Love is Stronger than Hate
November 17, 2016
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
When the Rev. Francisco Valle, assistant priest at Our Saviour, Hillandale, rose to preach on Sunday afternoon, he faced a full sanctuary. The ninety or so regular worshippers of the Spanish speaking service had seen their church’s sign and memorial garden vandalized with the words “Trump Nation. Whites Only.” They were sitting alongside men, women and children from across the diocese who had responded to the call to join them in worship as an act of solidarity and love. Also present were elected officials, interfaith leaders, concerned neighbors and a representative from the Salvadoran consulate.
Speaking first in English, Padre Francisco thanked all of us who had come to show our support and counter the hateful message sent to his people. Then he spoke in Spanish to his community: “The gospel warns us of times of persecution and violence. And now that violence has come closer to us. We hear it in the streets. Our children experience it at school. And it has come here to church.”
Then, with his voice gently rising, he said, “But we follow Jesus in the ways of love. To those who wrote those hateful words I say, ‘We love you. We are a congregation of working people. We mean no harm to anyone.’ He closed by exhorting us all to pray the prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love.”
Then a lay leader from Washington National Cathedral, Mary Baylor, arrived with bags of chalk. After worship everyone processed outside, chalk in hand, to write on the sidewalk messages of love and welcome. The children wrote with great intention, drawing heart signs around their words. Earlier in the morning one child had asked the Rev. Robert Harvey, rector of Our Saviour, why people had written such mean things. “Let’s go make it better,” he replied. And they did.
I am in awe of the clergy and lay leaders of Our Saviour for their faithful resolve, gentle spirit, and grace under pressure. I’m also grateful to serve a diocese that has surrounded the people of Our Saviour with prayers and support, while stating emphatically that such actions are unacceptable.
The Diocesan Council voted on Tuesday to draft a letter to President-elect Trump, asking him to take a strong public stand against any acts of violence or hate speech perpetrated in his name. Vestries and wardens are writing letters of support to the congregation. Many have contributed financially to mitigate the effects of the vandalism. And in the middle of Monday night, a new sign was planted in place of the old one. It reads, “Silver Spring Loves and Welcomes Immigrants.”
In this emotionally charged climate, our presence, engagement, and words matter. It’s important that we cultivate our capacity to see the world we live in through more than one lens. As it is written in the book of James, we must “be quick to listen, slow to speak.” Yet on Sunday we needed to act, to demonstrate with words and deeds that goodness is stronger than evil and love is stronger than hate. If need be, we will do so again.