“You will be hated by all because of My name…you will be hated by all nations because of My name.”
–Jesus of Nazareth
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…”
–James, the Lord’s brother
It’s no secret among evangelical Christians in America that we are hated more and more every day, and given the warnings that Jesus gave us about this, most of us aren’t really surprised. We have a unique status in the spiritual realm that is at odds with the spirit of the world and its ruler, Satan, and this often plays out in the physical world as us drawing criticism, animosity, and ultimately persecution for our religious views. In America, in particular, our views have been labelled “intolerant” and “bigoted”, two categories which have come to be the antithesis of America, a country which to most other Americans stands for “tolerance”, a seemingly lofty concept which is in reality a code word for acceptance and approbation of practically everything. The hypocrisy of course is that this tolerance doesn’t extend to Christian values—it only really extends to everything at odds with Christian values.
I’m sure none of this is news to an evangelical reader. The real irony of all this, though, is that America used to be an almost exclusively Christian nation. Of course not everyone was a Christian, and we have had some influx of non-Christian immigrants, but we have still traditionally had a super-super-majority. So what went wrong? Doesn’t it seem that a nation of Christians would stay that way if the Christians were actually doing their job as witnesses of Christ? The problem, it seems, is that most of us and our Christian ancestors haven’t been faithfully following Christ—we’ve actually brought this on ourselves by refusing to walk according to the Spirit and make disciples of our families and neighbors.
I think the fact that we’ve been labelled as “intolerant bigots” is actually a very telling sign of this. Has it ever occurred to any of us that those who accuse us of bigotry may actually have a point? There is nothing wrong with pointing out, for example, that homosexual relations are sinful, although that perhaps is enough to get some people riled up into hatred of us, but do we ever stop there? Don’t we normally push it much further, ranting angrily about evil homosexuals and how they’re all going to Hell unless they stop ruining society, supporting discriminatory laws that single them out and exclude them, and always finding ways to punish them on God’s behalf for what feels to them like just the way they were born? Given how hatefully most of us act towards sinners in general, I can’t blame them at all for hating us back! I would hate us too! Jesus certainly didn’t say that the embezzlement of the tax collectors or the sexual immorality of the prostitutes was righteous, but He certainly never ranted hatefully about their sin or targeted them for derision or ostracism. He simply pointed out the sin for what it was—often not even verbally—and then loved them all the same.
We, however, don’t set a good example of Christ, and we angrily condemn sinners to their faces and show them no love or mercy. Then, when we discover that everyone hates us for it, we go around quoting those verses above as confirmation that we’ve done the right thing! “Well, Jesus said we’d be hated, so I guess we need to keep fighting the gays!” I’ve also often heard it said, “I’m just speaking the Truth in love,” but are we really speaking it in love? When we angrily decry sin and bully sinners, aren’t we really speaking the Truth in judgement or in hate? No, these verses may be true, but more often than not they’re just used as excuses for our bad behavior.
Somehow, people always find a way to cause to happen whatever they focus on—it’s self-fulfilling prophecy. When we focus on being hated for being Christian, we are guaranteed to start acting in a way that will invite that hatred. Instead, why don’t we focus on doing to others as we’d have them do to us or loving others as Christ has loved us? If we treat people lovingly and with mercy, overlooking their sin without condoning it, we are likely to find that we’ve invited the same love and mercy back upon ourselves. If we love homosexuals despite their sin, they’re far more likely to love us back despite our “sin” (in the world’s eyes) of believing homosexual relations are wrong. They’re also far more likely to come to salvation if we love them. Yes, there are spiritual forces at work, and loving our sinful neighbor as ourselves is no sure-fire way to keep from ever being hated—we may eventually end up being hated anyway—but at least Christlike love and mercy minimize it and delay it as much as possible, and we will reap a far more fruitful harvest of souls that way. Just because we may be hated one day simply for being Christians doesn’t mean we should be hateful and egg it on.