I’ve preached a lot of sermons on or around the theme of love – love of God and love of neighbor.
But I’ve never preached on hate.
My friend, Stuart Blythe, rector of International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam, Netherlands, raised this homiletical oddity recently. His comments raised for me several considerations.
Given that love is such a central theme in Christian theology, ethics and spirituality, you would think that hate might also be worth substantial reflection, careful theological consideration – a long pondering about the origin, nature and anatomy of hate.
I’ve now looked in the index of a shelf load of books on Christian ethics and they are stuffed with references to love. Yet, in not one of the indices does the word hate or hatred feature as a topic worth indexing.
Then I thought about the kind of world we now live in where hate is a frequent component in compound nouns: hate language, hate crimes, hate mail.
Indeed, the prevalence of social media has both increased the incidence of hate exchanges and required laws to identify such postings and legal criteria to prosecute them.
The past year or two has seen hate taken to new levels of public exposure:
- The psychopathic hatred of ISIS, advertised through the propaganda of broadcast executions of the most brutal kind.
- The savagery and lack of mercy in the treatment of those who deviate in the slightest from the ideology, practices and goals of ISIS.
- The shocking narrative still unfolding of the terrorist massacres in Paris, and the degree of hatred you have to presuppose in human beings behaving so inhumanely that vocabulary becomes exhausted of superlatives as people try to describe it.
But one of the most dangerous features of hate is its capacity to reproduce itself, often in the victims of hate-inspired violence, who in turn hate the perpetrators and wish violence on them.
Then there is the contagion that spreads through communities so that hatred mixes with fear.
This is reinforced by remembered suffering and violence and seeks a target and focus for the resentment and rage detonated by the violent hatred of the other, at which point a vicious circle is spinning wildly.
Once hate exists in the mind, the heart and the memory, it manufactures images and stereotypes, constructs caricatures and rehearses inwardly the hostility and violence urged and driven by those incidents, histories and experiences of those on the receiving end of hate.
When Paul spoke of dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2:4), he was speaking of ancient enmities, indomitable misunderstandings, bridges long broken and the masonry used to build walls of exclusion and willed mistrust.
We have seen all of this and more in recent years and weeks as well as the days following Nov. 13 in Paris.
And it’s time Christian theology took on the narratives of hate and violence, the social disease of hate speech, the casual ignorance of those who demonize the other and turn them into scapegoats.
French theorist RenÃ© Girard died the week before the Paris attacks. We continue to see across social media overwhelming evidence that his thesis on mimetic violence has the diagnostic elegance of a laser removing a cataract and restoring clear vision of what is happening in the real world.
So I decided to preach on hate recently. I’m a minister of the gospel, the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ, but I preached on hate by addressing several questions:
- What kind of love does it take to redeem hate?
- Are there forms and degrees of hatred that place the hearts and minds that contain them beyond redemption?
- If someone is possessed by hatred is reconciliation impossible, peace-making unattainable, forgiveness a waste of time and moral energy? What about hate and the cross of Christ?
- Surely some light can shine from that darkest of places into the darkest places of the human heart, after all God is light?
- And how do we respond to the person whose hatred has matured into murderous intent and seeks the harm or extinction of those “others” who are the cause of the hatred in the first place?
However we might answer the inquiries, the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48 must remain our guide, even though they offer no easy answers and raise the kind of questions our world doesn’t want to hear, and if we are honest, most of us Christians would rather not hear either.
James Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. A longer version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Wittily, and is used with permission.
Part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy.