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Responding with love in the face of evil

The line that matters most is the line between those who respond to hate with more hate, and those who respond to hate with love.

Supporters hold lighted signs that read

(RNS) “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil,” goes the statement often attributed to 19th-century British statesman Edmund Burke, “is for enough good men to do nothing.”

St. Paul may have inspired Burke’s aphorism: “Do not be overcome by evil,” the first-century Christian apostle said. “Overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Sadly, it seems evil has been working overtime lately. Thankfully, so have many of those good people Burke wished would get off the sidelines, and I’ve been lucky enough to have had a front-row seat to observe it.

In the aftermath of the tragic Orlando shooting, a gay friend contacted me with an idea: Could we turn the tragedy in Orlando into an opportunity to invite those from Christian communities who have quietly shifted toward supporting LGBT rights to go public with their change of heart?

“Wouldn’t this be the time to invite these people to help turn the tide by becoming more public, courageous, outspoken and committed as LGBT allies?” he asked. In the weeks since then, he has been quietly organizing such a response and it should go public this fall.

Within a few days of that conversation, I read that Pope Francis encouraged Catholic leaders to apologize for the harm done to the gay community through their words and actions. The same day, a Muslim friend used social media to urge others to also apologize for anti-LGBT rhetoric, as part of our broader societal healing process.

Earlier this year, as the tone of the presidential campaign turned uglier and uglier, another friend contacted me with an idea: “Why don’t we launch our own campaign?” she said. “Not a campaign to win votes, but to win hearts.”

We convened friends and allies in a series of conference calls, and We Stand With Love was born. An amazing group of multifaith, multiracial leaders, academics, artists and others is coming together to call everyone, whatever your party, race or religion, to dare to give love a voice in our public lives as well as in our personal lives. We’re determined to follow Edmund Burke and St. Paul’s invitation between now and Election Day, and beyond.

Orlando, Nice, Munich … Each week, it seems, we’re adding to the list of places where evil erupts. As the list grows, I can’t stop thinking of my favorite lyrics from one of my favorite songwriters, Bruce Cockburn: “Around every evil, there gathers love. Bombs aren’t the only thing that falls from above down where the death squad lives.”

I hear that lyric in my mind and I wonder: What might happen if, every time someone expressed hate in word, bullet or bomb, more and more churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith communities raised their voices together, along with singers and actors and professors and other people of influence, so that a tide of love gathers and rises higher and stronger in our world?

The unfortunate truth is that we will see more hate in our world, and the list of heartbroken cities will grow, near and far from us. But let those of us who will take up the banner of love work through our fears and face whatever challenges may still lie ahead of us, together. Love is the only way forward.

As a society, we spend a lot of time these days figuring out who is a Democrat and who is a Republican, who is a Muslim and who is a Christian, who is in the NRA and who is not. We are paying attention to the wrong differences. The line that matters most is the line between those who respond to hate with more hate, and those who respond to hate with love.

Maybe this is your call to become one of the good people who refuse to do nothing in the face of evil, and instead, choose to say: We Stand With Love.

(Brian McLaren is an author and activist and a former pastor. He blogs at brianmclaren.net. His next book, “The Great Spiritual Migration,” will be released Sept. 20)