At a recent church service, the sermon focused on the 12th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, which describes Jesus’ answer to a question from a scribe about which Commandment is “first of all.” Jesus replies with the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Even though Jesus was not asked about a “second Commandment”, he adds to the Shema, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In response, for once, a scribe agrees with Jesus.
It seemed timely to hear this verse and to hear a modern-day minister preach on it. Just a few weeks ago, eleven people were tragically killed at a Jewish synagogue near Pittsburgh. These innocent Jews were killed by a man filled with hate, much like the murders of innocent African American Christians in a Charleston church three years ago. These horrific events remind us that evil is not a superstition, but an all too real presence in our society.
The Old Testament and Jesus are crystal clear: the very essence of God is love. Therefore, anyone who hates another person acts against God and his purposes for humankind. Jesus took it another step by joining the Commandment to love one another with the Commandment to love God. Saint John in his first letter is explicit: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Our obligation to love one another applies to everyone. Indeed, the very presence of hate inside us is the work of evil, and we should all strive against that evil in our own lives. And when a particularly tragic work of evil happens, as happened in Pittsburgh, we need to speak out so that we reinforce our collective resolve against it.
In the heart of election season, it is especially important to remember that more unites us than divides us. As Americans – and as humans – we are united by common bonds of love, faith, and understanding. Far too often we get caught up in the areas of disagreement, instead of realizing that far more brings us together.
We are all imperfect humans made by our Creator. While we are often divided by where we live, our age, our background, our race, or our gender, we are brought together by many important common factors.
My study of U.S. history long ago convinced me that our national principle of the equality of all people, explicit in The Declaration of Independence and reiterated by President Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, is rooted in our Founders’ understanding of the Bible’s clear teaching that we are all created and loved by God, and therefore must love and must value one another. So violent attacks on people because of their race or religion are truly un-American as well.
An attack on any human because of their religious beliefs or the color of their skin or their background is an attack on all of us and the values we hold most dear. When we let these actions further divide, we only fuel the fire of hatred. Instead, we should use events like we saw in Pittsburgh to unite us and bring us closer together.
So, please allow me to add my voice with many others against the evil of these and other acts of violence. There is no place, and this is no time, to hate.
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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.