in the white supremacist movement. His godfather is David Duke. They taught him that America is a place for white Europeans, and every one else should leave.
He was a very intelligent kid, and at age 10, he started a white supremacist group online for kids. By age 13, he had his own weekly radio show. He and his family supported the “birther” movement, an investigation sponsored by Donald Trump into whether Obama was really born in the United States. They worked to get white supremacist ideas more widely accepted, especially within the Tea Party and the far right wing of the Republican party. They renamed it white nationalism, arguing that every group has its own nation, and should live there. The US is for white people.
This young man went to community college, and then to New College, a fairly liberal college, to study medieval history. He went underground with his views, but he kept up his weekly radio show. He went abroad for a semester and while he was away, a student discovered his website, and posted about it on the student message board. When he came back to the college, he moved off campus to avoid his friends, who felt betrayed, and his fellow students, who posted over a thousand comments about him and his views on the message board.
He was completely isolated for several months. Then, students on the message board began to wonder aloud if there was anything they could do to change his mind. After much thought, one of his acquaintances, an Orthodox Jew, decided to invite him to Shabbat dinner which he hosted every Friday night. He was very wary because Derek had posted anti-Semitic statements on his website. Other students stayed away from the dinner, anxious about being in the presence of someone who expressed so much hateful ideology.
Derek showed up, brought a bottle of wine, didn’t say much. And then he came back the next week, and the next. The other students came back too, even the ones who stayed away at first. He had the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of people. After several months, they began to exchange views, and to engage in debates over them. His friends argued against his views and sent him numerous studies discrediting his theories of racial superiority.
When he graduated three years later, his views had completely changed. A friend challenged him to publicly disavow his racist past, and he did so, writing a long statement and sending it to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which had long had him on their watch list of hate groups.
They published it online.
His family initially was very hurt and angry with him and threatened to cut him off. But eventually, they accepted him, even though he is now diametrically opposed to them in his ideology.
This story takes us to the very heart of Christian teaching. In Luke, Jesus tells his disciples to“love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.”
Derek’s story bears witness to the power of love to reach across every wall that divides us from one another and open our eyes to see that we are in reality brothers and sisters. That Jewish student extended the hand of friendship, and a simple invitation to dinner, and thus began the transformation of a young man steeped in racist ideology.
This is the hope to which Jesus calls us—that with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we might see each other as human beings, beloved children of God, no matter what our race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation.
To be a Christian is to believe in the power of God’s love, not only to transform individual hearts, but to finally prevail over all hatred, hostility and violence. We believe that love is the most powerful force in the universe, powerful enough to raise the dead and change the world. Listen again to Ephesians: “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…and he has put all things under his feet…”
We face deep divisions in our country—we have heard many hostile statements about immigrants, women and people of color in this bitter election season. We have seen a growing greed and indifference about poverty and helping the poor. We face war and terror in different parts of the world and we have seen politicians use these situations to exploit fear.
But that is not truth. Division and hatred and greed and fear are not the truth about who we are, who God created us to be. We are created in God’s own image, to love God and love one another.
God’s love is the power that brought life into being, and sustains life, and will finally unite us all under a single banner. Christianity is a universal religion, not because it will someday push out all other religions, but because love is central to all true religions.
Our particular gift is Jesus, whom we believe embodies divine love in human form, giving us hope that all of us can one day embody love the way he did.
As Christians, we must stand for the power of love. We must hold fast to our vision of a united world, a world of peace and justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” We must work and struggle and pray for a world in which we do to others as we would have them do to us.
Our destiny is become wholly love, and the destiny of creation is to become united in love. This is our hope and our vision, the faith that the saints have gone before us have handed down to us.
They have already fulfilled that destiny—they have arrived at the point where love reigns, where Christ is above every rule and authority and power and dominion and name. They are there now, beckoning us onward, giving us strength to continue on the way, the Jesus way, the way of love.
May all the saints bless you, and may Christ give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you see and have faith in the power of love to transform all our hearts, and create a world at peace with itself and its creator.