Hate, Love and Christian Faith

Hateful words don’t reveal the love that is
at the heart of the Christian faith.

I’ll grant that I could be a little cranky today. As I write the temperature and the humidity in Nashville are almost identical. 97. So take that into consideration. But weather aside, I think it’s long past time to stop the sarcasm, demonization and hateful rhetoric that some people use to characterize those who don’t believe as they do.

Recently I read a note that accused a respected leader of a church group of being a baby-killer. The writer was upset because he disagreed with a woman’s right to choice. I also read comments by two leaders elected to the highest positions in their denomination. One expresses sarcasm about the work of some other folks in the church. The other criticizes another leader.

Sarcasm is not hate speech, of course. But as I reflected on these statements it occurred to me that in a coarsened and dehumanizing culture the distance between a diminishing remark and the language of hate is only a matter of degree. And besides, don’t both dehumanize the “other” and claim moral superiority, all in the name of Christ?

In fact, it’s antithetical to the way of Christ. It’s a denial of the sacredness of human personality. It poisons our attitudes towards one another and drives wedges between us. It disrespects the faith of others who don’t believe as the critic believes. It makes the world a harsher, less affirming place. That’s not the way of Christ.

We’ve seen the level of public discourse in this country deteriorate to a despicably low state. And some of that has been fostered by people who claim religion as their motivation. I don’t believe it’s necessary. Religion does not give us license to engage in personal attacks or diminishing remarks because we don’t see eye-to-eye on scripture, tradition, or theology. These differences can be frustrating. They can even make us angry. But they also make life interesting and they’re not demonic.

Here’s how I’m thinking about this today. We’re only here on this earth for a very short time. In 100 years I’ll be gone and so will all those who disagree with me. The people who take our place will be living in different circumstances and facing different challenges. If they are still fighting over issues 100 years old, shame on them.

Besides having so short a time to do our best, we have been given a marvelously wonderful universe. It’s beautiful. And the earth we inhabit nurtures us and deserves our care and protection.

A billion people will go to bed hungry tonight. 1.6 billion people in 89 countries are worse off today than 15 years ago. Eleven million children under age 5 will die this year, and the next, and the next of preventable illnesses and hunger.

Kids in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Palestine and countless other places will go to bed tonight afraid. They fear what the darkness might bring–bombs from the sky, guns bursting through the front door, explosions in the street. It’s an outrage that children can’t feel safe.

Here’s something else that really ticks me off. The state of Tennessee is dropping one hundred ninety thousand poor and disabled people from health care because the state can’t afford the costs. At the same time, the state lottery director and her staff are eligible for bonuses because Tennesseans chose to gamble away more of their money than anticipated. On her $364,000 salary the director can receive a 65% bonus, resulting in a salary of $700,000.

Am I the only one who thinks this is an outrageous sense of misplaced values?

Wonder what Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah or Jesus would say about that?

So I wish those folks who are popping their corks would pop them about issues like these. That’s not to say that our beliefs, understanding of scripture and tradition don’t matter. They do.

But poor people matter, too. And sick people matter. Children matter. Peacemaking matters. Can we not agree on this?

And if we can, doesn’t it make sense that we spend our time trying to end poverty, getting health care for everyone, providing education and inoculations for children, working for peace, and protecting the earth?

Otherwise, we’ll just drive people away from the church because no one in their right mind wants to join up with a feuding band of religious folks.

So why are we spending this precious time fighting when we could be putting energy into creating change that will really make a difference? I just don’t get this.

I was working on a couple of articles this week and I happened to find my way to this scripture that seems unusually apropos to the current climate.

?My dear children, you come from God and you belong to God?This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about–not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son?My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other.?

And the writer speaks even more directly.

?There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life–fear of death, fear of judgment–is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love–love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love.?
(1 John 4, The Message, Eugene Peterson.)

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