Monday, March 23, 2015

Loving the Haters

Hang around Twitter long enough, and you'll see some pretty vicious hatred. Usually it's not from someone you follow, but instead is retweeted by someone seeking to shame the hater. And when it comes to the most bitter of partisan and culture wars, I get the feeling that large swaths of people on either side would not actually be disheartened to hear of their ideological foes being swallowed up by the earth in a single, cataclysmic act.

The hatred is usually justified as being a response to hate itself. Such objects of hatred are usually identified as part of a movement: patriarchy/feminism, gamergate/anti-gamergate, Democrats/Republicans, etc. Their gatherings, protests and hashtags are closely screened for any offense, and when the norms of the group are crossed, the virality magnifies the offense.

No identifiable group seems particularly immune, Christians included. And not just those from some disaffected, detached corner of the internet, but people I've known and loved and worshipped with. Often the target is some enemy of the country, or even a domestic political opponent.

I am also not immune. I may have had the grace of restraint to often hide it away inside, but it's been there before (and maybe I haven't hidden it well sometimes - I'm too scared to trawl back through my social media posts for evidence).

Nothing about this is new. The good 'ole days were as hateful on balance. In some ways, maybe better, and in some obvious ways, much worse. But in all times, people are very, very capable of hating, and doing so with a self-flattering indignation when the target is themselves identified as a hater.

So to many, there is no problem. Hate the haters, the world says. But that's not what Christ said, and what he said is as radical as it was when it was offered thousands of years ago: love your enemies.

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
-Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

It's said enough to be cliché, but it's obviously not practiced very much.

So who do you hate? What person or group of people get your blood boiling to the point where you no longer care about their welfare? Or that you actively imagine their destruction? Or that you even actively work towards their destruction?

I don't believe this is a call to pacficism or resignation to evil. I still believe in actively pursuing justice, in protecting the weak from the strong, and in speaking truth to power. But all that can be done in love.

So, who do you hate?

How do you feel when someone mocks your beliefs? Love them.

How do you feel when someone blasphemes the Lord? Love them.

How do you feel when someone twists your words and beliefs into untruth and ugliness? Love them.

How do you feel when someone is caught on camera making racist statements? Love them.

How do you feel when someone acts indifferently and dangerously in traffic? Love them.

How do you feel when someone puts you down to make themselves feel better? Love them.

How do you feel when someone brings shame to the Church when they fall from a position of prominence because of their personal sin? Love them.

How do you feel when an official makes a thoroughly bad call that unfairly costs your team the game? Love them.

How do you feel when a politician moves the country away from protecting and defending the values you identify as critical to good and just governance? Love them.

How do you feel when someone carries out extreme acts of violence against helpless and innocent people? Love them.

How do you feel when people acting on behalf of your nation or state or city torment and torture captive people? Love them.

It becomes harder and harder the more you think of extreme examples. But there is no limiting principle to the commandment. No balancing. No, "Yeah, but, what about..."

It's frankly impossible. Except with grace.

Pray for the grace to love haters. I know I need it. You probably do too.

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