Sojourners – August, 2017 – pp. 16-19
First excerpt: Tony McAleer and Life after Hate
A young man, Tony McAleer, formed a ministry called, “Life After Hate,” a non-profit dedicated to leaving neo-Nazi and other extremist groups. A friend of McAleer’s was being waited on at McDonald’s by an elderly African-American women who could not help but see a swastika tattooed on his hand. Her brilliant response was, “Oh honey, you’re so much better than that!” It would take several years to ultimately leave the hate group but that kind woman planted a seed into the soul of this young man and he simply couldn’t shake it. The words continued to resonate deep within his wounded soul. As McAleer said, “It’s incredibly powerful to receive compassion from someone you’ve dehumanized.”
Standing up and speaking out takes many different forms. It is silence which unwittingly perpetuates the distorted notions of neo-Nazism. The most effective form of standing up and speaking out, in my opinion, is not violent, harsh, mean-spirited and offensive. The McDonald’s worker demonstrates the power of love simply shared, powerfully spoken in a spirit of genuine care and concern. As McAleer says in the article, “The hardest thing in the world is to have compassion for those who have no compassion, but those are the people who need it the most”. And yet, what converts the lost soul is showing and sharing the compassion of Christ with the lost and lonely.
Second excerpt: the root of hate
According to the research, the root of the fruit of hate and bigotry is disconnection and childhood trauma. Disconnection leads to social isolation and personal discontent. The main character of the story, Tony McAleer, experienced severe bullying at the Catholic boys school he attended in Vancouver, BC. He found violence to be the only way he could fit and be accepted. His physician father was absent physically and emotionally and he did everything in his power to get his father’s attention, including the hanging of Hitler’s picture in his bedroom. As he says in the article, “I’d rather have had bad attention from my dad than none at all.” McAleer’s deep anger and eventual rage led him to Neo-Nazism because it gave him an outlet for violence. It also gave him a place to belong to like-minded people.
By God’s design, we are social beings. He created us as unique individuals who relate to others in mutually respectful, honoring ways. Unfortunately, the church has perpetuated the notion the only place this really takes place is in the context of marriage. Marriage is an institution which enable us to experience connection. However, the Bible makes it quite clear that the primary place is the church. The church is people. It is not an institution at its best. It is not anything other than as the song says, “All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together!”
This article re-ignited my passion for the church as a place for all God’s people. Red, brown, black, yellow and white, they are all precious in his sight. For Jesus loves the children of the world. As Civil righs activist John Perkins says, “The best way to minister to a gang member isn’t to tell them to give up on gang life – it’s to provide a new gang.” When the church is its best, we are a healthy gang in the sense of providing a safe place to belong, to become.
As McAleer says, “We try to help people reconnect with their humanity – first their own unresolved pain and sense of being unlovable, then that of others whom they’ve mistreated, whose pre-emptive offer of grace often sets the whole process going.” That is the mission of the church. That’s the church as Jesus intended it. Because, we are all so much better than anything that blocks the gift of zoe – abundant life!