This isn’t a ran’t about Islam. It’s about Christianity. On the 9th anniversary of 9/11 I thought this subject would be appropriate to talk about.
Islam is often defined as a religion of hate and violence, at least by those eager to burn its holy book. I would suggest that American Christianity, at least in the arenas in which it receives the most attention, has largely become a religion of hate. Not that it’s core principles are hatred, I have no doubt that false prophets like Terry Jones and Fred Phelps are convinced that their actions are some bizarre form of “love.” Rather, I think that American Christianity has become for many a faith defined in large part by what it hates: abortion, evolution, homosexuality, Islam, etc.
When I was growing up in church not so long ago American Christianity wasn’t quite the religion of hate it seems to be today. It was the religion of “no”. Who we were as Christians was largely defined by what we didn’t do, or what we said “no” to. No to drinking. No to smoking. No to drugs. No to premarital sex. Not that I think these are behaviors that Christians should be spending their free time doing, but our faith, at least in the eyes of many, was defined exclusively by what we didn’t do rather than by what we did.
To be honest, I don’t know when the shift from “no” to hate began. Like most things I’m sure it was gradual, unnoticed until it was too late. I suppose the foundation for hate had been laid down with our zealous refusal of “non-Christian things.” While they were by and large things that should be avoided by the faithful, our avoidance of these things slowly turned to hate. Not the biblical “hatred of sin,” hatred born out of a deep love for God and the knowledge of how destructive certain things can be to ourselves and our relationship with our Creator. This type of “hatred” can be understood, if not commended. Hatred for injustice, hatred for oppression, hatred for abuse, hatred for idolatry. All of these things God Himself says His soul hates. (Isaiah 1:14) But what we had developed was “blind hate”, hatred without reason or understanding. We hated things, not because we really understood their destructive potential, but because we had it ingrained in our minds from birth and across generations that certain things were simply evil. We didn’t need to ask why they were evil, they just were and we needed to hate them. As the church has “changed her mind” on what some of these evil things were, it becomes clear that our hatred stemmed not from ageless, Spirit led wisdom that taught about their destructive potential, but blind hate. We might have begun with a clear understanding of why certain things are to be avoided, but over time we became lazy and decided it was enough to simply hate them.
The move, then, from a religion of “no” to a religion of hate seems like a logical one. We were simply widening our nets to make sure we captured everything we perceived to be evil. I think this is when our laziness really caught up with us. Our refusal to do the hard work of discipleship, the hard work of transmitting the faith in such a way that the faithful really understand who they are and what they believe, left us wandering in the darkness. The Spirit had been replace with our emotions and gut feelings. Because we had never taken the time to understand the Spirit and how the Spirit moves and leads His people, we came to believe that voice in our heads was always God and never us. This freed us to think and do whatever we wished while also empowering us with our own unbridled and unguided emotions. We have become a people who don’t think before we act. We assume that the faith has been passed on to us through diffusion (not osmosis!) and is in no need of translation or understanding. We simply like or hate what we’ve been told to like or hate and add on to that as our spirit leads us to.
Now when many on the outside look at American Christianity, not least of all Muslims, they see a people concerned almost exclusively with a long list of things that need to be hated. This couldn’t be further from the gospel and the life Jesus called us to live. On this day that we remember the destination in which hatred leads us we should listen once again to the words of the prophet Isaiah and remember that simply owning a Bible, going to church, and not doing certain things doesn’t make us Christian. God demands much more of us:
“Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:10-17)
In a world filled with suffering, poverty, exploitation, oppression, and death we don’t have time to be consumed by hate. Let us instead love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us. Let us, like Israel, turn from our wicked ways and focus on the things God has called us to focus on. Let us be so transformed by the Spirit that the world looks upon the hate mongers of the world and says without equivocation that they cannot be Christian because they do not love me. Let us be the people we are called to be: a people of love.