After the last ten days we’ve just experienced, with racism and vandalism and riots and terrorism in multiple places and with public figures sometimes responding badly to these horrors, the passages today from Genesis and Psalm 133 are wonderfully appropriate tonics.
In the first, Joseph shows extraordinary forgiveness, generosity, and love for his brothers who had sold him into slavery many years before. In the second, the psalm begins with the assertion that it is “very good and pleasant… when kindred live together in unity.”
All of us could use a little bit of these perspectives, these attitudes, right now. We should remember the words of Abraham Lincoln in his second Inaugural Address, as the Civil War drew to a close: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds….”
Who are our kindred? As humans, of course, in one sense our kindred are all our fellow men – so we grieve at the terrorism in Barcelona.
More specifically, though, as Americans, our kindred are all of our fellow Americans. All of them.
The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville who carried torches while chanting “Jews will not replace us” were refusing to recognize Jews as their kindred. They were wrong.
The radical students at Middlebury College several months ago who roughed up a (liberal!) professor just because she dared try to give a conservative academic a chance to speak, and the violent agitators at Berkeley who somehow thought it appropriate to destroy property of innocents in order to protest a speech by a silly and offensive provocateur who had nothing to do with those innocents, also were wrong. Dead wrong.
These are not examples of how kindred should be treated. These are not examples of decent human beings acting in decent ways. These are examples of people showing malice instead of charity, opening wounds instead of binding them. And they are not at all representative of who we are as Americans, or who we are as Christians and Jews.
“White identity” is an idolatrous lie, putting an artificial construct of race on a pedestal. “Black Lives Matter” has the potential to be the same, if those who rightly insist that black lives matter simultaneously and hypocritically reject the reminder that all lives matter. And a student who quietly holds a candle in protest against racist idolatry is far different and far more admirable than an “antifa” radical who turns violent, without lawful warrant, against the racism.
When Ulysses S. Grant saw Confederate General James Longstreet shortly after Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Grant greeted him warmly, and Longstreet recounted: “Great God! I thought to myself, how my heart swells out to such magnanimous touch of humanity. Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?”
Longstreet, like his fellow Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, ended up in New Orleans, publicly advocating for full civil rights for black people.
Surely we can learn from Grant and Longstreet and Beauregard, and from Joseph son of Isaac forgiving his awful brothers. Surely we can recognize that we were “born to be brothers,” to act “with charity for all,” to recognize all of each other as “kindred” who should “live together in unity.” Just as Joseph said to his brothers, so we should all recognize, that “God sent [us] to preserve life…and to keep alive [through tough times] many survivors.”
No leader should make excuses for those who do evil. But all of us should look to find the good where we can, to forgive what is in our power to forgive (while leaving to God the ultimate judgment) and to recognize that the human race supersedes any racial subset anybody wants to idolatrize.
God calls us all to recognize each other as kindred – and as Paul writes in the Epistle, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist with a degree in theology. His faith-themed satirical novel, Mad Jones: Heretic, is due for publication this summer by Liberty Island Media.