Before joining a non-denominational church this past year, I spent the last 10-ish years at various Southern Baptist churches. Although I would like to say my tenure in the SBC was theologically motivated, it was actually more coincidental. The churches I liked only happened to be Southern Baptist, which is why I dragged my feet for so long before becoming a member of one. With a reputation for things like boycotting Disney and being downright out of touch, I didn’t want to take on the Southern Baptist name. I didn’t want close ties with a group I saw as conservative and angry.
Of course, over time my perspective gained nuance, complexity and depth. I began to push past the stereotypes and actually look at the people in these churches that I liked so much. I studied Baptist polity and gained a respect for its history. I finally made the decision to become a member of my last church and it was a great decision. I loved that church.
Yet even with all of that positive experience, there is a residing part of me that cringes at conservative judgmentalism. I work hard to distance myself from that particular angry camp. However, I have also learned that conservatives aren’t the only ones guilty of being angry all the time. In all honesty, left leaning Christians have their own set of issues with which they are angry and frustrated. The agendas are different, but the rhetoric is about the same.
I make these assessments, not as one standing self-righteously outside the vitriol, but as someone who has wrestled greatly with my own feelings of anger. There is a lot that happens in churches that makes me angry. There is a lot that happens in Christian culture that makes me mad. And while there are undoubtedly times when that anger has some miniscule point of connection with the heart of God, I have really begun to ask myself how much of my anger is profoundly rooted in sin.
Whenever I reflect on my anger, I always try to avoid using the word “hate.” With such strong Scriptural warnings against hate, I explain away my anger saying, “I don’t hate that person or movement; I just feeling very frustrated with them.” And I don’t think I’m alone in that semantic tap-dancing. Christians know the Scriptural commands against hate so we are careful not to admit to crossing that line. But in doing so, I willfully ignore the basic definition of hate:
To dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward (dictionary.com)
Though I may not admit to hate, these words describe my feelings all too accurately.
Even more challenging is the fact that Jesus doesn’t stop with that definition. He equates hate with murder, and in doing so he places emphasis on the desire to hurt. When we hate someone we tend not only to dislike them, but we wish them harm. Perhaps we don’t wish them physical violence (or perhaps we do), but we are more likely to hurt them through slander or verbal attack. This aggression can seem blunted through the indirect work of blogging or putting on a pretense of “warning” other Christians, but at the end of the day we want to hurt their reputation or stick it to them. We may not murder them physically, but we certainly murder their good name.
Here I need to pause and affirm that most churches are not, on the whole, hotbeds of hate and anger. In fact, most Christians I know are loving and wonderful people. However, the sin of hate has not only been allowed to remain within our walls under the guise of righteousness, but it has also been given vent in the public realm. Blogging and tweeting make it all too easy to trash another Christian in a venue where EVERYONE, Christian and non-Christian alike, can see it. And while hate is never a good practice, this new trend is sabotaging the church’s witness. Why would anyone want to join the church when Christians publicly vilify other Christians so often?
Hate is perhaps one of the greatest temptations and easiest sins to succumb to. That is certainly why Jesus and the Bible exhort Christians to love over and over and over again. It is at the heart of the two Greatest Commandments. Jesus reminds us to love our neighbors AND our enemies. Read ALL of 1 John. To be sure, the Bible takes hate VERY seriously. Hate is a sin. It is a trap. It divides. It kills. And it undermines our witness to the world.
Jesus tells us in John 13:35 that we must be known for our love, but it is easy to forget just how difficult a call that is. It is against our natures, it is one of the truly counter-cultural things we can do, and we have to work HARD for it. But if we don’t, if we persist in being angry because there is so much in the church to be angry about, and if we continue to publicly and privately slander one another in our disagreements, we will only be known for our hate.
It is easy to disagree with one another and highlight our differences. It is easy to hate. But as much as the public airing of grievances tempts me to respond with anger in return, Jesus calls me to the narrow way. He calls me to his table, to remember our unity in him, and to love. Anyone can hate, but the true mark of Christ’s character is the ability to look past our differences and lay ourselves down in love. This is a call I am praying for the grace to live out.