Hate doesn’t approach politely, respectfully. Hate springs like a feral cat let out from under an overturned box. Hate attacks viscerally, like fear when the plane you’re in shudders violently and drops 1,000 feet. Once attacked internally, my natural inclination is to let hate pour from my lips and the tips of my fingers like run-off from the Cascades in spring. For me, hate is immediate and immoderate and holds tightly for long periods of time.
When I watched the videos from Charlottesville of skin-headed white males, of camo-clad cowards hiding behind openly displayed guns, literally spitting hatred on everyone unlike them, I cheered when I saw tatted, pierced females in combat boots swinging roundhouses and tearing away confederate flags from the hands of white-supremacists. In that moment I longed to toss more wood on the bonfire of hatred, throw every disgusting flag of fear on top and let it all burn! In that moment, I wanted every d-bag idiot who burned a tiki-torch the night before to be beaten till you couldn’t tell they were white anymore from all the bruising.
And yes, I just said that – as a Christian pastor and a someone who promotes peace. I think one of the many ignorant opinions that white-supremacists hold of all of us bleeding-heart “snowflakes” is that our desire for peace rises from a meekness that cowers at even the thought of violence. Well they can pack that bullshit in the same trash bag as their thought that there is even a scientifically definable “white race” to keep “pure” and in power. I won’t speak for all liberals, but for this one, hate comes easily, and with it the desire for flaming, evil-destroying justice.
Hate is easy, for most everyone. What’s hard is love.
Not the kind pictured in TV commercials with a circle of diverse humanity gathered in a wheat field with Air Supply cloying in the background (even though I love those commercials and find Air Supply a guilty pleasure). The love I speak of has nothing to do with feeling. The love I speak of originates in the life and death of Jesus Christ, and, as a follower of Christ, is not a suggestion, but a command. A love that seeks to fulfill, in actual relationships, the words of Jesus (edited for the present context):
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the [white-supremacists] doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even [neo-nazis] do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt.5:43-48, NIV)
This type of love does not come easily for me.
During the time of the first Gulf War, I had a conversation with a dear saint of a man about the words of Jesus cited above. He noted to me that most people deftly avoid the true difficulty of this command by misidentifying their “enemy.” At the time, a specific person in our community filled the bill for that title. But the ramifications of identifying that particular person as my enemy had not yet fully settled in for me until this elderly man said, “Doug, Saddam Hussein is not your enemy. Jesus is calling you to love your enemy.” That truth then settled in like a brick in my stomach because I knew he was absolutely correct.
Today, my enemies are white males who claim to be followers of Christ at the same time as they try to destroy people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, immigrants – even documented. The vast majority of Trump supporters look a lot like me – white men, often with grey hair, who go to church on Sunday. Everywhere I go, I carry the marks of bigotry, racism, xenophobia. As a pastor, in my community I also carry with me the public mark of being a “Christian.” I put quotation marks around that designation because it has become a generalized characterization that signifies very little of who I am as a follower of Christ. So many mean-spirited, loud-mouths have deceitfully cloaked their venom and violence under the mission of the church that they have made my work infinitely more difficult. That is why I proclaim them my enemies.
Yet, having done so, Jesus commands me to love them, specifically. Love them exactly because they are my enemies. Anyone can love their friends, and all those for whom we feel fondness. If I am going to be the person God calls me to be, I must love even those for whom I feel hatred, upon whom I would more naturally desire to inflict pain and suffering for their evil. As I write these words I am exceedingly aware of how contrary my natural inclinations are from that which God wills for me, and them. So how can I love these men? The answer depends entirely upon how we define love.
To date, the best definition for this concept that I have heard came from Scot McKnight – a professor, author and theologian. In a class I took from him on the biblical understanding of the “Kingdom of God,” McKnight defined “love” as follows:
Love is the rugged commitment to be with someone and for someone unto divine ends.
Each piece of this sentence provides significant content to be mulled over and incarnated. Each piece of this sentence holds far more content in it than I will ever be able to live out entirely. But each piece of this sentence also provides me convicting content as to where I should at least begin. This definition calls me to commit to loving my enemies even though the reality will be trying, painful, humbling, infuriating. This definition calls me to be in the presence of my enemies: being where they gather, reading what they read, dwelling among them as Christ dwelt among us. This definition calls me to work with them and for them to fulfill God’s will for them and all of God’s creation.
This last piece needs to be handled very carefully. McKnight very purposefully adds a qualifier to the thought of what it means to be “for” someone. The purpose is not simply to try to help our enemy get what they want, to try to protect them from the consequences of their actions, to try to help advance their agenda. The commitment is to be for our enemies to be who God desires them to be. In this instance, being ruggedly committed for someone unto divine ends might mean endangering ourselves to prevent them from hurting another human being because God does not want any of us to inflict pain or suffering on any other human being. To be ruggedly committed to being for someone might mean confronting our racist family member’s derogatory comments or “jokes” because Jesus very clearly said that even calling someone “moron” amounts to putting ourselves “in danger of the fires of hell” (Mt. 5:22, NIV). And yes, I am conscious of the fact that I have already called my enemies “d-bag idiots.” Which leads me to the following: being “ruggedly committed to being for our enemies unto divine ends” might mean humbly admitting when we are wrong on a subject or with an action ourselves because none of us are “perfect” as God is.
In one of his letters, St. Paul professed to be the “greatest sinner of all,” but I am right up there with him. As I mentioned above, hate comes to me immediately and immoderately and far too often flows from my mind out of my mouth. I need the forgiveness of those whom I have hurt and the forgiveness of the God who has created all human beings in the divine image. I thank God that through the Anointed One, the Christ, forgiveness and reconciliation are offered as a possibility. In Jesus, God ruggedly committed to being with human beings and for human beings unto divine ends. It cost him his life and gave us a chance at gaining our own.
Hate is easy; love is agonizingly difficult. But if we ever want to experience true peace, we must love even our enemies … especially our enemies.