When former inmate and skinhead gang member Michael Kent was assigned to an African-American probation officer, his life took an unexpected turn. His new officer didn’t judge him, but she encouraged him to surround himself with positive symbols, not hateful ones. “If she believes in the good in people, I know I can, too,” he said in an interview with ABC News. He now refers to her as “family,” and he has taken down the Nazi flag that hung in his living room. He’s also covered up the swastika tattoo that had been on his chest for more than 20 years.
I’d like to think his probation officer expressed the spirit of love that the Apostle Paul spoke of when he addressed the Romans, who were longtime persecutors of Christ Jesus’ followers. “Don’t just pretend to love others,” he said. “Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:9, 10, New Living Translation).
Paul’s words echo Jesus’ statement: “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you” (John 15:12, NLT). To illustrate this idea, Jesus tells a story highlighting the kindness of a humble Samaritan who helped a Jew in great need, despite hundreds of years of hatred and intolerance between the Jews and Samaritans. He challenged his audience then – and now – to break down those walls of hostility and to love the very person we’ve been taught to hate.
Recent rhetoric and actions in countries around the world have reflected just the opposite. But I’ve been inspired by a surge of grassroots social activism that is indicative of progress, such as the online movement “Compassion Games,” which has gained traction across the globe. When a warden at a high security women’s prison approved an 11-day trial of the game, prisoners logged 4,600 acts of kindness without a single act of violence. It ended up transforming the entire culture of the prison, even leading to the healing of deep emotional wounds.
For me, progress begins with following Jesus’ commandment to love my neighbor. Everyone is capable of feeling and expressing the love that heals wounds, both mental and physical, because we are each created by God, divine Love. Being willing to let this infinite Love, which knows no evil, guide our thoughts and actions enables us all to express the kind of compassion and affection toward others that Jesus urged us to express. This approach is uniquely scientific, based on the law of divine Love – which is in operation at every moment. Even when faced with the most entrenched hate, we can let this spiritual law of Love lead us forward.
Mary Baker Eddy, who, through her discovery of Christian Science, dedicated her life to understanding and communicating the spiritual laws underlying Christ Jesus’ healing works, wrote of the “love wherewith Christ loveth us; a love unselfish, unambitious, impartial, universal, – that loves only because it is Love” (“Pulpit and Press,” p. 21). And she wrote this from personal experience.
This kind of spiritual love – loving our neighbor in the way Jesus taught – is exactly what will begin to break down walls of bigotry.