Being an albino in Tanzania can get you dismembered, killed, or both. In this part of the world many regard albinos as cursed by God. The Tanzanian government has taken steps to protect albinos and prosecute those who harm or attempt to harm them.
Being a young girl in some regions of Pakistan can get you shot if your desire for a liberal education drives you to speak out against the Taliban.
Being an unarmed young Negro and wearing a hooded sweatshirt can get you killed in some neighborhoods of the United States.
Being of the wrong religious faith can get you harmed or killed in many, many parts of the world -- even in our country. It has been that way for a long, long time.
In the United States, we prosecute those who commit hate crimes -- the types of crimes in which people are harmed because of their skin color, their religious faith, their sexual orientation, etc. Prosecution, of course, is after the fact and is no guarantee of justice. Can any amount of justice undo the harm caused to families who grieve for a murdered loved one?
Hatred tends to perpetuate hatred. Violence begets violence. Remarkably, Josephat Torner, an albino Tanzanian man, says that he has learned to forgive and love those who have tormented and tried to harm him. He goes and speaks to them, explaining that he too is a human being who wants to be loved and accepted. He thanks Jesus for his power to forgive and overcome hatred.
After Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated, his message of non-violent protest was carried on by those who understood and supported him. King moved beyond religious sectarianism with a greater vision: The ideal that we are all one race - the human race, and that we all need to care for one another.
One of King's contemporaries was Bayard Rustin, who worked for decades championing civil rights. In a time when many white church-going Americans openly practiced their hatred of Negroes, Rustin did not take up the gun. Instead, like Martin Luther King, he learned to forgive. Together they peacefully challenged Americans to overcome hatred and prejudices. Among his many accomplishments, Rustin organized the civil rights march on Washington in 1963, the event where Reverend King gave his inspiring "I Have a Dream" speech.
Though many Americans have become enlightened by men such as King and Rustin, the struggle to change attitudes continues. Today we still find organizations -religious, political and otherwise -- that embrace and even promote racist or homophobic attitudes.
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King and Rustin remind us of what good religion ought to be teaching: We are all brothers and sisters, no matter what our skin color, no matter what our sexual orientation, no matter what our cultural differences, no matter what our social or economic positions. As brothers and sisters we need to lose the "us against them" attitudes. We need to look out for one another and help one another as one big family.
That's not always an easy task. How can you bring yourself to show brotherly love to someone who has harmed you or a loved one? How can we love a liar, a thief, a racist, a kidnapper, a murderer? How do you love a priest who has molested your child? Should we ask Trayvon Martin's family to forgive and show love to George Zimmerman?
In practice, loving and forgiving is not easy. What if the wrongdoer is unrepentant? What if much time has passed and hope for justice seems lost? In those circumstances, I think that most of us would have great difficulty forgiving. All the more reason to admire unique men such as King, Rustin and Torner.
(Brad Pfeiffer of Heber Springs is one of two local contributors to Progressive Voice, a “progressive viewpoint” column)