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Making What’s Legal and What’s Right the Same

For the last 17 years, I have been blessed to take 60-75 kids, not including adults and junior counselors, camping. Most of these kids are from kindergarten to the 6th grade. A number of them have never left the city and it is their first time camping. We enjoy seeing their first experiences and discovering the freedom that they may have never experienced before in their lives.

Many of them come on scholarships whose families cannot afford to send them. This will be the first time in almost 20 years that we will not be able to have the camp, due to COVID-19. We will be having the camp virtually; this will be our first attempt. Someone said virtual events are harder than in-person events.

I’ve noticed over the years that there has been a change in the kind of issues that the kids are coming with. Some of the stories that we are being told concerning the kids really break my heart. A number of them have never experienced a two-parent family. A lot of them have no relationship with their fathers. A higher and higher number every year live with their grandparents. We had one young man whose father is in prison for a number of years to come; his mother is strung out on drugs and he is living with his grandparents who are struggling as well. The anger that comes from within him has the potential of changing his future in a negative way.

When I was growing up, my mother use to always say just before I was punished for doing something wrong, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you, but I am doing this because I love you!” I must admit that as a child growing up I did not see how you could love me and punish me at the same time. Once, when perhaps I was “too big for my britches” (as my mother used to say), I told my mother “If it hurts you so much, don’t hurt yourself.” As far as I can remember, that didn’t work out for me. Best I can remember, it all went dark, but the point is sometimes love is not quiet and peaceful.

Even Jesus warned that when we take sides against evil we will be opposed by those who do not understand the deep problem of human nature and a true definition of love. Maybe he knew my mother.

I am told when Abraham Lincoln was 22 years old, he visited New Orleans and saw a slave girl being pinched, prodded, and trotted up and down the room like a horse to show what good merchandise she was. Lincoln was deeply affected. It was on this trip, we are told, that he formed his opinion of slavery. It ran its searing iron into him then and there. Lincoln touched the arm of his companion and said tensely, “Boys, let’s get away from this. If I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I’ll hit it hard.”

It is my firm belief that Lincoln loved people deeply, whatever their color. And because he loved them, his soul blazed with an intense and relentless hatred. He fought against it with a passion that finally burned it out of existence.

However, Lincoln’s love for people of all colors did not bring peace and unity. It did not bring him a high popularity rating. Rather, as a number of his biographies show, it created strife and division. It took a war, a bloodbath, to wash away this tyranny. I believe he was criticized more than any president in American history, and his stand eventually cost him his life.

With all of the recent racial unrest and police brutality events across the United States, there has been more and more talk about the Confederate flag. I wonder what side would President Abraham Lincoln be on? Would he see it as a symbol of the past or do the events in recent days show that for some it is a symbol of the present? The only question is whether it will it be a symbol in our future.

Where we are for independent rights of expression, the question is whether your expression should put me in fear of my future? I am sure it is legally all right to own a Nazi flag. I am not confident that is a good investment. The statement of that flag does not just remind us of a time of history; it reminds us of a time of hatred.

When Abraham Lincoln took his stand, it did not make everyone like him. However, it brought him the inward peace of conscience that a man can know only when he is morally right. Ultimately it brought him the admiration of the world and made a place for him in history almost unparalleled by any other American.

Like Lincoln, Winston Churchill was faced with severe opposition. I don’t believe any man loved England more, but during the 1930s he was mercilessly criticized when he warned about the growing power and ambition of Hitler.

He took sides in the same way I believe the love of God will force us to take sides when we are confronted with moral evil. If we love the poor and underprivileged, we will want to destroy the slums and ghettos, which have no place in affluent America. If we love the young people of America, we will do everything in our power to destroy things that hurt their character and jeopardize their future, such as drugs and pornography.

Love is never neutral. To preserve some things, it must destroy others. And that will inevitably stir opposition. So Jesus taught that love for God or love for neighbor (or love for country) does not necessarily bring peace.

Never forget slavery was legal for over 200 years, but it was never right morally. In Germany it was legal to kill Jews, but it was never morally right. For a number of years it was legal to treat African-Americans as second-class citizens, but it was never morally right. Just because something is legal does not make it right.

I encourage all to look toward the Bible, a heart of love, and God for what’s morally right and only look toward the law of the land for what’s legal. It is our prayer that we will live in a world where the things that are legal and the things that are morally right would one day agree. Maybe that’s not on Earth, but in Heaven.

Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Temple in Wheeling and Shiloh Apostolic Faith Assembly in Weirton.

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