Justifying Hatred

Hating is something of which to be ashamed unless it provides for us a form of validation and prestige. If either is provided, then the immoral or amoral character of hatred is transformed into positive violence.”[1]

This was written by Howard Thurman in the context of the second world war. On the basis of nationalism, there was a country-wide embrace of the hatred of Japanese Americans. Derogatory slang words were created, meant to demoralize and demonize. Neighbors who looked Asian were watched more closely. And internment camps were put into place to keep those who were less-desirable out of the public eye. The color of their skin roused suspicion of espionage, and President Roosevelt felt that it was easier to simply lock them all up than to seek clarity.

At that moment in our country’s history, hatred was justified, accepted, and welcomed.

But hatred is still justified, accepted, and welcomed. We’ve just now picked new targets.

The Common Path Towards Hatred

Why is this the case? Howard Thurman explains that it might be because we often have “contact without fellowship.”[2] It’s in our nature to dismiss or keep at a distance those who don’t look, think, or act like us. That’s because different makes us uncomfortable. And when we do come into contact with someone who is different, the same warm feelings we experience towards our friends aren’t allowed to grow.

Over time, this emotionless fellowship can transform into something darker. It can turn into a lack of sympathy. When a person that’s different from us experiences pain or trauma, if we’ve already set ourselves up at a distance from them, it is hard for us to then come alongside them and grieve with them. We are more likely to belittle their pain, minimize their experience, or dismiss their perspective.

But when we belittle or minimize someone’s pain or perspective for long enough, that becomes, in our minds, part of their identity. They lose their value as an image bearer of God and become that which brings us annoyance or contempt. Ultimately that person, or people group, becomes to us an embodiment of those dark feelings.

When that happens, we’ve justified our hatred.  

Jesus’ Response Against Hatred

But what does Jesus have to say about all of this?

In Matthew 5:21, Jesus explains that anyone who is angry at his or her brother or sister will be subject to judgment. He then further qualifies this in verse 22 by explaining that those who call others ρακα will be answerable to the court, or anyone who calls another a “fool” will be in danger of the fires of hell.

In other words, the anger Jesus is talking about isn’t “righteous anger,” or anger against an injustice committed. Rather, it’s the hatred born from the contempt of another. That’s what that word ρακα means. It was an Aramaic expression of contempt. It was a word used when one wanted to devalue another based on their socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or intellect.

But citizens of God’s kingdom aren’t to think or speak such things. Hatred for another shouldn’t be in our minds or on our lips. Participating in such brings judgement, creates divisions in places where Christ has brought healing, and severely taints our witness.

The Christian’s Responsibility in the Face of Hatred

How might hatred or contempt manifest itself within the Christian community? And what’s our responsibility in the face of it?

Well, “contact without fellowship” is still a serious problem, even within the Church. We often follow the same party lines as the rest of our society does, and happily divide ourselves by political stance, ethnicity, nationality, or hot-button social causes. But we sometimes go even further by not associating with other Christians of different denominations. And often, our divisions aren’t conscious or deliberate actions. We don’t initially do this from a place of ill-will. We just like to stick to our normal. We feel most comfortable with people who look like, think like, and act like we do.

But, and in doing so, we too get easily swept up into that path mentioned above. Our like-minded fellowships become echo chambers. And when a thought or an idea is expressed that goes against the grain of our community’s comfortability, it becomes an irritant. Then enters contempt, demonization, and hatred.  

How often do we see “Republican” Christians using hateful speech against Democrats, forgetting that they have brothers and sisters in Christ who also belong to that party? How often do we see “Democratic” Christians pointing fingers at those wearing MAGA branded clothing, forgetting that some of them are believers too? Look how common it’s becoming for some to harbor hatred toward another simply because they are or aren’t wearing a mask in public.

As believers, we have the high responsibility to stamp out anything that might divide us into hatred. It’s difficult, but we need to seek out and create opportunities for genuine fellowship with those who are not like us. We need to have open dialogue with other believers who don’t think or act like us and commit to learning why they do what they do.  

Because if we don’t, we welcome the fires of hell into our midst.

[1] Howard Thurman, Jesus and The Disinherited, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976), 65.  

[2] Howard Thurman, Jesus and The Disinherited, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976), 65.  

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