Here’s a hypothetical question I asked myself recently: If I could be transported back to the inauguration rally at which George Wallace promised “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” would I simply write off the former Alabama governor as racist, or would I behold an individual capable of being transformed?
The question was prompted by learning how the first African American woman to run for the American presidency, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, suspended her campaign when Wallace was gunned down while running in the same presidential race. She wanted to visit Wallace in the hospital “to help him regain his humanity.” She told one of her aides that “one act of kindness may make all the difference in the world.”
Wallace’s daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, said Chisholm’s visit to the hospital “planted a seed of new beginnings in my father’s heart.” Over time, that seed bore fruit when Wallace publicly renounced racism, sought the black community’s forgiveness, and appointed a record number of African Americans to fill state positions in his final term as governor.
Chisholm’s example prompted me to question my own attitude and to consider: Am I following the example of Jesus in how I think about those who I feel are excusing and fostering hatred?
In healing after healing, Jesus brought to light the nature of God as divine Love, knowing only His own flawless creation. In this true, spiritual creation, each individual is Deity’s loved offspring, expressing God’s boundless goodness.
But on a journey to Jerusalem, Christ Jesus also showed that one needs to exemplify this nature by rising above emotional reactions to bigoted behavior. He had sent some of his followers to Samaria to arrange a place to stay, but the Samaritans – a Jewish sect at loggerheads with Jews who worshipped in Jerusalem – bluntly refused their request (see Luke 9:51-56). Two of Jesus’ disciples reacted by asking if they should “command fire to come down from heaven” to destroy those who rejected him. But Jesus responded that he had come to liberate people, not destroy their lives.
The snub experienced by Jesus and his followers may seem dwarfed by issues of hatred dividing nations today. But Jesus responded in this way even when facing dire threats, consistently exemplifying his own unequivocal counsel to love one’s enemies (see Matthew 5:44, 45).
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered the divine Science of Christ, saw Jesus’ instruction not as a demand to love wrong behavior or ignore it, but as a way to help change it. Her deep understanding of Jesus’ counsel and example, and her own experience of sustaining that Christly love in the face of systematic attacks by those opposing her ideas, gave her authority to write, “Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” pp. 210-211).
A reforming, Christly love includes doing good – if the opportunity arises – to anyone we feel is an enemy, as Congresswoman Chisholm did. But to help awaken in others a desire to turn in the direction of reform takes a turnaround of our own, from either resigning or reacting to hatred to glimpsing divine Love’s universal reality.
Mrs. Eddy’s primary work on Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” describes both the boundless scope of this Love and the significance of Love being so unbounded: “Divine Love is infinite. Therefore all that really exists is in and of God, and manifests His love” (p. 340). This means that all that’s spiritually true about politicians, activists, or others we might feel deeply at odds with is that their real nature is “in and of God” and manifests God’s love.
Rather than hating, or returning hatred, the world needs the opposite from us: a yielding to Love’s infinite presence, which chips away at the appearance of solidity that human hatred presents. As we more consistently, humbly, and prayerfully yield to such glimpses of what divine Love is seeing, we can increasingly say, as Mary Baker Eddy once said, “Each day I pray: ‘God bless my enemies; make them Thy friends; give them to know the joy and the peace of love’ ” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 220). This will help to plant those seeds of new beginnings in their hearts.
Adapted from an editorial published in the Sept. 23, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.