I caught the tale end of the discussion of a number of “Christian leaders” (that I couldn’t identify) on a television talk show on the topic of “holy hatred.” I learned that:
- hatred is a critical aspect of love
- it is not wrong for Christians to hate — in fact,
- to be a true Christian you must “hate the things God hates”
- though the language used is a bit different, it is evident in scripture that Jesus hated both people and behaviors (I didn’t hear which people, but the Pharisees — and “Jews” in general — were taking quite a beating)
- softening our hatred makes Christians wimpy and ineffective — without hate we tolerate all kinds of evil
- the more mature we are in our faith, the greater becomes our hatred for sin, secular culture, and (apparently) liberal Democrats
- Christians need to be taught to “hate rightly” so that we do not do damage to the gospel
My response to such new information is: Huh??! I have heard the arguments that in a world of love, hatred must exist as its antithesis — you cannot have one without the other. This is philosophical prattle. The absence of love is not hate, and the opposite of love is not hate. In both cases, I believe the real culprit is ignorance. Hatred does not grow as people mature; it dissolves in the light of reason, wisdom, discernment, and critical thinking. Poisoning the Christian gospel with the taint of hate is irresponsible and does violence to the power of our faith to heal, comfort, reconcile, and resurrect.
As I have traveled this country and interviewed hundreds of people disillusioned with organized religion, I hear a perpetual stream of stories of the intolerance, pettiness, judgmentalism, hostility, and hatred of Christians that cause them to reject the church. It doesn’t matter that these negative examples are the minority, and that they may not be a fair representation of what the church is all about. What matters is that there are enough Christians who believe in “holy hate” to give Christ a bad name.
Look at the emotional vitriol dumped on the book-buying public by such writers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. They would like to blame everything bad and hurtful that has ever happened in the world on religion, offering special contempt for conservative, evangelical Christianity, and they have absolutely no problem finding ample evidence to support their cases. Irrationally, they paint all believers in the divine with the same brush — making no distinctions between the ignorant, the immature, the primitive, and the truly malicious. They also don’t waste time talking about any good religion has ever produced. A good result is merely an aberration. A bad result is proof positive that religion is a sham. A fascinating methodological approach for either a scientist (Dawkins) or a journalist (Hitchens). But agree or disagree with them as you will, they, and many other critics of religion, have no problem finding shameful examples of Christian acts of violence and hatred committed in the name of love.
A few years ago I noted an interesting sign posted at a gated community. It read, “No trespassing, no solicitation, no loitering, no uninvited religious visitation.” I asked the guard at the gate house about it and he told me, “We just don’t want those kind of people bothering the quality of residents in our community. We serve a high class of people and they pay us to keep out the riff-raff.” Ouch. Usually it’s the Christians who talk about “those kind of people.” We don’t think of ourselves as “those kind of people.”
But apparently more and more Americans do — even Christian Americans. Three-in four Christians in the U.S. do nothing to let other people know that they follow Jesus Christ. One-in-three report being embarrassed to admit their faith in secular settings. One-in-seven have instituted the Peter Ploy, flat out denying that they know Jesus or are church-goers in order to avoid ridicule. Why are so many Christians ashamed of letting others know of their faith? Before we condemn such behaviors, we as Christian leaders need to ask, “how well do we train and equip people to witness to their faith?” It isn’t always easy to stand up for what we believe when we aren’t confident in our ability to explain or defend our faith.
A growing population in the United States confess to admiring and respecting Jesus Christ, but are highly critical of and skeptical about the Christian church. The “spiritual, but not religious” movement is further indication of uneasiness about the integrity of the church. More and more people believe that the core beliefs and practices of Christianity have less and less to do with the life and teachings of Jesus the Christ.
Years ago, I did some clinical pastoral education in an AIDS clinic in New Jersey. I remember one young man named Gary, in the advance stages of the disease with multiple systems compromised and shutting down, gripping my arm and pleading with me with tears in his eyes, “Please don’t let any more Christians visit me. They make me feel terrible, and they keep telling me that God will forgive me and release me from this punishment if I will only repent. I am a Christian and I believe that God loves me and forgives me. Why do they hate me so much?” At the time, I stumbled and bumbled with lame platitudes about them not understanding and trying to do the right thing but doing it badly, etc., etc. I have changed my mind over the years. I no longer excuse such behavior. Too many misguided Christians give Christ a bad name by disguising hateful and petty behavior as charitable concern.
Janice, an insightful 17-year-old (mature beyond her years) said to me, “You know? If Jesus came back today he would say exactly the same thing to priests and pastors that he said to scribes and Pharisees the first time. They (priests and pastors) have taken a perfectly good religion and ruined it. You really can’t blame Christ for Christianity. I’m pretty sure he would feel like his name is being taken in vain.” I asked Janice what religion she thought Jesus would like. She thought for a moment, then said, “I’m not sure he would like any religion. I think he would just want us to grow up, start acting loving, treat each other decently, and make the world a better place. I think he would want our actions to speak louder than our words. I don’t think he would want the world torn apart by arguing over who is right and who is wrong.”