When Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu describes the decades of struggle that finally brought an end to apartheid (forced separation of races) in South Africa, it's hard to listen with detachment. That battle for freedom, like so many others, surges with powerful encouragement today for everyone striving to escape any form of bondage.
In a television interview last year, Archbishop Tutu was asked what the worst thing about apartheid had been. Considering the level of persecution black people (and some whites) had faced under that regime, his answer was moving. He said the worst thing was that it made you doubt that you were a child of God. When you hear over and over that you are "non-European, non-this, or non-that, it's corrosive of your self-image," he explained. From an interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, WGBH-TV, Boston. You begin to think that perhaps you really aren't as good as someone who has more material advantages, that perhaps God doesn't love a black child as much as a white child.
God loves us because of our very nature as His image
So the idea that became central to all his sermons was that God loves you. "Know you matter to God," he would tell his audiences. Interestingly, he found that the oppressors needed to hear this message even more than the oppressed. They were afraid because they believed their worth came from wealth, status, and race. But status is given, he would tell them. By this he certainly referred to the status bestowed by God on all His children. It's a message found throughout the Bible, as in these beautiful lines from one of St. John's letters: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." I John 3:1
We can all benefit from pondering that idea more. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, thought it was so important that she included the reading of that verse as part of the permanent order of services in the church she founded. See Manual of The Mother Church, p. 121 . There are many corrosive messages we each hear almost without noticing—that we're not competent, lovable, healthy, and so on. To hear repeatedly that you are a deeply loved child of God, understand why this is so, is effective defense.
God loves us, not on account of any human status, but because of our very nature as His image. In a statement she saw as correlative to the one in First John, Mrs. Eddy sets forth certain unchangeable facts of existence, facts about our true nature: that life and intelligence aren't found in matter; that God is infinite Mind and creation is the manifestation of this Mind; that identity isn't material in any way, but entirely spiritual. (For the full "scientific statement of being," see Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 468). In the light of these facts, we might well paraphrase John: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the very manifestation of divine Spirit!" There couldn't be greater love than this, or greater status.
In her review of John Lewis's memoirs of the civil rights movement in the United States (see "Commentary and Review," p. 5), Trudy Palmer cites the truism that it's often easier to love in general than in particular. Just so, it's easier to agree with metaphysical concepts than it is to live by them in a far-from-perfect society. But you could say that real religion doesn't begin until we make active efforts to prove spiritual truth in the face of demeaning views of ourselves and others.
I discussed this recently with a woman who has made this effort. Gloria grew up with a solid grounding in understanding herself as God's spiritual child. But when she moved to the United States as an adult, she experienced racial prejudice for the first time. Some days she wanted to run. She shed tears in secret. She didn't want her children to grow up in that atmosphere. But she said that the foundational teaching she had received in Sunday School kept her head above water. She knew that in truth everyone is God's own manifestation; that everyone matters equally to God. And she saw that by facing down evil, she was really working out her eternal salvation. "There's no option," she told me. "You just have to love God and His creation more. You have to know yourself not as a woman, or as a certain race or nationality, but as a spiritual idea." There's no detectable resentment in Gloria. She's clearly a happy woman, who says that she's grown more patient and compassionate through her trials. And over the years she has seen many barriers fall.
It's important to acknowledge the progress of society, while still remaining alert to how subtly racism can infect us as individuals and as a culture. In a poem written in 1901, Mrs. Eddy offers spiritual insight equally needed today:
"Tis writ on earth, on leaf and flower:
Love hath one race, one realm, one power.
Dear God! how great, how good Thou art
To heal humanity's sore heart;
To probe the wound, then pour the balm—
A life perfected, strong and calm.
The dark domain of pain and sin
Surrenders—Love doth enter in,
And peace is won, and lost is vice:
Right reigns, and blood was not its price. Poems, p. 22.
We can expect and demand to see more of this vision realized in the coming century. The understanding of one infinite Mind, and of individual identity as wholly spiritual, continues to penetrate and transform human thought. Striving for this transformation in ourselves—for perfected lives—we will see sin and pain, and any hatred or bigotry, surrender to Love. And this can happen without bloodshed.
During difficult times, Desmond Tutu would often tell his congregation, "My dear people, we have already won. The moral side has already won." From PBS interview. Good has always already won, because only good is ordained by God. Evil has no authority. It is a foreordained loser. That's a law we can hold on to no matter what kind of injustice we may be battling. And we can know without a doubt that each of us—as God's own manifestation—matter so very much to Him.
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