Reflecting on Hatred: No Equivalency

In reference to events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, I have heard a number of people suggest that there is fault on both sides and that there is some sort of equivalency between the groups that clashed. While it is true that there is fault on all sides, the argument about equivalency is patently false. The following “fact check” by the New York Times appeared on Tuesday, August 15:

“(In the past 25 years) White nationalists; militia movements; anti-Muslim attackers; I.R.S. building and abortion clinic bombers; and other right-wing groups were responsible for 12 times as many fatalities and 36 times as many injuries as communists; socialists; animal rights and environmental activists; anti-white- and Black Lives Matter-inspired attackers; and other left-wing groups.

Of the nearly 1,500 individuals in a University of Maryland study of radicalization from 1948 to 2013, 43 percent espoused far-right ideologies, compared to 21 percent for the far left. Far-right individuals were more likely to commit violence against people, while those on the far left were more likely to commit property damage.”

Violence is never to be endorsed. But let’s be clear about where the bulk of the violence is coming from and not be blinded by the equivalence rhetoric. The white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups are promoting hatred of Blacks, Jews, Moslems, immigrants and others—challenging their right to exist. That hatred is opposed and denounced by the resistors as immoral. Most of this resistance is motivated by love and respect for the very same people the other side rejects. Love does not equal hate. There is NO MORAL EQUIVALENCY here.

In our Episcopal Church we remember people whose lives were exemplary in some fashion. This past Monday, August 14, we recalled Jonathan Myrick Daniels, killed by a shotgun wielded by a racist as he pushed a teenage girl out of the way of her attacker. Daniels and his small group were in Alabama working for equality and voter rights at the behest of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of his death, Daniels was a seminarian who felt deeply called to witness to the equality we all share as children of God.

When I realized that the church was asking us to recall Jonathan’s life and death just two days after Charlottesville, I knew that it was not just a random coincidence but another God-thing. The real moral witness of King and Gandhi and Daniels and all of the others who resisted hatred was the non-violent nature of that resistance. In the face of violence, they gave not into hate, but to love even for their persecutors.

Jesus instructed his followers to put down the sword. Even from the cross he asked God’s forgiveness for those who were killing him. I call upon all people of faith and goodwill to stand with the great cloud of witness who over the millennia have non-violently resisted hatred and oppression. Take the moral high ground. Resist, but do not hate. Stand for righteousness, but do not strike back. And pray for those whose hatred corrodes their souls.

–The Rev. Dr. John Paddock