It started with a bumper sticker.
(If you can’t see images, it depicts a rainbow-striped figured getting kicked in the gut by a figure coloured in a flag advocating … state’s rights? (Really, if you’re going to claim that the Confederate battle flag is not a flag of hate, don’t do hateful things under it!))
And, as a progressive, I knew my weekend wasn’t going to go well.
That really made me upset and angry and sad. That the political climate has gotten to the point where people who hate are more open with their hate, making people different than them in every way uncomfortable so that they can be comfortable is very distressing.
But then came the revenge fantasies.
Same decal, but the roles are reversed. Blessed are the persecuted, for they shalt kick ass!
But this is not the answer either. You’ll notice by my subversion of the Beatitudes that this isn’t the way Jesus wants us to act either. Progressive First Lady Michelle Obama famously said “When they go low, we go high”, having gone through persecution ourselves, do we seriously want that for others?
Finally, I saw what I thought was the answer on Facebook:
Forgiveness. That’s in line with what Jesus said we should do, right? “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”. This is definitely what Jesus wants.
But it isn’t that easy.
In response to this whole issue a friend of mine on Facebook, who is a member of the LGBT community, has also seen the meme come full circle, from being persecuted, to doing the persecuting, to forgiving the persecutor. After her and others like her being subjected to senseless and hurtful discrimination and abuse at the hands of those who use the Bible as a blunt instrument, asking forgiveness for being themselves and not being the wrongdoers makes absolutely no sense. And the fact that the character not in the rainbow stripes is still decorated in the design of a flag that has come to represent racism and subjugation makes forgiveness make even less sense.
So what does Jesus say about forgiving those who hate us? Whether they are racists firebombing houses and places of worship of those of other nationalities and religions, or right-wing legislators making it legally acceptable to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identification, or even conservative Christians mocking and denigrating progressives for our work to love and care for everyone, as Jesus commanded, there are several key passages to look at.
First is the above quoted Matthew 5:44, where we are to love our enemies and pray for them. Then there is the famous passage from Matthew 18 where Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive someone who sins against him. He suggests seven (not as the actual number seven, but as a generic somewhat large number, like how we might use “a hundred” today), but Jesus replies “seventy times seven” (or, in some translations, “seventy seven”) – again a generic astronomically large number, like how we’d use “a billion”. Then Jesus, as he is wont to do, illustrated this with a parable, this one about a king who took pity on a servant in his debt and forgave his debt, only to get angry with the same servant who refused to forgive a debt he was owed.
Back to our flag-bedecked stick figures. Should we forgive people that have wronged us, hurt us, discriminated against us, terrorized us, and denied our rights, like the last set are doing? Jesus is telling us to forgive no matter what. But, the parable that illustrates the point also says that if we come for forgiveness we cannot just come for forgiveness and continue to not change at all afterwards. Forgiveness involves leaving behind what made the other person angry. Taking off hateful attitudes and never putting them back on. And truly accepting similar acts.