Memorial for Orlando victims outside the landmark Stonewall Inn in New York City.

Memorial for Orlando victims outside the landmark Stonewall Inn in New York City.  Christopher Penler / Shutterstock.com

But while we cry, we must also gain our composure and not allow hate or cynicism to have the first, the loudest, or the last word.

We cannot use hate as the path through our pain into our tomorrow. Hate fuels hate: racial hate, homophobic hate, religious hate, class hate, and the rhetoric of hate that drives the terrorist and the mob. The culture of hate creates the actions of hate. It is and always has been a recipe for murder.

Brandon Hook 05-21-2014


I was born in 1990. That puts me squarely in the middle of what is referred to as the millennial generation.

It also, apparently, makes me a lazy, entitled, narcissist who still lives with my parents.

But that’s beside the point. What’s more important about the date of my birth is that it places me at a distinct and pivotal point in human history: I grew up with the Internet — what they call a “digital native.”

I (vaguely) remember when the Internet got popular; having slow, dial-up that made lots of crazy noises whenever you wanted to use it; talking to other angsty teens on AOL Instant Messenger (“AIM”); downloading music on Napster and Kazaa; and then, slowly but surely, having the Internet became engrained in my everyday life as if it was there the whole time.

But, like the bratty sibling I grew up with (upon reflection, I was equally, if not more, bratty — #humility #perspective), I’ve recognized that I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet. It’s a game-changer for the human experience, so, like that sibling, I think I’ll always love it. But, for every positive, innovative element of the Internet there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Benedict Varnum 04-16-2014
Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Image

People gathered to mourn the shooting victims at Kansas church. Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/ Getty Images

The violence of hatred breaks our hearts. This past weekend in my neighborhood of Overland Park, a shooter killed three people and injured others. My church sits a mile from the sites, and members of my parish know the families of the victims. We are in the process of responding, holding vigils and praying, seeking to comfort one another and make sense of this hateful thing.

I know two ways souls respond to such hate. In one, the heart hardens against the violence, protecting itself. In the other, the heart weeps, leaving itself open to be broken again.

The first way can seem so right. There is a dark logic in giving our hearts permission to loathe the one who could go to so terrible a place, and arm himself to take lives randomly with gunfire. There is a sort of helpless security in burying our hearts away from the reports of such violence. If this gives up some piece of our humanity, at least it keeps our hearts from feeling such pain again.

Yet I have to believe in the other way, leaving my heart open to the world, though it will be broken again and again. In part, this is because I know that claiming permission to hate one man makes way for hating others, and then hating them by groups and by labels, until perhaps one day I wouldn’t care if they lived or died.

Fred Phelps died early Thursday morning. Phelps was best known for his deeply rooted hatred and promulgating the tasteless slogan “God Hates Fags.” His little group of mostly extended family members that comprised the 59-year-old Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, carried their signs with such ugly and painful statements all over the country. Phelps’ small cult got the most attention for their protests of military and other high-profile funerals, claiming that the slain soldiers deserved to die as a consequence of God’s judgment against America’s tolerance of gay and lesbian people. Such shameful and angry messages, understandably, caused great pain among the mourners and family members grieving their loved ones.
Adam Ericksen 03-24-2014
by Sébastien Barré / Flickr.com

"Against the Westboro Baptists Church - Albany, NY - 09, Mar - 11" by Sébastien Barré / Flickr.com

God is not like me or Fred Phelps. And I am thankful for that.

Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, died last week. Phelps and his church are infamously known for picketing the funerals of lesbian and gay people and the funerals of American soldiers with signs saying “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for 9/11.”

There is no doubt that Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church have spread a lot of hate and caused a lot of pain over the last few decades. From funerals to Lady Gaga concerts, the church’s website boasts that Westboro members have picketed more than 50,000 events since Phelps founded it in 1955.

Why was Phelps filled with so much hatred? He explained his animosity in 2006 when he analyzed the tragedy of 9/11:

We told you, right after it happened five years ago that the deadly events of 9/11 were direct outpourings of divine retribution, the immediate visitation of God’s wrath and vengeance and punishment for America’s horrendous sodomite sins, that worse and more of it were on the way … God is no longer with America, but is now America’s enemy. God himself is now American’s terrorist.

If you didn’t know it before, you know it now: theology matters. What we say about God matters because, like all of us, Phelps was a reflection of the god he worshiped.

Christian Piatt 03-24-2014
Westboro Baptist Protestors, Samuel Perry / Shutterstock.com

Westboro Baptist Protestors, Samuel Perry / Shutterstock.com

I suppose it is an indication of how steeped in popular culture I am that the first thing that came to mind when I heard of the death of Westboro Baptist Church founder and former leader Fred Phelps was the song, "Freddie's Dead," by Curtis Mayfield. But although it is a relatively superficial and tangential connection to make, I still prefer that to much of the venom and grave dancing have witnessed since the announcement.

Phelps and his predominantly family-based ministry is best known for their over-the-top protests of everything from gay pride festivals to military funerals, as well as their deeply divisive and inflammatory signs. But given the fact that only a relative handful of people attend Westboro Baptist, and given the extreme nature of their mission and message, Phelps's ability to galvanize and garner the attention of the mainstream media was nothing short of remarkable.

It is less well known that Fred Phelps was kicked out of his own congregation in recent years as the beast of intolerance he had given birth to within his congregation turned even on him. Apparently, even Phelps himself had lost the necessary edge of judgment, anger, and intolerance his followers deemed necessary to champion their cause going forward.

Adam Ericksen 08-07-2013
Alex Rodriguez in Trenton, N.J., Aspen Photo / Shutterstock.com

Alex Rodriguez in Trenton, N.J., Aspen Photo / Shutterstock.com

I have a long history of hating the-man-who-shall-not-be-named. In fact, my wife no longer lets me watch the Yankees. That’s because we have children and she doesn’t want them to hear me launch f-bombs at the television whenever my arch-nemesis stands at the plate.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to love him. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so the Seattle Mariners are my favorite team. He began his career with the Mariners, but after a few years of stardom, he let it get to his head and he joined the Texas Rangers. “It’s not about the money,” I remember him saying. But that was disingenuous. The Rangers crippled their team by providing him with the biggest salary in baseball history.

It was heartbreaking. I once heard that whenever hearts break, they either grow bigger or they become calloused. Well, my heart calloused. Along with other Mariner fans, I took a certain satisfaction in knowing that the Rangers, now led by the-man-who-shall-not-be-named, were horrible. In his three years in Texas, the Rangers were one of the worst teams in baseball and never ended a season above last place in their division.

And I loved it.

Trevor Barton 04-22-2013
John Lennon memorial mosaic in Central Park, June Marie Sobrito / Shutterstock.c

John Lennon memorial mosaic in Central Park, June Marie Sobrito / Shutterstock.com

The question for me as a teacher is not so much "What could have been?" as it is "What can be?"

I think of my fourth grader holding signs that say, "I am MLK," "I am Anne Frank," "I am Harvey Milk," "I am Daniel Pearl," "I am James Byrd, Jr.," "I am Matthew Shephard," and "I am Yitzhak Rabin." Though she cannot really be them, she certainly can take up their work and carry it on in her own life. She wants to become a doctor so she can help people live. With that spirit, she will help these martyrs live, too.

As a teacher, it is my job not only to help students imagine a world without hate, but also to help them find the tools and the heart to build it.

Brandon Hook, VKA, RedKoala, and Skovoroda / Shutterstock

Social media and broken hearts. Brandon Hook, VKA, RedKoala, and Skovoroda / Shutterstock

Pastor Rick Warren, the best-known name in American evangelism after Rev. Billy Graham, lost his 27-year-old son, Matthew, to suicide on Friday.

In the days since, uncounted strangers have joined the 20,000 congregants who worship at the megachurch network “Pastor Rick” built in Southern California, Warren’s nearly 1 million Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers in flooding social media with consolation and prayer.

“Kay and I are overwhelmed by your love, prayers, and kind words,” Warren tweeted on Sunday. “You are all encouraging our #brokenhearts.”

But a shocking number are taking the moment of media attention to lash out at Warren on their digital tom-toms. The attacks are aimed both at him personally and at his Christian message.

Elaina Ramsey 02-07-2013
Sojourners June 2012 cover photo with Megan Phelps-Roper

Sojourners June 2012 cover photo with Megan Phelps-Roper

Picketing the funerals of soldiers. Protesting against female pastors. Condemning gays and lesbians to hell. You name it, the members of Westboro Baptist Church have done it. 

As the June 2012 cover story of Sojourners magazine illustrates, Westboro has become “The Face of Hate.” But thanks be to God, that is not the end of the story. 

In a shocking turn of events, Megan Phelps-Roper — granddaughter of Westboro Baptist founder Fred Phelps — recently left the flock along with her younger sister Grace Roper. Abandoning family, friends, and everything they have ever known, the two sisters have publicly denounced their connection with Westboro and the gospel of hate that consumed their lives for so long. 

Brian McLaren 09-24-2012
marekuliasz / Shutterstock.com

Cycle of violence, marekuliasz / Shutterstock.com

Joe Scarborough said what a lot of Americans are thinking as they watch anti-American protests and embassy attacks in many places across the Muslim world. 

"You know why they hate us? They hate us because of their religion, they hate us because of their culture, and they hate us because of peer pressure," Scarborough said on the  MSNBC program "Mornin Joe" on Sept. 17.

"And you talk to any intelligence person, they will tell you that's the same thing, and all those people who think we're going to go over there and change them are just naive. ... They hate us because of waterboarding? No they don't. They hate us because they hate us. They hate us because of Obama's drone attacks? No they don't. They hate us because they hate us."

Now Joe would be the first to admit that “they hate us because they hate us” is ... somewhat lacking in analytical depth. But it’s even worse than that. It is a foolish step down an oil-slick slope into a deep, old rut that runs in a vicious, dangerous circle.

Christian Piatt 09-20-2012

I’ve been reflecting on the recent events in Libya involving the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, and every time, I arrive at a different feeling about it all.

There’s the obvious tragedy of a life unnecessarily lost. By all accounts, Stevens was a humble, passionate man who had invested his life in the betterment of the infrastructure for the Libyan people. He was not, as some dignitaries or diplomats tend to be, resting on his credentials in an easy gig, waiting for retirement. He was living out what he believed in a terribly volatile corner of the world.

Michael Hidalgo 08-24-2012
Photo: Angry man screaming, olly / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Angry man screaming, olly / Shutterstock.com

Physical violence is what happens when the violent force of words is not enough.

It’s possible that we are just beginning to see the start of that in our world today. The words, language, and rhetoric within politics and religion is growing in intensity all the time. Insults, name-calling, and unfounded accusation are normal and even expected.

When one side is called out for their language, they simply excuse themselves, pointing out that their opponent is doing the same thing. So it goes. But what happens when the force of the rhetoric reaches its limit? Violence.

Christian Piatt 03-14-2012
Grumpy kitty. Image via Tumblr.

Grumpy kitty. Image via Tumblr.

I know, Christians, love everyone and everything, right? Mister Bluebird on my shoulder and all that jazz.

Well, that ain’t me. Not that I don’t try, but I also don’t try to fake it when I’m not feeling the love.

My wife, Amy, told me that one reason she married me was because she knew she could trust me. It seemed to her that I lacked the capacity to lie. And while this is reassuring on one level, the stark honesty can sometimes be a little jarring, I expect.

What I have found is that naming things out loud is the best way to help you get over them. Some of these might seem like relatively trivial things to you, but trust me – for a quasi-Aspie like me, they are often the bane of my existence.

So without further adieu, here’s a list of things that I can’t seem to shake, they annoy me so incredibly much. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...inside the blog.

Shane Claiborne 10-03-2011

Today (Oct. 4) Christians around the world celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the bright lights of the church and one of the most venerated religious figures in history.

The life and witness of Francis is as relevant to the world we live in today as it was 900 years ago. He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war.

Jeannie Choi 05-13-2011

Tomatoes. Uganda. Fair Trade. Here's a little round up of links from around the Web you may have missed this week:

  • Stop the hate in Uganda.
  • The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asks Senator John Boehner for a budget that "reduces future deficits, protects the poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity."
  • Continue praying for Egypt.
[Editors' note: Below is a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette lamenting gun violence. We hope you find it helpful in light of the shootings in Arizona.]
Julie Clawson 11-11-2010

It's hard to ignore the children. As voiceless as children are in our world, when we hear stories of injustice being inflicted on children, it is hard not to be moved.

Jim Wallis 05-27-2010
The insurgent Tea Party and its Libertarian philosophy is a political phenomenon, not a religious one.

The issue of illegal immigration in the United States requires an anti-logic of radical love. (The anti-logic I propose is not fallacious logic. The distinction is a topic for another essay.) Christianity is a counter-intuitive religion.