Thursday, April 4, 2013

Christianity and Hate

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Christianity and hate:

Q:  Why does it seem that so many Christians hate or fear people who are different than them?  Why don’t we see more tolerance coming from churches?

The idea that many Christians harbor fear or hatred toward certain groups of people is an unfortunate misconception that probably stems from several sources.  One of these causes is a very small number of organizations that get a great deal of media attention because of their visible and extreme nature.  One of these organizations even threatened to make an appearance in Algona at a soldier’s funeral. 

However, these organizations include such a small minority of Christians that if one were to create a chart of the various approaches to Christianity, they would appear only as an asterisk at the bottom with the words, “various other groups composing fewer than 1 percent of the Christian population.”  In fact, the leading organization that opposes and blocks their visibly hateful demonstrations is composed primarily of Christians and opens its rallies with prayer by a designated chaplain.

Another source of this misconception is a modern assumption that disapproval or disagreement equate to hatred and fear.  In present discourse, whether it is a maliciously false accusation used for the purpose of silencing opposition, or if, more likely, it is an automatic, yet unwarranted hiccup in an otherwise reasonable person’s thought process, it is assumed that anything short of agreement and acceptance of another person’s actions stems from ill-will toward a group of people who share that behavior. 

A popular pastor and best-selling author, Rick Warren, answers this misconception wisely and concisely when he says, “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.“

The truth is that the vast majority of Christians who take moral stands on the various social issues of our day have no fear or hatred whatsoever behind their position and display no fear or hatred in communicating their positions to the broader culture.  Instead, they hold these positions, because based on both spiritual convictions and careful observation of society, they believe that the actions they warn against cause harm to their neighbors who engage in them. 

Typically, the ministries and organizations they form to address these social issues seek to avoid vocal condemnation, and instead create systems and services which attempt, beyond purely spiritual solutions, to also provide practical assistance to those who find their lives disrupted and troubled by the choices they have made and the behaviors they have embraced. 

The idea of tolerance itself actually originated with Christianity.  It was Christians who first proposed that people of differing spiritual and moral convictions can live side-by-side without harassment or violence toward one another.  But tolerance as a concept has also been misunderstood in the present debates. 

Tolerance, properly defined, does not include acceptance of, or agreement with, opposing positions.  Instead, it is the acknowledgement of differences, perhaps even debate over them, after which those involved can continue to live as neighbors and fellow citizens of the same community, not by pretending that their disagreements do not exist or do not matter, but rather by agreeing not to harass or physically harm one another based on them. 

Ultimately both the majority of Christian denominations, as well as the congregations and individuals included in them, seek to maintain both of these emphases:  to be faithful to their genuine moral convictions, while at the same time being considerate and compassionate toward their neighbors with whom they disagree, as the Apostle Peter instructs, “Always be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

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