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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thoughts on hate

Mennonites do not look kindly on hate.  Even our broader society describes hate in pejorative ways: hate speech, hate monger, hate crime.  Even if we are not always the best at practicing love over hate, we our faith has made us deeply aware that we are not to nurture hate within ourselves.  Jesus is clear in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to love our enemies rather than hate them.

But the events of last weekend here in Goshen have me reflecting, not just on the biblical exhortations to love and forgiveness, but also of the biblical exhortations to hate.  "Hate what is evil and cling to what is good," Paul writes in the epistle to the Romans (NRSV, 12:9), echoing Amos 5:15.  Proverbs 8:13 counsels, "The fear of the Lord is the hatred of evil."  (NRSV)

The context of these passages suggests to me that hatred here means turning our backs on evil and choosing love and justice instead.  This is the sense of the traditional baptismal vow renouncing evil.  I can accept this as one layer of meaning in these texts, even as I also see another layer exhorting us to hatred in a different kind of way.  The Psalmist boasts of hating God's enemies with perfect hatred.  The prophets hate injustice.  Jesus hates hypocrisy.  

The danger with hatred is that the object of our hate is personified.  That is we come to hate hypocrites rather than hypocrisy, failing to recognize hypocrites as victims of hypocrisy.  This week I wonder if it is possible to hate murder but not murderers, the same way I hate tornadoes that wipe out whole towns and destroy lives, or unjust economies that weigh down the poor with grinding poverty.

This is a fine distinction, I know.  Is it possible to hate murder while loving and forgiving murderers?  Perhaps it is only possible when we are willing to look into our own souls, and realize most of us have not wholly forsaken evil ourselves.