My maternal grandfather, Michael Essey Hanna, immigrated from Damascus, Syria. I was the last grandchild he kissed, but I don’t remember him. He died of a heart attack at age 71 when I was just two months old. What I wouldn’t give to have a conversation with him. Among others, I have these questions:
- What was it like being Christian in a mostly Muslim country?
- Why did you leave Damascus?
- How did you settle in Donora, PA? Was it your target destination?
- Being a dark-skin arabic immigrant living among predominantly white eastern Europeans, did you experience racism?
What I know about him is that he overcame obstacles to provide the quality of life he wanted for his family. I also know he taught my mom to suspend judgement of others as to their motives, especially if she was unsure of their motives. To assume, and then to accuse, that another person acted out a racist attitude is itself an injustice. He taught it was wrong to believe he could peer into someone else’s heart and assume he knew why they did what they did. He taught covert racism is often difficult to prove and those who claim to have experienced it often cannot validate their assumptions without an act of overt racism.
And to be clear, I am not addressing overt racism here, which should be hated by all good men, women and children. Overt racism is a sin and heinous crimes have been committed from it, crimes that should be protested, opposed and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We take it seriously because God takes it seriously. When a black man is murdered, it is an injustice, racially motivated or not. Murder is still murder. Malice is still malice, no matter the race of the victim or perpetrator.
With covert racism, even when truly felt, our assumptions can be wholly untrue and unjust. False accusation is a serious sin that God calls slander, which is the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation. We are commanded to “not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
My intention here is to show how seriously God takes the carelessness and maliciousness of accusations hurled daily in the media and on social media. We are called to a higher standard. We commanded to not spew the venom. We are empowered to practice neighborly love whereby we prioritize likeness over differences and place otherness over selfishness.
However, neighborly love is only possible when get the order of love right. Our commitment to express neighborly love is only possible AFTER we love God first with all our heart and mind. It’s conditional and in that order. Love God first. Love your neighbor as yourself second. The latter will happen when the former is done. It’s that simple. Racism, and all forms of social injustice, would become extinct.
Do you want to eradicate bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, and every form of malice?
Do you want everyone to be kind and compassionate to one another? Do you want everyone to master forgiveness?
Then we each have to vow to love God first. We each need extreme ownership of loving God above all else and prioritizing our relationship with Him. Only then can our earthly relationships heal and improve. Only then can we love our neighbors as ourselves.
You can scoff at that. You can tune out. You can abandon this story immediately. That’s ok. It’s your choice. However, don’t do that and also complain about racism, prejudice, discrimination, or any other social disease that plagues our culture. You’ll still be loved, however you won’t be part of the solution.
God’s love is foundationally different than the love of people. The world operates within the framework of works and rewards, cause and effect, but God wants to build your foundation on His unconditional compassion. God longs to establish your relationship on the building blocks of His love and grace. It was God’s compassion for you that led Him to search you out when sin had wedged a great chasm between you and Him. It’s God’s compassion that drives him even now to pour out his unfathomable love and affection over you. Yes, even now, flaws and all. One of the beautiful things about having an unconditionally loving Father is that you don’t need to clean yourself up prior to vulnerably submitting to him. You only need to humble yourself and submit.
Imagine if we all did that. That’s the solution the United States, and the world, needs. Make a vow to love God first. Do not delay. Fulfill your vow today with your head and watch your heart be transformed with neighborly love for all people.