Yesterday the FBI released the most current data on the incidence of hate crimes in the United States, which hit a seven-year high in 2008. The FBI report found that the highest number of hate crimes were directed at Jews, LGBT people and African Americans.
Sometimes my weathered activist veneer of protection works well, and I can deflect or manage the fear that might arise from news like this. Other times I feel weary or despondent, particularly in light of such grim news as this latest hate crimes data.
I also have moments of feeling victorious, inspired or relieved about the fact that last month President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which expanded the legal definition of hate crimes to include (and subsequently investigate and prosecute) crimes based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.
Today, as I attempted mightily to hold the paradox of these two news items, I found myself wondering about love crimes.
I'm not referring to the literal definition of the word crime; nor am I talking about the legal definition of a "crime of passion," which is a defendant's excuse for lacking the premeditated element of a crime due to sudden anger or heartbreak. I am not actually talking about (or sanctioning) criminal behavior.
Rather, I would define a love crime as a brave act of non-violent civil disobedience that expresses love more deeply than conventional limits and expectations, while maintaining and honoring human dignity.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
For example, there has been a rash of cars set on fire recently in a nearby suburb, and there was an article in the paper last week about a local woman who went out and bought a car for a single mother whose car had been torched. These two women were complete strangers, and the recipient of the new car said, "I can't believe that in this world, we still have angels, because she is my angel." That's a love crime.
Theologies of love have been exploited and misunderstood, or inadvertently expressed in condescending or disempowering ways. I am not talking about institutions, or about sugar-coated, disingenuous, or patronizing love. I'm talking about courageous expressions of love that restore my faith in humanity.
Love that is brave, unrelenting and enduring; love that is unmistakably felt, unapologetically given and received. Love that keeps us going even when we find ourselves out in the wilderness alone.
Who has been a "love angel" in your life? How do you hold the paradox of hate and hope in our world? Can you recall a moment when you experienced a brave and genuine expression of love that was hopeful or restorative for you?
You're out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you're walking in the wrong direction
But if you break down
I'll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I'll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don't come easy
–from "When It Don't Come Easy" by Patty Griffin