The recent attack on the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., was another of an increasing number of incidents involving a hate-filled shooter. While this man was acting alone, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports 926 hate groups in the US, a 4 percent increase since 2007. These groups, and related websites, are fueled by the recession, racism, immigration issues, and ignorance.
Instead of feeling helpless in the face of such violence, anyone concerned with these issues has the power to respond right now, and to make an important difference. This response isn't a demand for more legislation or additional financial outlays for security. It takes the form of prayer. The first step is to address in prayer one's own feelings of dismay, anger, or even rage that such groups exist to influence others into mistaken beliefs about their fellow human beings.
Difficult as it may be to do at times, Jesus' teachings require one to love one's neighbor as oneself. This doesn't mean one excuses a neighbor's racism or hatred; just that one loves him or her as Jesus would. To think about the kinds of people Jesus encountered – especially those who hated him – makes his ministry all the more remarkable. Even on the cross, he asked God to forgive those who had crucified him because "they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
His resurrection proved the power of God's love to protect His children, but it didn't bring about an immediate end to hatred on earth. As the early Christians discovered, there were others who would step up to the plate. One of them was a man named Saul, whose main focus became hunting down and killing Christians. This small group of people, who truly believed Jesus' teachings, responded with prayer as the book of Acts in the Bible makes clear.
The result was a literal transformation. On the road to Damascus, hunting down more Christians, the self-righteous, hate-filled Saul saw a vision of Jesus that turned him into a Christian. He took the new name of Paul and is now recognized as one of the chief workers in spreading the Gospel.
There have been more modern examples of individuals whose lives were turned from hatred to love, and right now when there seems to be so stark a division among people, the need for serious prayer is great. This prayer can recognize that an appetite for hate and hate-filled communications is unnatural to the man and woman of God's creating.
The Bible specifically states that "God is love" (I John 4:16), and it follows that the children of God are the children of Love. To be the child of Love definitely excludes a desire for hatred or even an interest in it.
People are led to believe in hatred through fear of loss to other groups (racial, religious, or "other") or through ignorance of humanity's unity through the love of the one Mind, or God. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, illuminates that point in an article where she wrote, "Only by admitting evil as a reality, and entering into a state of evil thoughts, can we in belief separate one man's interests from those of the whole human family, or thus attempt to separate Life from God. This is the mistake that causes much that must be repented of and overcome" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896," p. 18).
Our prayers affirming that all people are loved by God, and that this spiritual fact is what remains at the end of the day, will begin to lift this sense of evil as a power, and reduce the fear. Under God's love, all are provided for, and no one needs to feel left out or denied good.
When we pray in this way, we aren't just comforting ourselves with nice thoughts. We're actually tapping into the laws of the universe that God created. So we can pray with an expectation that there will be change for the better, that things will work together for good instead of for evil. As Paul himself put it, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
How this change will come about, we can't outline. It could take the form of one person realizing that delving deeply into hatred is self-destructive. That person could have the wisdom to turn away from joining in with those who spout hateful thoughts toward individuals or groups that are "different" from their worldview, and through his or her example, help others to be more loving.
The bottom line to our prayers is to seek the transformation that will help free us from anger and hatred toward those who are angry and hate-filled, and also to lift them higher, to a knowledge that they are already secure in God's love and don't need to fear. Diligent prayer along these lines, keeping in thought the power of Christ to transform all individuals, won't just save them or us. To free them is to free those who would be their victims – as the early Christians found out when the enemy Saul became their devoted worker, Paul.