Chaplains’ Corner: Peace as an act of resistance against hatred

Valerie Bailey

As the Christmas season arrives, I’ve realized that it’s been a hard and strange year — for democracy and for religion. As the elections approached, it seemed like religious people were endorsing the end of democracy and the acceptance of hate crimes as a cultural norm. My non-religious friends were screaming at me about how disturbing the rhetoric had become. I felt I was not in a position to apologize, but I did. I felt complicit in how some religious people are using faith to endorse hatred. I saw that my friends were triggered and hurt by these hate crimes. I am also contending with how unsafe it feels as a Black person these days, especially after the Buffalo shooting. I have often thought that white people living in a system of privilege should take responsibility for the racism embedded in the United States. If this is the case, should I not also feel complicit when religion is used to perpetuate hate? Under such circumstances, peace on earth becomes a whisper if not a prayer.

Shortly after the midterm elections, I heard the last of the election results, and I thought, Ooh my, we are still in a democracy. I sighed with relief. Democracy may be safe for now, but what about religion? Wishing peace on earth seems to clash with the rise in hate crimes, often done in the name of religious fervor.

I am saddened by the rise of hatred and violence. The sacred texts of Christianity and many faiths have inspired thoughts about love, justice, forgiveness, and peace. Despite these foundational texts, Christianity has been used to justify hatred and violence for centuries, especially to justify taking land and property from people deemed not the “right” religion (for example, how Puritans responded to Indigenous people, and too many other sad and horrible examples). I almost want to put an additional statement on my holiday wishes — Merry Christmas and peace on earth — and I mean it, peace on earth for everyone.

Since I started writing this column about the season and peace on earth, numerous hate crimes and threats of violence have occurred, including the attack on the Club Q, an LGBTQ+ club in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Nov. 19. Since the Club Q shooting, according to Gun Violence Archive, there have been 14 more across the country. I am still shaken by the shooting at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket where a white man targeted and killed 10 Black people. This man has been charged with federal hate crimes, and he pled guilty this week. Meanwhile, Colorado officials still debate whether the shooting up of an LGBTQ+ club on Transgender Day of Remembrance was a hate crime.

During November, lesser-known threats of violence that were stopped by law officials also occurred against places of worship, especially synagogues. In mid-to-late November, threats were made against synagogues in Manhattan and Newark, according to the United States Attorney’s District of New Jersey Office and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Blithely saying “peace on earth” feels like ignoring the pain and suffering caused by other people’s hatred. This holiday season, I find myself pleading for peace on earth. But as I do, I realize how tired I am, and how tired all of us are. It is hard to have collective outrage against all of this hate, because we are tired. We are recovering from a pandemic; we are trying to put together a new understanding of our broken world. But at least we can resist the urge to hide and pay attention instead. Tides of hatred grow unto tsunamis of violence when people ignore microaggressions and other hateful attacks. But if all we do together is pay attention to what is happening to others and stand in solidarity when our various sacred spaces are attacked, then our resistance can stop hatred and violence from becoming the norm. I hope this season we can take a moment to practice peace on earth, even in small moments. Every act of peace, even in small increments, is not just resistance against this rising tide of hate, but perhaps the beginning of a tide that results in peace on earth.

Rev. Valerie Bailey Fischer is Chaplain to the College and Protestant Chaplain.