This is my latest article for the Orange Country Record.
This week marked the fourteenth year anniversary of one of the worst acts ever inflicted on another human being. On June 7, 1998, James Byrd, Jr., a Beaumont native, was savagely murdered. He was murdered not by accident rather for the simple fact that he was an African-American man. In one gruesome act, three white supremacist let intolerance of another human begin blind them to drag a man behind a truck until his death in the small Southeast Texas town of Jasper.
One of the three who took part in Byrd’s murder, Lawrence Russell Brewer, never apologized or sought forgiveness in the public eye. In fact, before his execution in 2011 he said, “As far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.” A chilling answer.
Humanity on the whole has never been perfect. Wars have been fought over small amounts of land; people in roles of authority overstep their boundaries in search for more and more power. There are even laws are in place to protect individuals against bad business practices and to ensure our food is handled safely.
In the book of Genesis, the author writes that at the end of the creation story, God declared that the world was “very good.” It must have been a really nice place, but not so much now.
In the midst of all of this, the Church is called on to make sense of it all. The church is called to try to bridge the gap that seems to exist between what should be and what really is, to try to answer the question of why there is such a disparity. Surely not all of this is consequence of sin way back in the Garden of Eden.
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, once wrote in his text “The Seven Storey Mountain”: “It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has preserved us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying [God’s] entire creation long ago. People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men [and women], the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce men and women who over come evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanity. How could all this be possible without the merciful love of God, pouring out [God’s] grace upon us?”
At our best humanity can be full of compassion and love and care, but at our worst humanity can be greedy, hateful and repugnant. Contrary to popular belief followers of Christ are not immune to this. Some of the worst atrocities ever committed have sadly been in the name of God. For some, this is an indication that Christianity does (or did) not care of people’s relationship with God rather their focus is on being correct.
Christ’s ministry on earth was grounded in the notion of love, care and acceptance. Christ came to establish a way of understanding and relating to others as well as to God. But more than that Christ was the embodiment of the Divine on earth. As Christians we strive to emulate Christ in all that we do but sometime we fall short.
I have no answer to what drove three men to brutally kill another human being. We can blame their upbringing, we can blame drugs, we can blame violent video games, we can blame a health care system that doesn’t adequately treat those with mental illnesses. But that is too easy. In the end we have to look inside ourselves. Stories like this one make our stomachs turn into knots over the loss of innocence. At some levels we empathize with Byrd family but know that it is the human condition, a condition that is in every person on earth, which drove these men to kill. Does that mean we will do the same? No, but it does mean that it is not some external influence that is causing crimes around the world; it’s the simple fact that we are human beings, driven to do what we want, when we want it with no regard for others.
This is what Christ came to stop. The answer to the human condition must be found in the gospel. Christ’s message of love was revolutionary and it can do the same for us today. The gospel can restore people to completeness and wholeness.
At the end of the day, people like Lawrence Russell Brewer are children of God, created in the same divine image as the most religious, well-intentioned Christian. It might be hard to believe, but it is true.