I’ve never really understood anti-Semitism. Maybe this is not a great testimony of my public school education, but I didn’t know what the word meant until I took a class in college on political history. I guess I didn’t pay attention to the news or just never thought to ask about the word’s meaning. In high school and college, I had Jewish friends. We played sports together and sat together at lunch. We went to the same parties, studied together, and spent time in the same social circles. If one of my Jewish friends showed up in the school cafeteria wearing a yarmulke, I would view it in the same way as my Catholic friend who walked in on Ash Wednesday with a black smudge in the shape of a cross on his forehead. It was different, but I really didn’t think any more about it.
So, you can imagine my shock this past weekend when I heard the story of the eleven individuals who were gunned down while worshiping at their temple in Pittsburg. The accused gunman stormed inside the temple and opened fire, killing eleven and wounding six others. Allegedly, he had previously posted hate-filled rants on social media against people who are Jewish, simply for being Jewish. The evil and hatred in his heart eventually translated into the horrific actions he took this past Saturday.
While I cannot understand this mindset, I do understand racism and hatred. Not only have I seen it happening around me, I’ve experienced it within my own heart. I’ve judged another individual as “lesser” because of the color of his skin or his ethnic heritage. I’ve made derogatory comments I never should have uttered. I’ve allowed the demon of hatred and racism to prance around in my own heart.
Thankfully, the gospel frees us from this awful beast. The gospel not only teaches us that we are fully accepted by God in Christ (and therefore, as dearly loved children, do not have to put others down to elevate ourselves), it also teaches us that all of mankind has been made in the image of God. While we may disagree strongly with others on God, salvation, eternity, or what is true, hatred and racism have no place in the heart of the Christ-follower.
Martin Luther King, Jr has been quoted as saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” While Dr. King did not actually write or speak those words, I’m convinced he would have. That is the message of the gospel. We are called to be light and love in a world filled with darkness and hate.
As a pastor, the attack on individuals in their house of worship concerns me greatly. This has happened far too many times in recent history: to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. We have, as a church, been forced to implement a number of safety precautions. We have police officers present on our campus during worship, and we have a safety team who has been trained on what to do in the event of some kind of incident. We pray these individuals will never have to use their training, but I’m thankful for all that we’ve done to put protections in place.
However, what disturbs me more is the amount of hatred and darkness in our nation. Those of us who follow Christ — the church in America — aren’t doing enough to be light around us. We have been given a very specific mission by Jesus: to so let our light shine before others (Matthew 5:16). We do this by living out and sharing the wonderful news of the gospel.
I’m thankful to be the pastor of a church committed to doing that in our community. My hope and prayer is that the light of the gospel will chase out the darkness of hatred and racism where we live.
Kevin Mills is the Lead Pastor of Northway Church in Macon, GA.