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Point of View: Responding to vandalism, racism and hate

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Joel Harder
Joel Harder

Like many, my stomach turned when reading the graffiti and images defacing the offices of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. My heart sank when the same racist words and images marred the entrance of an elementary school a few days later, reminding me this dehumanizing ideology persists. Here, in the community where I am raising young children and where my neighbors, racially and religiously diverse people, also call home.

At least one arrest was made and I can only trust that the individuals or groups responsible will be discovered, along with their motives. Were they just trying to stir up trouble, or do those responsible actually believe the things they wrote? Regardless of the specifics, we cannot ignore the hateful ideas brandished in words and slogans. Ideas principally aimed to rob a person of their humanity.

How do we respond? How do we help children know there is still good in the world and more importantly, to do good in the world?

As a pastor and a chaplain, I appreciate that the nature of goodness can be complicated. What is good for one person may not be good for another and we live in a world of competing interests. However, all debate and disagreement evaporates when confronted with something so obviously not good.

That is how the great virtues work — love, peace, patience, kindness and others. You become acutely aware of the nature of peace when you don’t have it, of what is kind when you are confronted with something cruel.

The first response is to confront what is not good. Jesus told his followers to be salt and light in the world. He meant them to live in contrast by illumining what is good and exposing the darkness for what it is.

The second response is to take every opportunity to do good. The early Christians believed best way to confront the bad in the world around us was by doing good. “For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good” (1 Pet. 2:15)

It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but a simple act of kindness toward a stranger may change a mind, or even save a life. It is not the final word, but God’s initial response to evil is through our everyday acts of kindness that serve those around you. To stand next to a person targeted by hate and say, “I will stand beside you.”

Last, appeal to a higher authority who is just and righteous. The Jewish prophets consistently call God good while promising he will not leave the guilty unpunished (Nahum 1:7). Ultimately, I ask God to deal justly because that responsibility is beyond me.

God is not blind to the evil in the world and there is a day coming where every wrong will be made right.

The question isn’t whether God will deal justly with the evil in the world, but why has he not yet done it? That question is not new. The ancient psalmists cried, “How long, oh Lord, will the wicked boast?” (Ps. 94:3). God alone knows the answer, but it is partly because there is still good for us to do.

I hope there will be just consequences for the recent vandalism, and I trust that a day of perfect justice is coming for the sordid ideology it promotes. Until then, I pray that whenever darkness creeps into the world we would remember that it is another day to confront it with good.

Harder is chaplain of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

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