God spoke to a disciple named Ananias: "Look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. He has seen a vision of a man named Ananias lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight." Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard about this man, how much evil he has done in Jerusalem." - Acts 9:10-13
Saul of Tarsus was a hateful, violent man; a terrorist.
He arrested Christians and participated in at least one lynching. Today he might be Saul of the KKK, Saul of ISIS, Saul of the Aryan Brotherhood, Saul of Westboro Baptist Church.
God picked a Christian named Ananias to meet Saul and heal him from blinding hatred. Naturally, Ananias didn't want the job, but we can all be thankful he did it anyway. The history of the church would have been entirely different.
There are Ananias figures among us today. One of them is Daryl Davis.
For 30 years, Davis has built relationships with Ku Klux Klan members. Davis has inspired over 200 men have leave the Klan. Davis is black.
"I wanted to understand why racists hated me, so I befriended them," Davis told The Washington Post in 2017 after the Charlottesville rally where a woman was killed by a neo-Nazi. [underlined text links to https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/30/a-black-blues-musician-has-an-unique-hobby-befriending-white-supremacists/?utm_term=.1201b65aad44]
Not everyone appreciates Davis' approach. A black man who hugs Klansmen, goes to their weddings and posts their bail is, well, controversial. Davis gives this response to his critics: "How many Grand Dragon robes have you collected?"
Hate and haters are so easy to hate. Ananias and Daryl Davis didn't fall for that. They had the courage to choose love, alongside their rejection of hatred.
On most days, being "Christ-like" feels out of reach for me. In this divided and hate-filled time, I'd happily settle for being Daryl-like, Ananias-like.
God, if you don't write off haters, if you have empathy for violent religious extremists, maybe I should too.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series publishe by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince available now.