A cancer has been sweeping through the conservative Christian church. Millions in the church have bought a bill of goods; they’ve bought into a serious lie. At first, it was sad and disheartening, a small group scattered amongst the church. But as with any yeast, it has spread. Now it is sickening and turning many away from the church. It also is leading many in the church farther and farther away from God’s kingdom and purposes–which is not at all where they think they are headed.
If you’re expecting a rant about how liberals are taking over the church or anything along those lines, then you are at the wrong blog. No, the lie that I’m talking about is a serious evil–one that is used by politicians to gain power and influence, but transcends politics as a whole. It is hatred. Cold, unadulterated hatred and judgement is spreading wildly amongst believers and churches in the United States.
Go to almost any conservative church in the US–be it Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Evangelical, etc–and you’ll find hatred. Hatred of gays, of democrats, of Muslims, of abortionists, of gamblers, of environmentalists, of immigrants…the list could go on and on and on. It typically starts with a godly point–something God tells us not to do. Then it becomes sharing the truth with those who need it. Then it becomes an ‘us and them’ situation. “They” are sinners. “They'” are against God’s will. “They” must be stopped. But before we know it, there is an addition added to that. “They” must be stopped–at all costs.
Think I’m exaggerating? If you’re a christian, think of how many fellow believers you know who think it is okay to go to abortion clinics and shout mean things at pregnant women? How many quietly support those who have shot and killed abortion doctors or ‘hate’ pro-choice politicians? How many do you know who have passed around jokes aimed at Obama’s untimely death? (I was shocked when several friends of mine passed around a prayer about it on Facebook, and that they thought it was highly funny.) What about burning the Quran? Or how gays are evil? Or that God is on the side of the Republican party and that all Democrats are not ‘real’ believers? (One day I was driving to church with my kids in the back seat of my car, when someone rolled up beside me and started shouting horrible things about being a christian and a democrat because I had a democrat bumper sticker on my car. My response? ‘You going to church with that mouth?’) Or maybe it is a hatred of all people on welfare or food stamps, who are ‘sucking up the taxes of those who work for a living.’ Or maybe it is a simple distaste for anyone who doesn’t ‘look’ like they think a Christian should look. Tattoos, piercings, bikers, spiky hair…the list goes on and on. Or maybe it is a prayer that seems to be well-meant, but actually is a speaking out of judgement against the leader or person out of the speaker’s heart, not out of God’s heart for them. They pretend to listen for the heart of God, for the Holy Spirit, but instead they are speaking out of their own agenda. We often confuse our own sinful heart and our own sinful thoughts with that of the perfect and holy Yahweh. Oh, how God’s heart must break when the very body of Christ uses prayer to spread hatred and condemnation.
Nowhere in the bible does God tell us to hate. Nowhere does he give us permission to hate or to judge others, even when they are not following God’s ways. In fact, God goes out of his way to make the point that LOVE is what we are to do. Love is the biblical model. When Jonah decided to run away from his call to deliver a word to the people of Nineveh about turning from their evil ways, God continued to call him to go to Ninevah. Jonah didn’t want to, because the Ninevites were their enemies and he knows that God would forgive them if they sincerely turned away from their practices. Jonah didn’t want God to forgive the Ninevites. God went to great lengths to send him anyway. God sent prophet after prophet after prophet to call Israel back to him, to proclaim his love and his mercy when they’d turned from him and his ways into paganism. God didn’t send Jesus only for the chosen few who get it ‘right.’ He sent Jesus for all of us–sinners too. Because let’s face it–if Jesus only came for those who got it ‘right,’ none of us would be amongst that number. NONE of us.
Jesus confronted religious superiority and hatred during his own time, in confronting the Pharisees. The Pharisees were completely sure they’d gotten it right. The Pharisees were known for being the ‘best’ Jews they could be, and excluding any who did not live up to their ‘righteous’ standards. Yet if you read the New Testament, you’ll find that time and again Jesus called them out on just how wrong they were in their beliefs, their practices, and in how hard their hearts were. He called it what it was: Evil. He called them evil and a ‘brood of vipers’ for their hatred and legalism that totally missed all that God had called his people to be.
Jesus said this is the Great Commandment:
36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus also is pretty clear about judging others:
1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
And then, just in case we didn’t get it yet, Jesus is even more clear about how we are to treat those whom we do not agree with:
Luke 6:27-36 Love for Enemies
27“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
This doesn’t mean that we are to sit back and be wimps. We aren’t to sit back and not counter the falsehoods of the world. But the answer isn’t venom and hate. It is possible to love the Lord your God with all your heart and not hate the enemies of God. It is possible to love the Lord with all your mind and yet not hate those who think something different from what God says. It is totally contradictory to what our culture teaches us, but the bible is counter-cultural. It calls us to the practices of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is inclusive. It loves until the end. Jesus didn’t tell the tax collectors that he hated them. He didn’t greet Mary Magdalene with a look of scorn and a message of derision. He met all of the sinners with love, showing them God. He spoke truth to them, called out to them to come out of their sin. But he did it while spending time with them, while loving them, while showing them who God is. He shows us–who happen to all be sinners ourselves–what God looks like. He shows us how we are to be. Hatred is not one of the things Jesus ever demonstrated. Not even to those who persecuted him. My goodness, he encountered Saul who was a Pharisee hunting down his followers and killing them–and loved him into becoming Paul.
I can hear the retorts now: “But the Democrats made fun of George Bush! But the Muslims attacked us!” Somehow, I don’t see Jesus taking that or any similar defense, as an adequate defense for the hatred and judgement that is rampant amongst much of the American church. “He started it!” isn’t a defense that holds much weight with any parent, much less the King of Kings. God may detest certain practices, and he may call some abominations, but in the end, he is detesting the practices that separate us from him. That would be sin. All sin separates us from God. All sin. And since all sin–even that of judgement–separates us from him, and not a one are righteous, he sent the only one who was without sin to reconcile us to him: Jesus. Even though ALL people are sinful, God loved ALL of us enough to sacrifice Jesus to bring us back to him. Even those people or groups that many in the church think it is ‘holy’ to hate. Now, tell me–why do some people know better than God?
So, what are we to do? Pray without ceasing. Pray for those who aren’t a part of God’s kingdom. Pray for his divine mercy. Pray for him to turn their hearts. Show them God’s generosity and amazing grace until they ask you why you do it. Speak truth, but do so in a way that Jesus would be proud of. Speak truth in love. Show them the generosity God has shown you, and they will be truly blessed indeed. How much power would a church filled with and motivated by God’s love be able to wield in this world? How much of the Kingdom could God bring to our earth if the church, his body on earth, began demonstrating love above all things to all people? How many broken, hurt and needy people would come running to a church that demonstrated God’s powerful love to all it met? Love, the focus of the Greatest Commandment, is the one thing that can overpower all. Love is the greatest thing God commands us to do. If you do that, God can do the rest.