The Common Good

Has Hate Corrupted the Church?

As a writer with a public blog, I've become used to getting hate emails. Sure, some people might leave offensive comments on a blog, but the real vitriol gets reserved for emails. From the sick and twisted ones detailing what sexual violence I need done to me to cure me of my feminism to the reminders that I will one day burn in hell because of my association with the emerging church, I've become used to the church's odd way of demonstrating "love" to one's neighbor. But when I look at the two posts that have far and away garnered me the most hate mail, I find it difficult to not be disturbed and heartbroken for the church.

Last summer my inbox filled up with angry responses to my post recounting the often-ignored history of the slaughter of the Native Americans at the Taos Pueblo (men, women, and children took sanctuary in the church and the U.S. Army burned them alive inside). I was called every name in the book for daring to question the greatness of the U.S. and our right to Manifest Destiny.

Then recently, my post supporting the Cordoba House (the mosque going in near Ground Zero) was linked to at the Cordoba House site to demonstrate that some Christians do support the project. That of course brought on a new wave of hate in my inbox. From those accusing me of supporting the pedophile religion of Satan to those telling me I was mocking the power of Jesus by tolerating Muslims, I witnessed the overwhelming animosity Christians hold toward the other. The words of Jesus to love our neighbor apparently don't apply if that neighbor looks or believes differently than we do.

Out of everything I have written, that these two posts should elicit such visceral responses demonstrates how deep the issues of racism and prejudice still are in the church today. Oh, churches might give lip service to accepting others and being "colorblind," but in reality those fears and prejudices run deep. The general message of the white American church is eerily similar to a white person saying "I'm fine with black people; I just don't want them living next door." So we are fine with collecting dream catchers and turquoise jewelry and seeing sexy Native American teens running around shirtless as they turn into wolves, but not with listening to their side of the historical story or admitting to our country's acts of terrorism against their nations. And some even say they are fine with Muslims as long as they don't put a mosque where we can see it or ask us to engage in reconciliation projects. Stereotypes and prejudices are preferred to the truth, and anger erupts if such positions are questioned or challenged.

Granted, many Christians aren't even okay with the lip-service tolerance or the "equal as long as they are separate" mentality. Recently Pastors Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL, declared September 11, 2010, to be International Burn a Koran Day. In a YouTube video (warning -- video contains footage of a burning Koran) he tells viewers, "if you call yourself Christian you should be burning the Koran because it is of the devil." Their blog even lists the top 10 reasons to burn a Koran as if it is some sort of late-night comedy routine (interestingly enough, I've heard most of the arguments they list used against the Bible as well).

Similarly, in a recent trip back to Taos, NM, I heard some white Christians discussing how the genocide of the Native American nations was a blessed gift from God to eliminate the satanic influence of their cultures from our "one nation under God." There are some things that are just so extreme and so absurd that it is hard to believe people are even saying them, much less saying them in the name of Christ. But for many Christians this sort of hatred is at the core of their faith practice. Vengeance and revenge against the other have superseded the commands to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

The question that plagues me is if the church will ever repent of its allegiance to hate and start following in the way of Christ instead? It seems like the church has embraced a culture of hatred. I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said "I'm for the Separation of Church and Hate," but someone found its anti-hate message so offensive that they vandalized it with a marker. On top of that, much of the church has lent its ear to the false prophets who mock the words of Jesus and who command their followers to run from the churches that encourage us to love our neighbor or to set the oppressed free.

When the truth of God has been replaced by these racist and hate-filled lies of our culture, it is hard at times to have hope for the church. When yet another hate email arrives in my inbox questioning my faith because I spoke out against acts of violence and terrorism against non-white American peoples, I have to wonder where Jesus is in the church these days. But even amidst all that darkness there are glimmers of hope. I see the Christians (the National Association of Evangelicals even) asking that the International Koran Burning Day be canceled in the name of Jesus. I see the handful of Christians willing to stand with Muslims as they build the Cordoba House. These are public voices presenting to the world the side of Christianity that isn't defined by violence and hatred. They may be few, but it is enough to keep believing that the core of Christianity hasn't been completely corrupted or destroyed.

Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.

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