I am going to state this as plain as I can: hatred divides America, not Democrats, not Republicans, not the media, not President Trump, not Vice President Biden, not even Hillary Clinton. Hatred is dividing us. In other words, we, the people, are causing the division.
I am tired. I am tired for many reasons. I am tired of the blame game, and I am tired of no one taking responsibility for what they say or what they do. I am also angry. I am angry about what is going on in our country. I am angry that people cannot come together and talk about their differences. But what I am most angry about is how I am letting all of this make me feel.
Anger can be a force for good. Anger can move people to desire change in their lives and in the way things are. Anger can bring people out on the streets to protest a system that has oppressed them because of their skin color or the person they love. Anger can lead people to stand up and say enough is enough. Anger can lead people to vote a certain way. Anger can lead to people running for office to try and make changes from the inside. But when anger turns to rage, it turns from a force for good into a force of hate.
In his letter to the Church at Ephesus, St. Paul wrote, “In your anger do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the Devil a foothold.” (4:26-27) St. Paul is not saying do not get angry, St. Paul is warning not to let that anger turn to hatred. Because sin of hatred gives the Devil a foothold. We must learn to master our emotions, or our emotions will master us.
With that said, I am reminded of Jesus clearing the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus saw what was happening, Jesus saw what the Temple had been turned into, and Jesus got angry. Jesus turned that anger into rage and flipped over the tables and drove the people out with a whip. Sometimes anger needs to turn to rage, and anger needs to turn to destruction, but as a last resort.
I cannot know for sure, but the anger and rage that Jesus felt while clearing the Temple was not focused on the people, but the people’s actions. This is an important distinction. I can hate what someone is doing, I can hate their policies, but I cannot hate the person. Jesus drove the people out of the Temple for what they were doing, not for who they were.
One day, a member of my congregation came to my study and asked to see me. He was angry with another person who he felt had done him wrong, but the other person refused to acknowledge that the harm had taken place. During the conversation, the person kept saying how mad the other person made them. Finally, I stopped him and said, “the other person cannot make you mad; you are letting yourself get mad.” We allow ourselves to get mad, and we allow ourselves to get angry.
There are not two sides to every argument. Not every position needs to or should be listened to. There are some issues that we cannot “agree to disagree.”
These days we want to blame someone or something for what is wrong. We blame the media, blame the Democrats, blame the Republicans. But the blame does not lie with them; the responsibility lies with us. Now, I am not saying that others cannot fan the flames of anger and division, but we are still in control or should be in control of how we react to the externals in our lives.
And listen, the excuse of “well, the other side is doing it too” is childish. It’s time for the adults to stand up and regain control.
I will return to an earlier statement I made, anger can be a force for good, but anger can also be a force for destruction. It is how we react to that anger that makes the difference. If our anger moves us in a desire for change that usually is a righteous thing. If the anger we feel drives us to hate another person or group, then, as St. Paul warned, we have given the Devil a foothold. There is a fine line between marching in the street singing hymns and marching in the street carrying a torch and screaming, “you will not replace us.”
Hate is what makes a person drive their car into a crowd of protesters. Hate is what makes a person walk into a church and shoot people. Hate is what makes a person look at another human being and because of the color of their skin, who they love, or where they come from and not see God’s image in them.
In the beginning, God said, let us create them in our image and let us create them in our likeness. God created humanity and God-breathed God’s breath into that humanity and gave life to humanity. God saw all that God had made, and it was good.
I am a Christian, and as a Christian, I am required to follow a particular way of life, the way of life that has been handed down by Jesus Christ and written in the Scriptures. At the center of that way and at the center of that teaching is love; love God, love neighbor, and love your enemies. I believe that this is the hardest part of being a Christian, and it is non-negotiable. Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment? Jesus replied, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second, love your neighbor as yourself.” “On these two,” Jesus said, “hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mark 12:29-31) In other words, if we cannot love, nothing else matters.