The recent incident at the University of Oklahoma involving a video of a repulsive racist chant on a fraternity bus is impelling a renewed focus on race and class in the United States. The incident is being dissected and analyzed by psychologists, educators, and social scientists, as well as the media – including this newspaper. Taken together with recent confrontations between law enforcement and local communities, there’s an urgency to find lasting solutions.
In sorting out how I can contribute to solutions, I find that as a Christian Scientist and student of the Bible, I’m irresistibly drawn to counsel that I believe can lead to healing. Two admonitions in the New Testament stand out: Love your neighbor and Treat others the way you want them to treat you (Matthew 22:39 and Matthew 7:12 respectively). Those two rules – one of them considered golden – have been around for thousands of years, and my guess is that at least some of the young men on that fraternity bus in Oklahoma are familiar with them. Christ Jesus spoke those inspired declarations, not as a detached teacher dispensing wisdom to the masses, but as someone who lived and practiced their truth throughout his career, even in drastic circumstances.
His example of refusing to respond in kind to persecution and forgiving his adversaries continues today for all of us to follow, but it’s apparent there are subtle pressures in society that pull us away from that example. For instance, it’s natural for people with common interests to bond together in clubs, fraternities, and other organizations. But as they develop a sense of pride and identity within the group, that sense may sometimes devolve into denigration, hatred, and even combative behavior aimed toward other groups. The result is prejudice based on culture, gender, ethnicity, or economic status.
Not long after Jesus lived, the Apostle Paul addressed this tendency. While appreciating the diversity of those around him, he also saw deeper than that, to the spiritual unity they all had as children of the same creator, expressing God’s nature as His image. He wrote: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:12, 13).
Many years ago I lost sight of this basic tenet and learned a painful lesson as a result. At the company where I worked I was once in a free-flowing creative meeting, and without thinking I repeated a joke that used a disparaging ethnic term. It got a laugh from my group, but then I noticed a friend and colleague across the room who came from that same ethnic background. My heart sank, as I knew he’d heard the remark. Although neither one of us ever brought up that regretful moment, his continued cordiality to me was a model of Christly forgiveness, and I learned that I needed to do better in practicing the Golden Rule.
In the years since, this has resulted in my working harder to speak only kindly to and about others. More important, this involves being constantly diligent in guarding my thoughts. When I pass people on the street or in the subway, I ask myself, “Have I unconsciously classified them by how they dress, how they walk, what music they’re listening to? Have I mentally addressed them as ‘homeless,’ or ‘drunk and disorderly’?” I admit I have to make more progress in that regard. That I didn’t utter those names out loud doesn’t diminish in any way my violation of those two biblical rules. In spite of outward appearances, I need to see through the material picture to a person’s true nature, which is spiritual and perfect and upheld by God, good. What I am finding is that every day presents me with new opportunities to see and love others as friend, neighbor, brother, or sister in our global family.
In the writings of Mary Baker Eddy – who discovered Christian Science and who founded this newspaper – we find firm counsel on this matter: “[Christian Science] teaches us to rise from sentimental affection which admires friends and hates enemies, into brotherly love which is just and kind to all and unable to cherish any enmity” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 41).
The brotherly love spoken of is based on an understanding that God, the one great Creator, is divine Love itself. And so God’s creation – including everyone – is equally loving and lovable. This is the spiritual reality for all of us, regardless of social, geographic, or cultural distinctions.
So with the recent news reports fresh in thought, rather than passing judgment or pointing fingers, I’ve been compelled to redouble my efforts to actively live those two rules in my life. And yes, I realize this also means seeing those young men in that fraternity as God’s children and loving them as well.