Howard Thurman on the Contagion of Hatred and the Antidote of Love

Lesson 3: Encountering Hate When Your Back Is Against the Wall 

Emily Morrell

Concept or Focus: What happens when nominally ‘Christian’ moral systems lead to violent, racist acts of hate? How is Christianity manipulated to such an extent? How might communities who experience that violence process and lament it together, using self-love as antidote to hate?  

Setting: Adult/young adult gathering; ~45 min-1 hour  

Goal: To explore Shin’s reflections on Christianity’s complicity with white supremacy and the violence it sparks while also giving voice to his argument written from the “perspective of the disinherited” (Shin, 1). Consider both the logic of white supremacy and also the ways in which Shin’s experience challenges and affirms Thurman’s argument that love is the antidote to hate.   

Objectives: Participants will… 

  • Note the potential pitfalls in Thurman’s argument that hate must be concretely encountered by love.  
  • Reflect on Shin’s definition of white supremacy and its ties to Christian moral systems, detailing the dangerous work of moral superiority, racism, purity culture, and sexism.     
  • Explore the ‘burden of love’ on the disinherited as it is articulated by Shin and consider the role of people and communities of privilege in taking on that burden.  
  • Discuss how Shin maintains love as an antidote to hate while noting the ways he alters Thurman’s original argument in order to help his community process trauma and keep them safe  

Materials Needed and Preparation: 

  • Participants will have been strongly encouraged to read Shin’s essay “Psycho-Social Anatomy of Disciplined Hatred and Burden of Love: An Asian/Asian American Perspective;” if possible, have copies on hand during the lesson for reference. White board and markers (outline agenda), computer or notebook paper and pens for participants to use for reflection. Chairs in a circle or around a large table, arranged in such a way that all participants can see and engage with one another comfortably.  

 

Lesson Step and Time Allotted  Teaching Activity  Resources Needed 
Opening 

10 minutes  

 

 

Greet participants and, if nametags are helpful for the group, invite people to wear them. Point participants toward the outline for the class posted on a white board or butcher paper in the room.  

  • Once everyone has arrived, open with prayer and ask participants to share if/how they encountered love or unity in unexpected places since the last gathering. How have they challenged the classifications they often assume that others inhabit?  
  • This prayer might be an opportunity to introduce the theme of lament and repentance for the violence of white supremacy and patriarchy in our world. 
Nametags, markers, extra copies of Shin’s essay if possible  
Defining 

10 minutes  

 

 

Before delving into the essay, invite participants to delineate the different superiorities and exceptionalisms at work in Shin’s argument: racesex, and religion. Read aloud, together the second paragraph on page two (either hand out a hard copy or project it). Invite participants to jot down or notate Shin’s work connecting those various exceptionalisms. Leave room for questions and discussion so that all participants find ways to link the moral superiority of Christianity, its ties to purity culture, and the gunman’s racism together. Ensure that the concept of false victimhood as Shin articulates it is understood.   

  • Keep in mind that this topic is not only timely, but often personal and painful. Be aware of the trauma it might invoke among participants.  
Whiteboard or newsprint to write definitions on in order to share with the entire group 
Exploring 

15 minutes  

 

Once the group comes to a shared understanding of Shin’s terms, move to discussing the essay by emphasizing the ways his argument highlights pitfalls in Thurman’s original assertion that hatred must be concretely and personally encountered If the group is large, divide them into small groups and invite them to discuss the following questions for ~7 minutes: 

  • What does Shin mean when he says that “[to] love our enemy is ‘too great a burden to bear’ for us?” (Shin, 4) What makes love as an exercise in “acknowledging another person’s inherent dignity, worth, and value” too great a burden for Shin’s community? 
  • What other ‘disinherited’ communities might also identify with Shin’s argument? 
  • What do you think Thurman (and Shin) mean by needing a “free spirit” in order to embrace and embody a love-ethic? (Shin, 3)  
  • How does this affect your reading of Thurman’s original argument as articulated by Jensen? Does it?  

After ~7 minutes reconvene the group and ask each group to share insights or questions from their conversations. Ensure that the group understands how Shin’s context and the safety of his community affects his interaction with Thurman’s original argument.   

Space for small group conversation if necessary; Shin’s essay for Thurman references  
Responding 

15 minutes 

 

 

Transition to the final page of Shin’s essay. How does Shin still rely on a love-ethic as an antidote to hate?  

  • How might “transformative self-love” help Shin’s community heal, process, and work toward liberation? 
  • What might that transformative self-love look like? (Shin mentions communal lament and righteous indignation.)  

If your group is part of a particularly privileged demographic (e.g. white, upper middle class, highly educated, largely male, housing secure, etc.), invite them to consider the following questions and engage in discussion (feel free to encourage individual reflection first) 

  • Where do you find yourself in Shin’s argument? Do you?  
  • If you are not a member of Shin’s community or other ‘disinherited’ communities, how might you witness to and celebrate the type of self-love that Shin prescribes for his community?  
  • What are ways in your particular context that you might be able to stand in solidarity with ‘disinherited’ communities in order to further their liberation and the work of love?  

Reconvene the group and invite people to share their ideas and reflections based on their own unique social location. (If this sharing is better suited to occur in small groups in your context, facilitate that, then reconvene the broader group to hear reports from each cohort.)  

Pens and paper to use for personal reflection  
Closing 

10 minutes  

 

As the class comes to a close, invite participants to connect their discussions about white supremacy and the burden of love to Christianity’s complicity in racism and sexism. Encourage them to call to mind scripture passages or stories that reject these narratives of false victimhood and instead advance theologies of liberation, justice, and the corporate good.  

  • Remind participants that the next lesson will shift to a ‘now what’ discussion about ways the group might live into an ethic of love in their own context. 
  • Close with prayer.  
 

 

Rationale or Explanation: 

This lesson works to generate a shared understanding of white supremacy, gendered violence, purity culture, and Christianity’s complicity in the interplay between those three violent realities while also encouraging participants to consider and affirm Shin’s critique of Thurman’s original argument. Rather than leave the essay as an effort at deconstruction, though, Shin moves to affirm the work of love by reframing as transformative self-love, embodied particularly in communal lament and righteous indignation. This lesson strives to guide participants to acknowledging and understanding that constructive move while also appropriately situating themselves within it.  

If a group is particularly privileged, this lesson might lend itself to a more repentant and reflective gathering as topics like white supremacy are explored in depth. If a group identifies as a ‘disinherited’ community (to use Thurman’s language), this lesson might provide space to engage in some of the practices Shin recommends as the group works to celebrate self-love and further liberation.  

 

 

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