I don’t want to write this post, so I’ll keep it short.
A few summers ago, a friend and I spent a Saturday following a certain well-known group of protestors as they made their rounds throughout our city, picketing various events. Their signs and chants were as malicious as we’d always heard they’d be, and their brazen indifference to the objections of their opponents made their message all the more infuriating. As we drove away from one of their protests, I expressed my exasperation to my friend. ”The main reason I hate this group is that—” I began, before he gently stopped me: “Hold on. Did you hear what you just said?”
I did hear. I immediately recognized that my word choice made me sound a lot like them, and I’ve since been keenly aware of the way this certain group’s pronouncements of hate and judgment often inspire similar statements from their victims and detractors. I genuinely don’t know how Christ calls us to respond to this group. I don’t know. But I feel very strongly that Christ does not call us to respond with equal measures of hatred and hostility. This group claims to speak on behalf of God, and they often attack people when they’re at their weakest and most vulnerable. Both of these actions are reprehensible, but neither of them is grounds for Christians to act reprehensibly. Ever since this group announced its plans to picket the funerals of victims of the Connecticut school shooting, I’ve seen some Christians spew venom strong enough to match the venom of this particular group, and the only result is that the overall amount of hate in the world increases.
So, how ought Christians to respond to them? Scripture gives examples for how to respond to oppressors and those who do injustice. (This group’s tendency to attack victims and people who are grieving suggests we might perceive them as oppressors.) Scripture also gives examples for how to respond to false prophets and false teachers. (This group’s tendency to attribute their false proclamations to God probably puts them in the category of false prophets or teachers.) In neither case does scripture prescribe vulgarity or threats of violence from those who follow Jesus. When that’s our response, this group succeeds in its mission to increase hate in the world.
I’ll offer a few thoughts to start a conversation about how Christ would have us respond to this group. It occurs to me that the best way to thwart the plans of a group aiming to make noise and draw attention to itself is to ignore the group actively (including, for example, omitting their name in blog posts about them, or better yet, not writing blog posts at all). I’d wager a guess that the only people in the country who actually support them are those within the organization, so writing Facebook posts about your disdain for them accomplishes little and only gives them a larger platform. With that being said, anyone who’s been on the receiving end of the silent treatment can tell you that disregarding someone is its own form of violence and hate, so we ought to think seriously about whether such a course of action demonstrates love. On the other hand, Christians ought to be concerned that those who are not Christians might think this group really does represent God well; perhaps our best response is to counter their messages not by attacking that group but by proclaiming God’s love and promises just as loudly, against which this group’s untruths will not stand. Directly confronting the group itself seems to be entirely fruitless, as they’ve made it clear they’re not open to correction or criticism. Is there any way to show love to oppressors or false prophets who spurn the stern exhortations of other self-professed Christians? We should remember in our discussions that the response of those who are geographically close to the group as they protest (an infinitesimally small portion of the population) may need to handle the crisis differently from how everyone else in the country should on behalf of the organization’s victims.
MLK said it best: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I’ve pulled my hair out trying to discern how the love of Christ calls me to respond to this group, but I’m at a loss. Let’s tackle this together. How does Christ call us to respond to a group that proclaims hatred in the name of God to vulnerable, hurting people?
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