The billboard from a prominent anti-religious group said “Keep your religion out of my government.” I wanted to sneak up there some night and tag it with, “As long as you keep your government out of my religion.” (But, of course, that would have been illegal.) The concept of the sign, though, was based on the faulty understanding of “the establishment of religion.” When the founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights, they did not object to the establishment (noun) which is religion; they objected to the establishment (verb) of a state-sponsored religion. Religion could be, and was and is, a part of everyday life, including life in the halls of government. It could not be a state sponsored religion at the exclusion of all others. Prayers could be said at government meetings. Religious symbols could appear on government buildings. The government could not interfere with religion, and it could not favor one religion over another. Religion was a personal choice that the government could not interfere with. That was what was meant by the separation of church and state.
But that is not what this article is about. Another sign, advertising a church sermon, used a variation on that theme. It read: Separation of church and hate. The church need not worry about getting involved in government The truth is, haters will go out of their way to get in our way.(although many do). The church does need to be involved in the separation of church and hate. As with the church-and-state issue, there are at least two sides to the problem.
There is a saying today that goes, “Haters gonna hate.” If someone is intent on hating, we cannot control that. What we can control, however, is our reaction to hate. There will always be those who hate the church, and members of the church just for being members. It may be that they have had a bad experience with a church member or a congregation. It may be that they are intimidated by the message of salvation, and their refusal to obey it. Regardless of the reasons, there will always be those who persecute the church. Jesus and the apostles acknowledged opposition would happen. Their solution was the separation of church and hate.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. (Matt 5: 28-42)
When faced with a hateful person, do not respond in kind. Keep the church, or at least your little part of it, separate from their hate. Chances are they would love a hateful response. That would give them another foothold with which to criticize the church.
There are ways to respond that defend the church without stooping to their level of hatred. In fact, in the very next verses Jesus gives the proper response.
Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matt 5:43-45)
Simply telling a person that you are praying for them may not defuse the situation. It may even make them angrier and more hateful, but it shows you are consistent in your faith.
The easiest way to ensure the separation of church and hate would be to avoid the haters altogether. This, though, may be neither practical nor wise. As much as we would like to avoid those who hate us, the truth is that they will go out of their way to get in our way. If they were merely indifferent they would let us go our way with little interference. If recent events in Egypt have proven anything, it may be that even those who benefit from Christians may be among the first to turn on them.
Nor will a total separation from the haters accomplish God’s purpose. Shortly after Matthew records the blessedness of enduring persecution, he quotes Jesus as saying, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 5:16) This is not said just about those who might be favorably disposed toward God’s people. How is one to turn a hater into a brother without shining God’s light? He may not respond, but that would only be an excuse for not acting favorably to those who would oppose. Only God knows whether a kind word or an act of faith might change even the hardest heart. After all, Saul the Persecutor became Paul the Apostle.
Today some of the greatest haters seem to be those who claim faith in God. This is not new. One of the arguments from the Jewish people against Christianity is the historical magnitude of the hateful behavior of Christians against the Jews. More wars have been fought in the name of religion, and particularly the Christian religion, than for any other cause. (The fact is that the wars were not about religion, but religion gains more support from the masses than obvious and unashamed greed.)
It is imperative that the church separate themselves from the doctrines of hatred. Those that hate us will be quick to point to the evidences of hate: bombing of abortion clinics, protesting at funerals, and beating people because of their sexual preference. Every time a Christian resorts to hateful actions, the cause of Christ is damaged, the name of God is profaned.
Paul admits in Romans 5:12 that all have sinned. We all have, he says, a propensity toward sin. Nevertheless, when we acknowledge that although all have sinned, not everybody is bound to remain a sinner. Through the grace of God we may be free from sin, no longer a sinner. We do tend to think of one who has committed murder as being a murderer. We buy into the modern concept of “being” gay, as opposed to the biblical characterization of who commits a homosexual act. And yet most of us would not characterize one who exceeded the speed limit one time as being a speeder; we reserve that designation for one who habitually speeds.
If we can change our language and our attitude, then it might be that we can love the person who has sinned, and yet hate the sin itself. If we can do that, then maybe we will learn to have the same attitude about all sin. As it now stands, many Christians express hatred against certain sins, and tolerance toward others. They get all up in arms against “the gay community,” but take a live-and-let-live attitude toward petty theft from the workplace. Some people are going to continue to sin, whatever their sin. We must acknowledge that. This doesn’t mean we should stop preaching against sin; we must continue to oppose it wherever we find it. Rather it means that we should be consistent in preaching against all sin, or, preferably, in favor of telling the good news of the Christ.
When Paul commanded the Thessalonians (2 Thes 3:6) to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly,” he probably meant this on a congregational level. (How can you withdraw from somebody you were never with in the first place?) Still, the overarching principle is valid. If one chooses to be hateful toward those without the church, we who are spiritual should distance ourselves from them. It is gratifying to see the news stories that cover the loving anti-protests that keep people away from a certain church away from funerals where they would protest. It is good that some are showing the world that the hateful behavior of a few is not representative of what we believe. It might even be proper for prominent Christians, every time the news carries a story about haters within the church, to make a statement in opposition to such behavior.
Hate is not necessarily the opposite of love. Nor is it always the absence of love. It is possible to hate because of love. This is what is truly meant by the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner.” When we love the sinner, we cannot help but hate the sin. If we truly love the sinner, it is our abhorrence of sin that causes us to try to turn him from his way; that is why we teach about God’s forgiveness.
The problem is, very few people seem to successfully separate the two. We tend to think of people as sinners, not as people who sin. That might be a fine distinction, but perhaps an important one. We are judgingEvery time a Christian resorts to hateful actions, the cause of Christ is damaged, the name of God is profaned. the person to be someone who is characterized by sin, and therefore one who cannot change. If, on the other hand, we see people as people who have sinned we are identifying a single action, not a character trait.
This is a biblical idea. God, John tells us, is love. (1 Jn 4:8) Love is an essential characteristic of God. And yet God hates. “Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the LORD thy God hateth.” (Deut 16:22) He even rewards those who hate in this way. “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Ps 45:7; Heb 1:9)
When the scriptures state that God or the righteous hated, the object of the hatred is almost never a person. Usually that which is hated is unrighteousness. Because God loves, God hates. Because God hates, he performed a loving action in sacrificing his only begotten son to remove sin and unrighteousness.
We are not always so discerning. Instead of hiding our hatred of sin behind loving actions toward the sinner, we often manifest the hatred. If we truly believe in the separation of church and hate, then we will channel our hatred of sin into actions of love toward the one who is sinning. Only in that way will we be like God. Only in that way will we show God to a lost world.