I am heartbroken. There are those in the Christian church who want to hate and call it love. I was listening to a young, self-proclaimed evangelical preacher talking about the Bin Laden situation on a Wisconsin radio station yesterday, and the gist of his argument is this: as Christians, we should have poured out into the streets singing and dancing Sunday evening when the news was announced, and anyone who felt differently is both a questionable Christian and an unpatriotic American. Real Christian-Americans hate what God hates and should rejoice at destroying any and all evil. He explained that Jesus taught us that it is not only okay to hate, but that unless we hate we cannot be disciples (see Luke 14:25-35). True holiness, the young reverend explains, requires an all-out assault on all evil, and he proceeded to list what constitutes evil and what God hates: terrorism, liberals, gays/lesbians/bi-sexuals/transgender (all lumped under the lovely soubriquet “faggots”), pornographers and their audience, democrats, the college-educated, scientists, women who think too highly of themselves, Lady Gaga (why her specifically, I am not sure — he didn’t say), the “liberal media,” other faiths, foreigners who are jacking our gas prices up so high, credit card companies that offer you a ‘pre-approved’ card but deny your application, and all who make fun of devout Christians. There were more things in his rant, but I couldn’t jot them all down. It became quickly apparent that anything and everything that disagreed with this young preacher’s sense of values is evil, and God wants him to hate these things — not merely avoid them or judge them; his instruction to his listening audience is that God put us here on earth to destroy these things. We should do everything in our power to wipe these things out, “so that the world might one day truly experience God’s love.”
Come again? Where in such a diatribe is a kernel of the love of God? If you are a high-school educated conservative Republican this is “good news,” but for anyone else (especially Lady Gaga) this doesn’t feel like love. I know that there are large groups of “Christians” who share this young man’s interpretation (though they might generate a slightyly different list of hates…) and they believe they are on a religious crusade, but what I cannot understand is how they reconcile such venom and bile with the message of Jesus the Christ. How can they maintain such anger and hostility without being consumed. Such levels of animosity are exhausting, and they emanate destructive shock waves that wear out those around them as well.
It seems to me (IMHO) that Jesus could have called down fire from heaven to eliminate any and all he considered evil. He chose another course. Rather than wholesale destruction he opted for redemption. Instead of division he laid the groundwork for reconciliation. He declared a moratorium on judgment and promoted forgiveness. He called us to be a healing force in the broken world, not to use our time, talents and gifts to break it further, To what good end will we “eliminate” that which we arbitrarily label evil. Once people were put to death or exiled for mixing fabrics or eating milk and meat together. This was evil. (Raping a girl and paying off her father was okay, though…) Adopting a hard and fast application of 3,000+ year old community rules might not be the best use of our faith, either in the specifics or the generalities. An eye-for-an-eye was the best a primitive, pre-modern, impoverished people could come up with. We can do better. We have learned a lot. We have much better conditions and technologies. We have matured in our civilization… oh, wait… we could benefit by maturing in our civilization.
As a thought experiment, let’s take “hate” off the table. It is no longer as option. What do we gain, what do we lose? Starting with what we lose first. Ego and selfishness take a hit. If I can’t hate, well, I am left with many alternatives that place the burden back squarely on my shoulders. I have every right to disagree, to debate, and to even reject what I hear, but I do not have the luxury of walking away or rejecting the other person (Note: this is true whether we think “hate” means misei in the Greek or sone‘ in the Aramaic. In English, hate is generally a noun that connotes the feeling of revulsion or aversion, and we think in terms of acts of hatred; in both Greek and Aramaic, hate is a verb. In the Greek, it actually means “to cut off,” “renounce,” or “deny a place.” In Aramaic, it means “to set aside,” or “to turn from.” Neither hold the emotional negativity of modern English, but both imply a separating and denial.) Hate is used to dismiss, denigrate, and divide. Without hate, we are stuck with each other. If I don’t hate you, my motivations to hurt you diminish to almost nothing. Why would I hurt someone I don’t hate. I lose my motivation to treat others with contempt, to injure, to insult, to embarrass or shame. Revenge is off the table as well. I won’t be malicious or vindictive without hatred. No, if I am denied hatred, most acts of violence are relegated to socio-pathology — the only ones who hate are those who are mentally ill.
So what do we gain? If hatred is eliminated completely, I gain peace of mind. Not only do I not have to expend energy in hating others, I can live in a confidence that others are not hating me. I can stop worrying so much about protecting myself, and I can steer that energy into more productive and creative pursuits. I realize that many old hurts are stuck in the dynamic tension of feeling wronged by those I dislike or disagree with. Hate has been exerting pressure even in things I haven’t identified in the past as hate. I find great freedom and relief. My playing field is leveled. I get to find ways to love that I never had time to explore before. I can value and honor those different from myself without fear or judgment. Sounds a bit like heaven.
But don’t think good old American hate (as opposed to the two forms of biblical hate aforementioned) will leave us alone. Many people will immediately think, “well, I can’t take hate off the table because of all those horrid terrorists are out to get me!” True, we can’t impose our standards on anyone else, but at least examine the logic that states that because another person or group chooses to be driven by hate, that not only justifies but motivates us to adopt hate as well (but call it something more noble, because we don’t hate… only “they/them” hate).
Jesus chose the “forgive them for they know not what they do path” and the church has been living in denial ever since. Turning the other cheek is for wussies. Laying down the sword is for cowards. Seeking the blessing reserved for the meek, the poor, the peacemakers is un-American and unChristian. Oh, we believe all of it in theory, but we don’t want to take the teachings of Jesus too far. There have to be exceptions — like anytime something bad happens to us and we want revenge. There simply have to be allowances for extenuating circumstances.
I watched two children playing in a park — a little boy and his older sister. As they were playing, the little girl decided she needed to hug her brother, but he wasn’t having any part of it. She tried to kiss him, and he shoved her away. She wrapped her arms around him, and he struggled free. Trying futilely to get him in her arms, she finally hauled off and slugged him as hard as she could. Their mother intervened, and the little girl burst into tears and whined, “He won’t let me love him the way I want to.” Isn’t it frustrating when the rest of the world doesn’t want to be loved the way we want to love them? It is why it is so imperative that we spend time together asking not, “how do we want to love,” but “how would God have us love?” Definitely, the world needs a hug, and so often it doesn’t value the hug we extend. This just means we need to try harder… and NO HITTING!