The Lectionary for today in the Methodist Prayer Handbook suggested John 15:17-27 as the reading. It’s a powerful text about hatred and a prediction on the lips of Jesus about what will face his followers once he has gone. It is also the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, one of whom was sawn in two and the other became associated with lost causes. Like the rest of those who accompanied Jesus from the early days, their lives were cut short in gruesome ways.
Hate is such an ugly word and one that is often offensive to the average Christian’s ear. ‘Love the sinner; hate the sin’ is a slogan used by those who oppose same-sex relationships because of their reading of Scripture, even though it has no scriptural warrant. The idea that Christians should harbour any hatred sits uncomfortably with our religious sensibilities.
At the recent meeting of the Methodist Council, a paper was brought dealing with incidents of hatred and discrimination in the Church. It arose from a deep concern expressed at the last Conference about reports of hatred and discrimination and the lack of protection for those facing such abuse. Of course, the very idea that there are Methodists who perpetrate such acts of hate is anathema to some, not because they have concern for the welfare of the victims, but because it complicates their own picture of the Church to which they belong. To acknowledge that there are some who profess to share our faith and values and yet who are prepared to attack, belittle, undermine or bully other members and ministers because of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity implicates us in that abuse too. For as Seamus Heaney so eloquently put it:
No such thing
In addressing these issues, we must have more in our toolkit than simply: ‘Play nice’. Nor must we try to minimise the damage, hurt and spiritual abuse that such attacks inflict on the individuals targeted and the local Methodist communities in which they happen. Our theologies of ‘niceness’ must be replaced by one that engages seriously with the reality of evil in our world - and in the Church. Not a theology that demonises individuals, but that names beliefs and behaviours for what they are: a total denial of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any belief that seeks to diminish, attack or deny the image of God in a fellow human being is anti-God and, therefore, evil. Any behaviour that seeks to cause fear, humiliation, or perpetrates injustice is anti-God and, therefore, evil. My reading of Methodist doctrine says that no individual can ever be called evil, for that would deny the image of God in them. But, to quote a good friend,
‘Monstrous things can be done by people who are, themselves, not
The psychologist, Bernard Golden, describes hatred thus:
"Acts of hate are attempts to distract oneself from feelings such as helplessness, powerlessness, injustice, inadequacy and shame. Hate is grounded in some sense of perceived threat. It is an attitude that can give rise to hostility and aggression toward individuals or groups. Like much of anger, it is a reaction to and distraction from some form of inner pain. The individual consumed by hate may believe that the only way to regain some sense of power over his or her pain is to preemptively strike out at others. In this context, each moment of hate is a temporary reprieve from inner suffering." (Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies that work, 2016)
Evil is not a sickness nor a force that overpowers. It is a description of chosen wrong, of knowing what the right thing to do it, and choosing the easier option of doing wrong. We may rationalise it to ourselves (‘we are the victims’, ‘it is normal’, ‘they deserved it’) but that only confirms our own responsibility for our actions. Lashing out because we feel threatened is no excuse.
Evil also captures the enormous damage done to the abused. For those of us who have been the recipients of the hatred of others - including of fellow Methodists - we know how it sticks to our souls. There is nothing we can do to stop it, because it is targeted at a part of ourselves we cannot change. People don’t hate us because we have done something to offend; it is because of who we are and, therefore, what we represent. You can never change the thing they hate about you without inflicting even more damage on yourself.
Hatred is evil because it denies God by diminishing life. It is learned behaviour and its antidote is a response that
rejects violence in all its forms;
chooses not to act out of fear, shame or threat;
is committed to self-awareness to unlearn imbibed hate;
practices compassion at all times;
is willing to call out acts of hate and seek repentance;
creates places of healing for the abused.