The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 26, 2022
Tommy Blanchette was one of several courageous Catholics who testified before Cardinal Bernard Law about their sexual abuse at the hands of priests. Tommy took a further step when he learned that Father Birmingham, his abuser, was dying. Because the two of them had unfinished business, Tommy looked for him. He found him in a hospital bed, tubes protruding from his nose.
Tommy pulled up a chair to sit close to the man who had violated him. He said, “I hated you. What you did to me and my brothers, and all those other boys – it was wrong. You shamed me, Father!…How could you do that?” Tommy began to weep, but he fought back the tears to say: “But the real reason I’ve come?…To ask you to forgive me…for that hatred I felt for you all this time.” Tommy said he knew Christ wanted him to live true to God’s grace. He proposed that he and the priest pray together. He took the priest’s hand and asked God to forgive the priest his sins, “that he might have eternal life.”
With unswerving resolve, Jesus had “set his face” to go to Jerusalem, where He knew He’d be killed, and then resurrected and “taken up” to heaven. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus sent “messengers” ahead of Him into a Samaritan village to arrange for lodging and food. It seems Jesus hoped to bring His good news even to those whom His fellow countrymen hated. The hatred between Jews and Samaritans had hardened when after the exile Ezra and Nehemiah led the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The Jews had refused to allow the Samaritans to help with the project because they deemed them unworthy for having intermarried with Assyrians and having strayed from orthodoxy. In response, the Samaritans did all they could to hamper the rebuilding. And soon after, they established a temple for themselves on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria in place of their former one on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. Over the years, the mutual hatred had become entrenched; and the feuding, fierce.
So, when the folks of this Samaritan village learned that Jesus and His traveling party were headed to Jerusalem, they turned a cold shoulder and denied them accommodations. Raging over that rejection, James and John sought to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume” the Samaritans. But Jesus “rebuked” them. He wanted His followers to hate hatred, but not haters. He wanted them to love even their enemies and to bless even those who cursed them.
Today, folks hate more on the basis of politics than on theology. But when God gets co-opted to certify their hatred, it’s sacrilegious. For, as Anne Lamott noted, “You can safely assume you’ve recreated God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Christianity teaches us both to hate evil and to love evil-doers. That’s a hard distinction to live out. C.S. Lewis has some good insights about how to pull it off.
Lewis had at first viewed the distinction as “silly” and “straw-splitting”. How can you hate the evil a person does and not hate the evil person who does it? But years later, he realized there was one person whose evil deeds he had long hated but whom he never failed to love: himself! Lewis writes, “However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved [myself]…[and] was sorry to find I was the sort of person who did those things.
“Christianity,” Lewis continues, “does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for, say, cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them…but it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate such things in ourselves: being sorry that [the person had] done them and hoping…that somehow, sometime, somewhere [the person] can be cured and made human again.”
Though from a different basis, Professor Loretta J. Ross takes the same approach. A feminist who’s been doing human rights work for 40 years, Ross decries the present-day call-out culture in which people publically shame others. “There are,” Ross says, “better ways of doing social justice work.”
She tells of a 1992 experience she had in rural Tennessee. A group of White women whose husbands or domestic partners had joined the Klu Klux Klan asked her, a Black scholar, to give them anti-racist training to help them keep their families out of such a hate group.
“All day long,” Ross reports, “they called me a ‘well-spoken colored girl’ and they inappropriately asked me to sing Negro spirituals. Instead of reacting, I responded. I couldn’t let my hurt feelings sabotage my agenda.” She listened to how they’d fallen prey to White supremacism; and they, to how she at the age of eight heard her best friend call her the “N-word’. In their honest and open-hearted sharing and in her providing them new perspectives, they changed in a lasting way, as proven by statistics showing a decrease in hate crimes in that rural area ever since.
Ross advocates calling people in with love rather than calling them out with hate. She says, “We can change this culture. Calling-in is simply a call-out with love. Some corrections can be made privately. Others must be public, but done with respect…The calling-in practice means you always keep a seat at the table for them if they come back.”
As Christians, our charge is to keep a seat at the table for everyone, even for those we find hateful; our purpose is to love them in our imperfect way in hope of suggesting God’s perfect love for them; and our faith is to believe God gives us enough love for them because, as Romans 5:5 says, God pours His love into us.
We’d do well to see God’s pouring His love into us, as Amy Carmichael did: not like water from a pitcher filling a bottle, but like water from a thunderstorm rushing into and running on through a ravine. We cannot keep that mighty river of love from pouring through us on to others, except by damming it up. O sure, we can sometimes seem to come to the end of our love for those who reject or repulse us, but one cannot come to the end of what one does not have, but receives from beyond oneself and then passes on beyond oneself. In ourselves we have no great reservoir of love, but God has a boundless heaven full of it, to be poured upon us and poured out through us. We don’t have to be anything special: just a ravine’s riverbed that doesn’t let the mudslides of selfish sin dam it up. We just have to receive God’s love and let it flow on through us. Let us pray.