Persecution, Enemies & Hate

Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.

How do you respond to someone who persecutes you? I wondered about this for a really long time, and I still have some questions about that. I think the first time I thought of this was back in my sophomore year of college when I first heard about a community called the Westboro Baptist Church.

For those who don’t know much about WBC, it’s a very tiny community of Christians who often travel around America to protest against gay people, Jews, soldiers, even other Christians who don’t believe the same way they do. The messages they send out are horrific, saying things like “God hates America” or “Thank God for dead soldiers”, and even their most widespread message, “God hates you.” They protest at funerals of gay rights supporters and veterans who have died protecting America. Children born and raised in this community are raised to believe what the church teaches them and even take part in the protests. If anyone asks questions or disagrees with even one little detail, they are excommunicated from the church and even their own families.

I had a variety of reactions to WBC and its community based on hate. I didn’t like the things that they did or the things that they promoted. I didn’t like the fact that Christianity was advertised in this way. But one of the things that made me the angriest was that a majority of their actions didn’t line up with who they claimed to be. They dedicate their lives to God, and yet they almost completely ignore one of God’s two greatest commandments according to the Gospel of John: love their neighbors as themselves. Unfortunately they’ve demonstrated more hate than love towards their neighbors.

I also wondered about what I would do if I ever got the chance to meet people like WBC. I liked the idea of a counter protest, and I found myself delighted when watching YouTube videos that made WBC look even more foolish than they already did. But then I came across one particular video about a young man who decided to take a different approach. Instead of starting a counter protest when WBC came to his hometown, he decided to start a fundraiser in that area to raise money for those less fortunate. The whole thing was completely planned at the last minute, and yet the fundraiser actually raised a lot of money, and the young man said that he had WBC to thank for that. He completely turned what could’ve been a horrible turn of events into a pretty decent day.

After that, the videos that made WBC look foolish didn’t appeal to me as much anymore. I felt guilty for taking pleasure out of watching WBC being humiliated time and time again. Don’t get me wrong; their actions still make me angry, and I don’t think I’ll ever approve of the things that they advertise or the fact that they’re hurting other people with their words. But the bottom line is that things like counter protests and videos that make them look like clowns is only sinking down to that level, and that’s only going to make the situation worse instead of better. More importantly, that’s not what God calls us to do.

And the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that we could actually learn something valuable from WBC. I don’t agree with everything that they do or say, but I believe them when they say that we ought to repent for our sins and that sin is nothing to be proud of. Let’s face it. We all sin and we all make mistakes. No one is guaranteed a sin-free life. But when we do something wrong, how often do we repent and ask God to forgive us our sins? Just because we’ve become born-again Christians, it doesn’t mean that we get a free pass to use our lives as we please and not go to Hell. We’ll still sin whether we’re born again or not, and we’ll still need to set things right with God and the people that we sin against. And once we repent and ask for forgiveness, he will forgive us and never hold those sins against us again. So WBC, if you’re reading this right now, thanks for teaching me that. It’s a very valuable lesson that I’ll never forget.

Does this excuse everything else that happens where WBC is concerned? I will say that they’re entitled to believe what they want, and according to the constitution they do have the freedom of speech. But just because the government says it’s okay, it doesn’t mean that God says it’s okay. During Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount towards the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that the way you judge others is the same way that you will be judged. So why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye if you have a plank in yours and can’t see past it? In defense of WBC, we all have this problem. We all have a tendency to see the bad in others, but we often can’t see the bad in our own lives. Often times we don’t know people well enough to be able to judge them. That’s why it’s up to God–not the people–to judge the people, because he knows the people better than we could possibly know ourselves. In the book Walk Two Moons, a proverb says that “you can’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”

So how should we respond when we are attacked or criticized? How do we learn to love our enemies? Maybe, just maybe, the best way to respond to people who persecute us is to pray for them. But this in itself could mean a variety of things. Does it mean that we should pray for their destruction? Never. Does it mean that we should pray that they succeed in their persecution of us or others? Absolutely not. So what should we pray for in terms of our enemies, then, if not for success or destruction? My answer to this question is Paul. The apostle Paul was once one of the greatest enemies of early Christianity, persecuting and executing other Christians. But after he had an encounter with Jesus, he completely turned his life around and is one of the most beloved saints of Christianity today.

When we remember the people who persecute us, whether they are people like the bullies at school, the people we just don’t get along with, people like WBC, or the people who genuinely hate us and want to see us suffer, we should pray for them. We don’t have to like what they do—as a matter of fact, if what they do is evil, then we shouldn’t like it at all. But we do need to respect them as people. We should pray that God’s will be done the way he wants, because I know that as long as God’s in charge then everything will work out the way it should. We should also pray for patience when dealing with such people, so that we don’t lash out and say hurtful things that we wouldn’t normally say in any other circumstance. We should pray that we’ll be able to live at peace with everyone whether they like us or not. We should pray that we can learn to honestly care about them and be incredibly sensitive about how we interact with them. We’re all equal in the eyes of God, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. We also need to realize that we’re not perfect either. It’s easy for us to point a finger at someone who’s being mean or making bad decisions because we’d rather not point the finger at ourselves. And in everything we do, we need to pray. God wants us to make the right decisions, but we can’t do that without his help.

Here’s another question that I have to ask about persecution: what if the person hurting you is a friend? It’s possible that someone may be hurting you accidentally, so if that happens talking to them about it is my first word of advice. I know it isn’t easy to deal with conflict, but here’s the thing: if a person has to use and abuse you in order for you to be their friend, then it’s not worth it. It’s not a healthy friendship to have, and allowing it to continue for longer than necessary will only make things worse on both sides. A friend of mine had to endure an entire semester of being used and dehumanized by someone she thought was her friend, and by the time we were wrapping up the school year I witnessed how much emotion she was holding inside from the experience. A favorite quote of mine from the film Princess Diaries is “Courage is not an absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is far more important than fear.” It may seem scary to confront a friend, but the aftermath is what’s important. If they react poorly to what you tell them, then that’s their choice, not yours. When it comes to two people interacting with one another, you can only take responsibility for what you do.

One final question that I want to share my thoughts on: what if you’re the one hurting someone else? I know what it’s like to lash out and say/do something you don’t mean; we all do it at one point or another. But if you are hurting someone, I have two words of advice: 1) be honest with yourself about it. Look inside yourself and reevaluate your actions. The truth is that you may be unintentionally hurting someone and not realizing it. Talking to God about it helps; he’ll be gentle but honest about what he wants you to change. And 2) be honest with the people you’re hurting. A true sign of character is being able to put your pride aside and say “I hurt your feelings and I’m really sorry I did that.”

Thanks for reading this. There was a lot that I could’ve said about this, and I could talk about it for hours. If you have thoughts on the subject, you want to critique, or if you have any ideas of what I could write about in future posts, please feel free to leave comments on this entry.

Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”

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Introduction

Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.

 

I’m a college student, a feminist, a lover of the arts, a hopeless romantic, a madwoman, a child of God and a writer. I have one more year left to go before earning my bachelor’s degree, I’m majoring in English-Writing with a minor in Philosophy, and I have my own hopes and dreams for the future. I’m an independent young woman who is worthy because of something more valuable than beauty or talents. I love everything creative and expressive: movies, poetry, books, short stories, paintings, music, etc. I may be a hopeless romantic, but I’m also realistic; that is, I see the darkness, but I can also see the light at the end of the tunnel if I look hard enough. I call myself a madwoman in the sense that I’m a bit crazy; I like making people laugh. Sometimes I succeed, other times I just come off as strange or slightly mad. I’m a Christian who’s always asking questions, always searching for answers, and always learning something new every day. And I write so that I may speak.

Though I don’t remember a lot of my childhood, some memories that stick out the most involved daydreaming about certain stories, and I still have old keepsakes that remind me of those times. If there was ever a story that I got really into or a movie that I particularly enjoyed, I’d want to be a part of the story myself. As a child I could spend a whole day dreaming about it, and if I had the opportunity I’d write about it. Once I collaborated with a friend of mine in elementary school and we wrote our own version of one of the Harry Potter stories, adding certain characters and laughing at how much we made fun of Draco Malfoy.

Once I got into middle school, it ended for a while. My friend moved away, my other friends and I drifted apart, and I was becoming a teenager. It was a very dark time. I didn’t take up writing again until eighth grade, after I was diagnosed with a disease called Ulcerative Colitis. It was the first time I had ever heard of a sickness that wouldn’t go away, so when I was told that I’d have it forever I was completely devastated. To make a long story short, I picked up writing again after getting into more stories, even getting close to writing my own series of books based on fan fiction.

Once I started high school I learned that, if nothing else, I could write. My favorite teacher gave me an A on a speech I wrote—even though the oral presentation itself was less than mediocre—and told me that I could really use it. I was embarrassed to share it at first, but thrilled to know that I could be good at something if I wanted to be. Writing became a safe haven for me; a temporary sanctuary in the middle of the storm, the eye of the hurricane to my life. But after a life changing event, I’ve been learning how to use my sanctuary and make it into a way to fight back against the darkness.

Four years ago I went on a mission’s trip to an American Indian reservation in Minnesota. I went with my church, and I made some good friends there. One night in the middle of the week, we were singing worship songs when a friend of mine started crying. All of the boys left the room so that the girls could talk, and we shared the stories that shaped us. I had the courage to share mine as well, but what I heard shocked me. Some were suffering from divorce breaking up their families. For another, her boyfriend had died in a car crash barely a week before she left for the trip. Another was suffering from low self-esteem and deep insecurity, thanks to bullies. And one of my best friends had been suffering from anorexia for years. But something that I’ll never forget was the conversation that this friend and I had after we talked to the other girls in our group. She told me that, like me, she too had wanted to commit suicide. But she didn’t because she knew that there were people who loved her, and she thanked me for not going through with ending my own life.

It was there that I found my light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not good with speaking publicly, mostly because I tend to be shy. But that night made me think that I could use my sanctuary and expand it to others who’d might want it; to reach out to other people and say “hey, I’ve been there too. I know others who’ve been there and who are still there. You’re not alone; I’m with you if you want me to be.”

Some friends of mine have been encouraging me to start a blog, so that’s what I’m doing. Unless I find a reason to do otherwise, I’ll be writing my opinions or thoughts on something random or deep, like something I found interesting in the Bible, a movie or a book, or just something else. If you have anything you’d like for me to write about, don’t be afraid to say so. I’m completely open to criticism as long as it’s constructive; any hateful, spam-related or vulgar comments will be deleted. I already have a few ideas in mind of what I want to write about, but again if you want me to write about something then you can.

Until next week, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”