Do I Have to Love My Racist Friend? (And Other Uncomfortable Questions Caused by Grace)
Tommy actually ordered one of those hats. Yes, that hat! The hat with absolutely no style. You know the one. The one in bright red that has a meaningless political slogan on it. Except, Tommy’s hat is in camo. Yes, a camouflage political hat. And he’s pretty damn proud of it, as he says.
Now, I won’t paint everyone who wears this hat of the same ilk. I’ll just tell you about Tommy. Tommy is the one who says racist things all the time; just as a joke. He doesn’t think he’s being racist at all. For example, while driving a crowded street at night he might say, “I wish they’d smile so I could see ‘em.”
Ouch. I cringed just typing that. But that’s Tommy.
Tommy says things like: “Why can’t all lives matter? Every life matters, ain’t that right?"
Or: “They just might as well dry hump a pillow? They can’t make babies that way either!"
Or … you know what, I’ll stop there. I think you get the picture.
You see, Tommy says things that he doesn’t think are racist, or homophobic, or xenophobic, or harmful in any way. Tommy says these things because Tommy operates out of misunderstanding and fear. And because Tommy is racist.
Who We Get to Hate
Now, I have a confession. Tommy isn’t real. “Tommy” is an amalgamation of several friends I’ve had throughout the years, several acquaintances, and several extended family members.
But many of us have a “Tommy” in our social sphere. And here’s the big question for all of us who have friends, family, or loved ones like “Tommy”: can we really love them?
Let’s be honest. Very often the first impulse of any mildly rational, semi-thinking, non-racist individual toward blatant discriminatory talk coming from someone else is anything but love. More than once I’ve wanted to punch the daylights out of the Tommys in my life. Christ, have mercy.
Christ! There’s a novel idea. Surely Jesus allows some ill will toward ignorance and stupidity. Let’s look at the 3 groups of people Jesus is recorded as saying we are allowed to hate. Here they are:
Ugh. Jesus doesn’t allow nor instruct us to hate anyone. I mean, there’s that one time that he says anyone who wants to follow him must hate his father and mother and siblings. But that’s for another post. Because either no one is actually hating those folks in order to follow him, or he was making another point.
Back to the Tommys. Though they may be family or friend, anyone who is racist is my enemy. Anyone who refuses to nurture the inner life by reforming their misunderstandings and fears of others not like them is diametrically opposed to my view of the world. Here’s how Jesus says we should treat our enemies:
“Love your enemies.”
— from Luke 6.27
Here’s one of the ways that a life of grace, frankly, sucks. Because I don’t want to love my enemies. I don’t want to do good toward, nor act in a way that promotes the wellbeing of the Tommys.
And yet, to do so would be getting close to what grace looks like. To speak love into hate is a graceful way to live in the world. To do good to those who seem to wish anything but good for others not like them is a graceful action. To work toward the wellbeing of those who don’t think and don’t act like me is tangible grace.
So do we have to love our racist friends?
Grace means I need to love my racist friend precisely because he doesn’t deserve it.
Do we have to love our gay-bashing neighbors?
Grace says I should love my homophobic neighbor because he doesn’t deserve to be loved.
Do we have to love people in that political party, or of that religious persuasion, or who live life like that?
Grace compels me to love those who have opposing political, religious, and cultural views to my own. Why? Because grace is grace simply because it doesn’t place conditions and controls on love.
Now to love “enemies” may not always look the same in every time, place, and circumstance. Sometimes it requires me to be silent. Other times the love I show is in speaking truth to power. And occasionally graceful love looks like doing something so entirely lavish and unexpected toward that person that we both end up feeling awkward.
No matter how it looks or when the opportunity arises, grace calls for a response. In fact, I’d say a life of grace is only realized when we always respond in love.
So, here’s to you Tommy. I love you, man. (And I’m not even saying that ironically, nor through clinched teeth).
Brian Niece is a former pastor, who was a former actor, now navigating the fringes of all things institutional. He is a speaker and author communicating to and for outsiders and outliers. He hosts the Reimagining Podcast about rethinking ourselves, our culture, our faith … maybe everything. Find out more at www.brianniece.com.