Reflections on Responsible Spirituality
(Originally published in the Coconut Wireless, March 24, 2021.)
The killing of workers in Georgia upset us both because of the grievous loss of life and what was said after the fact. How can a police official indicate that the person who murdered eight other people was "having a bad day?" What does that mean? Someone having a "bad day" with their family is not licensed to kill the family. Someone having a "bad day" at work does not have the right to kill coworkers. Someone having a "bad day" with life does not have permission to lash out and murder others.
Clearly prejudice was involved and clearly the attitudes that allow for prejudice need to be condemned. We must acknowledge that too many Asian Americans are having to spend their time worrying about their own safety at work and in public. A study released last week by the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate (AAPI = Asian American, Pacific Islander) recorded 3,795 reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. [You may find the full report HERE.]
Hawai'i Conference staff condemn in no uncertain terms hate against anyone, anywhere, at any time. In this instance, we stand with people of Asian descent who call the United States home and continue to give God thanks for the richness and beauty of the Asian contributions to life in the Hawai'i Conference UCC.
Of particular concern is the motivation the shooter gave for his actions: that he believed he had a sex addiction and that the spas were "a temptation . . . that he wanted to eliminate." The shooter's confession draws our attention as people of faith for it echoes the teachings of Jesus. "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away . . . And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away." (Matthew 5:29-30) This teaching from the Sermon on the Mount encourages us to remove from our personal lives those things that might cause us to stumble. For example, if you have trouble with drinking—don't go to a bar. If you have trouble gambling—don't go to a gambling establishment. If you have trouble with drugs (illegal or legal)—remove the drugs from your life. What the Bible does not teach is that when you have trouble with others, then you are blessed to kill them. No hatred is as thorough as righteous religious hatred, and the New Testament does not give us permission to use righteous indignation to harm others.
Responsible spirituality has never been about condemning others. Rather, responsible spirituality is about looking inward and, in prayer and discernment with God, working on making ourselves better people. What the shooter in Atlanta did was to project onto others the very ugliness he found in himself. I suspect he was able to do this because of racial attitudes within himself and our society as a whole, which is why we need to stand strongly against attitudes that allow us to consider other people as the enemy and relate to them through acts of hate and violence. Later on, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also encourages us to pray for our enemies and to love those who hate us. Might it be that the best way to "gouge out" and "cut off" our offending attitudes and behaviors is by prayer with God and by acts of forgiveness and love toward fellow human beings?
David K. Popham Conference Minister