A few years back I was able to sit in on a presentation at a Saturday night church service from a very accomplished clinical psychologist by the name of Dr. Ted Wolgamot. His presentation was on the high percentage of physical and sexual abuse at a young age among the prison population. The numbers and statistics he presented seemed exaggerated and extremely high in my opinion and I would have dismissed them completely if it weren’t for all the ex-convicts in the room crying. At this particular presentation, a large number of ex-convicts who had transitioned or were in the process of transitioning were invited and what I witnessed was profound. These were grown men and women who seemed like the toughest people in the room, sobbing uncontrollably. And then I saw something even more powerful- I saw all of the other people in that service quickly embrace the ex-convicts and speak words of encouragement to them. Some even cried with them as they bore their pain. I am going to focus on two aspects I took away from this experience. The first is the data presented and the second is the path to healing.
I apologize that I do not recall the exact figures, but I can tell you it was an extremely high percentage of the prison population who had suffered abuse in their younger days. I remember what was most shocking for me was how prevalent sexual abuse was amongst the male population. Because of society’s assumptions and expectations, the men were less likely to have told anyone about when they were victimized which led to anger and fits of rage. These events caused both sexes a great deal of confusion and pain that manifested itself in harm and disregard for other people and themselves. The old adage, hurt people hurt people, rang true as I sat in this room.
The Big ‘As’
On one of the many occasions when Jesus was in dispute with the powers that be of His day, a scribe, the lawyers of the Jewish law, was intrigued by how well Jesus answered his challengers. The scribe asked:
“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor AS yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 emphasis added)
Imagine a person who was molested and beaten in their formative years hearing this? Imagine that this person was abandoned, before they can even remember, by a parent, one of the two people on the earth made to love them? Imagine a person so hardened by rejection, hurt, and disappointment that by 10 years old the thought of telling someone what happened to them doesn’t even cross their mind. How can one love their neighbor AS themself when they have never experienced love themselves? Or, they had someone who loved them and then they failed, left, or abused them. The prerequisite to being able to love your neighbor is loving yourself or believing you are worth loving.
The Healing Path
A person who loves themselves doesn't need confirmation from the culture about their worth. This is not a white and brown problem. This is not a call for every white person to feel sorry for every person who has more pigment in their skin. This is not a call for the “victimized” to demand they have value in the face of white people. This is also not a call for standards to be lowered. This is an identity crisis. This is a call for all who’ve known love and compassion to extend it to their neighbors who haven’t. This is a call for people to bear with their brothers and sisters until they realize who God made them to be and then to encourage them in their journey to get there. People behave according to who they believe they are. Once people realize they are loved and made to be royalty, they will then have a desire and passion to act like it. Through this lens, they can have the hope and motivation needed to transform their physical reality to match the truth that is within them. It is from this vantage point that justice is to be demanded and righteousness sought. Those who do not know Love and those who are hopeless justify the use of violence and the disregard of other people and their property because hurt people hurt people. This is a call to action for all the body of Christ of every ethnic group to Love their neighbors AS themselves. We must Love first and with no thought of return because the world is full of people who are incapable of doing this; they do not know Love or what it looks like. This is love- God loved us long before we loved Him. It was His love, not ours, that changed everything. He proved His love by sending his Son to be the pleasing sacrifice to take away our sins. Delightfully loved ones, if He loved us with such tremendous love, then “loving one another” should be our way of life! (1 John 4:10-11 TPT) It was His love, not ours, that came to our rescue and now it is our love, not theirs, that will bring healing. We were made to be Love in a world where people believe, whether it is true or not, that there are entire groups of people that hate them because of their race and ethnicity. There are many in our land who have developed harmful stereotypes that enable them to view those made in God’s image as an oppressor or as a lesser being. Love is the only way to break down stereotypes. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Though people may fail, Love never fails. (derived from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Who is my Neighbor
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor AS yourself” and ever since people have been asking “who is my neighbor?” When a lawyer asked this question to Jesus, Jesus' answer broke down the racial dividing lines of His day. He answered:
30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. 31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. 33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ 36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. 37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”(Luke 10:30-37)
You see, Samaritans were mixed-raced people that the Jewish people of the day saw as unclean. They treated Samaritans as less worthy than pureblood Jews. Jesus' answer let it be known that all are included in the word ‘neighbor’. The Gospel has always been the way to peace and Jesus is the Prince of Peace. As followers of Jesus, we are called to have the same mind as Jesus who emptied and humbled Himself to Love even those who hated and reviled Him. He then demonstrated His Love by giving His life while we were at our worst. We, His people, have been called to bring this good news and demonstrate the healing Jesus already gave to our hurting world. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (Colossians 3:12-14) People first need to experience Love, to feel loved, in order to love. And we who claim the name of Jesus have not only been loved but we are, right now, HIS BELOVED!
In part 6b I will speak on the challenges ahead of us in bearing with one another.