In the September edition of my monthly In Good Faith column, I share the story of a good friend who encountered hate in the form of ugly graffiti and turned it into a message of love. This is precisely what faith is all about!
Washing Away the Hate
It started out as another beautiful Saturday morning in Lexington, Kentucky. My friend Laurie Brock, an Episcopal priest at St. Michael’s Church, took the short walk from the parsonage to the front doors of the sanctuary. What she encountered last week, however, was shocking.
Hateful and graphic graffiti was scrawled across the doors and the sidewalk in front of the church. Now, Mother Laurie, as she’s known to her flock, texted me photos of the graffiti. And I assure you, this wasn’t just your garden variety, colorfully creative 1970’s New York City subway graffiti. This was crude, hateful stuff that invoked the political, the satanic, and the, um, anatomical.
So what do you about this? Well, the first thing you do is alert the parish and suddenly power washers appear and chemicals you didn’t even know they sold at Home Depot show up and there’s a whole group of parishioners cleaning and scrubbing and washing away the hate. In several hours it’s all gone, with nary a trace left.
Which is great. Except that the emotional scars of hate-speech scrawled across the entrance to your sacred space remain etched in the community’s consciousness. And I love what Laurie did the next day. She amassed several buckets of sidewalk chalk and, as part of the liturgy, she invited everyone outside to cover the sidewalk and driveway with messages of God’s love. Parishioners of all ages expressed their own responses through words and art to the hate that just 24 hours before had been scribbled all over the front of their church.
To me, this is what faith is all about. It’s not about ignoring hateful rhetoric but responding in love. It’s not about being reactionary in the face of evil but being proactive in the name of God. It’s not about rejecting others but accepting them as fellow children of God.
As Laurie said to the news media when they inevitably showed up, “The vandalism is not the story. That's a part of it. The end of the story is always love in the Christian faith. When people send out into the world hate and violence, our responsibility is to respond with love.”
As people of faith, we embrace a powerful counter-narrative that transcends the small-mindedness of hateful rhetoric. For Christians, this is rooted in God’s love for humanity as made manifest in Jesus Christ. Yet this is not unique to our tradition. God’s love for the world — the entire world — is stronger than that which divides us. And we cling to this ideal of love even in the face of anger and hatred.
I’m not sure if the perpetrators of this act in Lexington were making a political statement, a religious statement, or whether they were just a couple of teenagers looking for a thrill. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is the response. And I’m proud of Laurie and her community for making an even bolder statement in the name of God’s love.