I know it’s not new, I guess I am just more aware of it. But it does seem to be more prevalent. I am talking about anger and hate filled language spoken from American pulpits.
The most recent high profile example is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama’s minister for 20 years, now retired. The pastor was filmed spewing anger and venom to his predominantly black congregation about the white establishment’s treatment of black people. It’s hard to call the tirade anything other than what it was–hate speech.
And even if we can understand where the anger and hate is coming from–generations of abuse and oppressive segregation, I wonder if fueling resentment is the best way forward. That racism is still a problem in this country is beyond dispute. But deepening the divide will not heal the breach.
We have witnessed other examples of sanctified hate: Louis Farrakhan’s rants about Jews, John Hagee’s tirades against homosexuals, Pat Robertson’s suggestion that Hugo Chavez should be assassinated, Richard Land calling Hillary Clinton a witch and Charles Schumer a “schmuck,” and we won’t even begin to talk about the folks from Westboro Baptist Church and their itinerant ministry of hate.
What’s going on here?
Well, if I might quote an old rock song, “it starts when you’re always afraid.” Since 9/11 fear has become our primary response to the world. And the list of things we have to fear gets longer every day.
We are afraid of being attacked by terrorists again. That’s why we are told that the terrorists must be fought over there so we won’t have to fight them over here.
We are also afraid the resources of the world are running out. Will there be clean water to drink? Will there be gas for my car? Will there be Social Security for my retirement? Will my children be able to afford college?
Our way of life and standard of living seem very much at risk, and that makes us anxious and angry.
Eventually we become wary of our neighbors. Our fear drives us to ever more isolated forms of living. We spend way too much time watching Fox News and CNN where fear is spooned up every quarter hour.
But why drag God into it?
Because deep in our bones we believe God could fix what’s wrong with our world but for some reason chooses not to. Our sorry state of affairs must be God’s punishment for some egregious sin we have committed. And so we start looking for scapegoats. Pat Robertson and John Hagee believe 9/11 happened because America tolerates of gays, lesbians and feminists. Farrakhan thinks Jews are the root of all evil, and Rev. Wright believes it’s the white establishment.
As fear increases, reason decreases–which is both dangerous and sad. Dangerous because in our fear we are likely to strike out and do harm to ourselves and others. Sad because without reason we will never achieve the vision God has for us as human beings.
It’s no wonder Jesus told his followers over and over again, “Fear not.” It’s the key to his command for us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Our fear of neighbor and enemy is the root of all the evil that plagues us. In order to fulfill God’s vision for us we must find the courage to love. Otherwise our fear and the resulting hate will consume us.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.