The biggest and most menacing challenge facing American society today isn’t injustice, oppression, or political dysfunctionality. It’s what lays at the root of those maladies (and more!). Our greatest problem is Hate.
We are turning our backs on love, compassion, mercy, and grace. Instead, we are choosing contempt, disgust, and wrath. And if this continues, we will lose more than just our country.
We will lose our very soul.
What is Hate?
We should pause here and consider our definitions. According to Merriam-Webster, hate is “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury” as well as “extreme dislike or disgust.”
There are of course societal manifestations of “hate,” or what some might call “systemic” hate. But society is ultimately made up of individuals, and we will never adequately address societal or systemic maladies unless we are willing and able to address the individual heart.
Hate is when a person loathes another person or persons, holding that person or group of people in contempt and disdain.
People who hate do not believe that the objects of their hatred are worthy of their time or attention. In some cases, they don’t even believe those they hate are worthy of civility.
Examples of such hate are plentiful, as hate has become frankly ubiquitous. And we’re now seeing people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and faith communities succumbing to it.
The other day, it broke my heart to see a past friend of mine — a former ministry colleague, no less — post his vitriolic contempt on Facebook toward those who voted opposite of him in the recent election. “You’re dead to me!” he ranted, insisting that anyone who voted for the guy he opposed never talk to him — ever again.
Based on my actual vote, I’m not personally in the malicious cross-hairs of his vitriol, but I have friends all over the political map. And many of those who did vote for the object of his hatred are good people, deserving of much more grace and kindness than he is extending.
Yet I’ve seen such hateful sentiments frankly from many of my friends and acquaintances — on both sides of our recent election.
Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, neither the left nor the right, can say their “side” or “tribe” is free from hate. There’s plenty of hate to go around.
It is impossible for a democratic society to flourish (or perhaps even survive) if the people living in that society despise one another and refuse to listen to one another.
Yet is this not where we are?
Like cancer, the hate in our society is spreading and will ultimately kill us as a nation — and as a people.
What Hate is Not
At this point, it’s important to point out what hate is not.
Invariably, people justify their strong negative feelings, given the importance of the issues involved and what’s at stake in our society — indeed in the world overall.
I realize not everyone reading this shares my Christian faith, but it’s sad that a very common saying in Christian circles over the years has fallen out of favor. Indeed, this saying has been outright mocked and attacked.
And that saying is…
“Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”
I know. I know. I’ve heard all the complaints, allegations, and mockery directed at this well-intentioned saying. And I fully accept that many people have deceptively brandished this adage in order to cover what is, in fact, their personal bigotry and hate.
Some people who claim not to hate a particular “sinner” (at least someone they view as a sinner) do indeed hate the sinner. And so I understand how the hypocrisy evident in some of those who propagate this saying can turn a lot of people off. I get it.
But if this saying (“Hate the sin; love the sinner”) is offered in sincerity and with integrity, there is merit to it.
My mother had a host of health issues before finally succumbing to Clostridium difficile (aka “C diff”). Her biggest ailment was multiple sclerosis (MS). This was something that tormented her for much of her adult life.
To this day, I have strong feelings against MS and C diff. But this doesn’t mean I hate people with MS or C diff. On the contrary, I have deep compassion for those afflicted by either dreadful condition.
If a loved one of yours has cancer, you may grow to revile that cancer, but do you hate that person?
I would certainly hope not.
What’s true for physical ailments is also true for mental, emotional, and spiritual ailments.
And it’s true (or at least should be true) for what we consider false or unjust beliefs that, from our view, mess up the thinking or perspective of the other person.
We need such nuance, understanding, and compassion when it comes to social, religious, and political disagreements.
It is possible (even healthy) to disagree with (even strongly) a person’s choices or beliefs, without hating that person.
And in order to understand why that is the case, we must consider the definition of love.
What is Love?
Many people today instinctively associate love with agreement or approval, but doing so not only contradicts the classic, traditional understanding of love, it also opens the door to all kinds of problems.
Parents who are mentally and emotionally healthy love their children. But they don’t always agree with their children. They don’t always approve of what their children are doing.
Spouses (again, assuming a minimal level of emotional and mental health) love and care for one another, but they don’t always agree with one another. Their differences may range from where to eat for dinner all the way up to whether to take a certain job or move to a different location.
Love doesn’t stop when disagreement begins.
Nor does love stop when disapproval begins.
At least love shouldn’t stop when disagreement or disapproval begin. If it does, then I would submit we’re not talking about true, authentic love.
True love is not about agreement or approval. It’s about something much deeper and more consequential.
One of the best definitions I’ve heard of love is credited to the great Christian theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas, and that is…
To love is to will the good of the other.
When you love someone, you want what is good for that person. Indeed, you should want what is best for that person.
We could perhaps say that the more good you want for a person, the more you truly love and care about him or her — that the degree to which you desire, and are willing to invest in and aid in, the good of the other speaks to the sincerity and depth of your love.
This kind of love is evident in the Apostle John’s greeting early in his third epistle: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (3 John 2, KJV)
Love means you want the good for someone else, and by contrast, hate comes down to wanting what is bad — or harmful — for someone else.
And I think we can agree that the more a person desires, invests in, or works toward the bad or the harming of another person, it speaks to the sincerity and depth of that person’s hatred.
What About Truth, Justice, and Accountability?
At this point, people predictably raise objections by “reminding” me of all the injustice in the world.
As if I need such a reminder.
I watch the news. And I know history fairly well. I used to teach history!
And I’m a pastor who is often called upon to help people through grief, hurt, and pain.
I know there’s plenty of sin and suffering in our world. Plenty of it!
And I know that the innocent should be protected and evildoers should be held accountable.
And yet…I still maintain that love is the answer and should be the basis of how we respond to situations and act in our world.
When it comes to protecting the innocent, standing up for justice, and holding perpetrators of harm or evil accountable, we must be driven by love — not by hate or vengeance.
As Dr. Martin Luther King once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
We should do all things in love and not in hate.
We can’t have truth and justice without love and humility.
We should stand against racism, bigotry, abuse, and the mistreatment of people because of love!
We should be motivated by and driven by love!
And, incidentally, that means we should be not only open to but committed to forgiveness, rehabilitation, and restoration.
People of course will invariably raise questions about abuse, betrayal, or some other serious offense in which trust has been shattered. But please understand the following…
Forgiveness and trust are not the same.
In no way am I suggesting that a victim of abuse, for example, should disregard her safety or that of her children.
Love should be freely extended. Forgiveness should be granted. But trust must be earned.
Someone may have hurt you or betrayed you to the extent that trust cannot be restored. And you may need to redefine or even end your close relationship with that person, but…
You don’t have to hate them. You can still love them — even if it’s at a distance.
You may hold that a certain public official is unworthy of the public trust, and therefore withhold your vote from that person — or believe he or she should be removed from office. Coming to this decision, however, does not necessitate that you give yourself over to hate.
You can disagree with someone — even oppose someone’s actions, candidacy, or promotion — and do so without succumbing to hate.
You can do so with love.
Love doesn’t mean there’s an absence of accountability. In fact, we need accountability in our lives.
Many years ago, when I was quite new to pastoral ministry, a young man in our community committed a horrific crime. He was related to a member of the church I was serving at the time, and I was asked to visit this young man in jail.
When I visited him, I treated him with kindness and compassion — even though he didn’t deserve it. Love isn’t about what we deserve. It’s about what we are willing to give.
I visited this young man, and extended to him grace and kindness, even though I believed what he did was terrible and that he needed to be held fully accountable before the law.
Sadly, this young man wasn’t open to meeting with “a pastor,” and walked out of our meeting.
But that was his choice. My responsibility was to love him and show him that love — even though I believed he should be held accountable legally (and he was).
Yes, we need to stand against injustice and sin — individually and as a society.
And yes, we need to set appropriate boundaries and hold one another accountable. But…
We need to do all this in love. Without love, we not only do more harm than good, but we often become the very injustice we claim to stand against.
What About Politics?
And that leads us to the present political crisis facing American society.
We don’t just disagree anymore. We now hate one another.
We don’t just oppose the “other side.” We despise and loathe the other side.
Indeed, we have reduced the humanity of people with whom we disagree to be either “less than” we are or part of that sinister “other” that deserves banishment from our social circle — if not from polite society altogether.
I find myself increasingly in the minority.
I don’t hate any of our political leaders. I really don’t.
I may not vote for them. I may in fact criticize them.
But I don’t hate them.
There are many politicians who I believe should retire from the political scene, and I may vote accordingly. And I often will pray for their retirement — peaceful retirement — but I DO NOT HATE THEM.
And neither should you.
Oh, and when it comes to our politics, do not outsource your thinking or your moral obligations to someone else just because he or she sits in high office or has amassed a large political following.
We elect leaders to represent us and make some decisions (as defined by law) on our behalf. We do NOT elect leaders (or at least we shouldn’t) to think for us and to determine for us what is right and what is wrong.
Do not let politicians determine for you whether you will love others or surrender to hate and fear. That’s your choice. Not theirs.
Love Your Neighbor
Jesus said the second most important commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This of course was a command he quoted from the law of Moses (see Leviticus 19:18).
We are commanded clearly to love our neighbor. And Jesus defines “neighbor” as being more than just the person living next door or across the street. Your neighbor is whomever you share this planet with and whoever is in the path of your life.
Jesus even says we should “love [our] enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
That means we should love everyone! Let me lay that out for you clearly:
- We should love those who agree with us and those who don’t.
- We should love those who vote like us and those who don’t.
- We should love those who look like us and those who don’t.
- We should love those who act like us and those who don’t.
- We should love those who talk like us and those who don’t.
- We should love those who think like us and those who don’t.
- We should love those who make us feel good, and we should love those who get on our nerves.
- We should love those who cooperate with us, and those who make life difficult for us.
- We should love those who are polite as well as those who are rude.
We should love everyone, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, background, sex, gender, sexual orientation, political persuasion, income, health, status, education, IQ, EQ, sports team preference, or any other consideration.
Nothing should stop us from loving people.
We should love everyone!
And what does that look like? Well, the Apostle Paul described how love is manifested when he wrote his famous “love chapter” to the church in Corinth:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
-I Corinthians 13:4–8a
These are the qualities we need more of in America today.
The more we manifest this kind of love, the better off we will be — and the better able we will be to tackle pressing issues like racism, greed, injustice, violence, poverty, and more.
We must choose love over hate. And we must do so soon.
Otherwise, we will lose more than our country.
We will lose ourselves.