In recent weeks, we’ve heard a lot of talk about hate. Those who disagree with the gay marriage decision of the Supreme Court have routinely been called haters by those that are celebrating that decision. And, on the other hand, we’ve recently had a racist who, in South Carolina, went to a black church and killed nine people because he hated black people, and he said he wanted to start a race war.
So, what does it really mean to hate, and how should we understand it as Orthodox Christians? In Ecclesiastes, chapter three, beginning with verse one there is a famous passage that was made popular in our culture by The Byrds back in the sixties that begins with the words,
To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up.
And it goes on from there, but in verse eight it says, “and a time to love and a time to hate.”
Hate in and of itself is not a sin. It all depends on what it is that your hating. In Psalm 5:5, it says, “Thou,” referring to God, “Thou hast hated all them that work iniquity. Thou hast destroyed all them that speak a lie.” And in Psalm 138, or 139 in the King James, beginning with verse 21, it says,
As for them that hate thee O Lord, have I not hated them? And because of thine enemies, have I not pined away? With perfect hatred have I hated them. They are reckoned as enemies with me.
But what we’re told repeatedly in the scriptures is that God loves men and desires that all be saved, and so you might ask, well, do we have a contradiction in scripture here? And the answer, of course, is no we don’t. There is a sense in which God hates sinners, and there’s a sense in which God loves sinners. And there’s a sense in which we should hate sinners, and there’s a sense in which we should not hate sinners.
The fathers explain this passage. Blessed Theodoret says that we should love the things that God loves and hate the things that God does, and then he says, “As sinners I hate them, and as human beings I pity them.”
St. Gregory the Great says,
For to hate God’s enemies with perfect hatred is to both love what they were made and to chide what they do. To be severe on the manner of the wicked and to profit their life.
And Cassiodorus sums it up very well when he says, “Perfect hatred consists of loving men and always hating their vices.”
And so the phase that you’ve often heard, “love the sinner and hate the sin,” is an accurate description of the Christian understanding of how we should view God’s enemies, those that hate him. We should love them as people, but we should hate their rebellion. We should hate their sin. In Leviticus 19:17 we’re told,
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart. Thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbor and not suffer sin upon him.
And that last half of that verse is translated by the New Revised Standard Version a little bit more clearly. It says, “You shall reprove your neighbor or you will incur guilt, yourself.”
And so the idea that to tell people who are sinning that what their doing is a sin is wrong or that you hate them is the exact opposite of what we find in scripture because if we really love them, we want to correct them. Now, of course, there’s the usual caveats on that. We shouldn’t go out of our way to try to correct other people, but when the subject comes up, is something a sin, no Orthodox Christian should ever say that something is not a sin when the Church clearly teaches that it is a sin. And so hating the sins that a sinner commits is not the kind of hate that God condemns elsewhere in scripture. It’s not hating the human being that commits the sin. It’s saying that the sin that he commits is a sin, and saying that is not only allowable, but it’s our responsibility, and to fail to do so is in fact a sin.
When we give people the impression that we don’t really believe what they’re doing is a sin, or when we fail to convey the message of God’s truth to people, we are sinning against them because people won’t repent of a sin that they don’t believe is a sin. And if we give people the impression that certain things are not sins, we are sinning against them. That is in fact a heresy because we’re giving people a bum steer on the road to salvation. Basically, if you talk about it in terms of ones loyalty to a nation, this is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and that’s called treason. We’re committing treason to the Kingdom of God when we fail to teach the people the truth and we fail to confess the faith accurately.
But, on the other hand, hating a person and not their sin, but the person, is also a sin. In fact, we’re commanded to love our enemies. Christ, in the sermon on the mount in Matthew chapter five, beginning with verse 43 says,
You have heard that it has been said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy.” But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on evil and on the good and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
Christ himself was the supreme example of someone who loves his enemies. On the Cross, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And he died for the ungodly. “Even while they were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” St. Paul tells us.
In the first epistle of St. John, there’s quite a bit that’s said about our need to love our brother and also condemning those that hate their brother. In chapter two, beginning with verse ten, it says,
He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness and walketh in darkness and knoweth not whither he goeth because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
And then in chapter four, beginning with verse 20, it says,
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.
The Ku Klux Klan, fortunately, is an organization that diminished tremendously in size and in influence, but they claim to be Christian. They use Christian symbols, but they spit on the bible every time they espouse their racist beliefs because the bible is very clear that hating your brother is a sin. You can’t be a Christian and hate your brother. The passages that I just read make that very clear. I know that when they are confronted with this, they’ll say, “well we don’t hate black people; we just love our own race.” But the history of the Ku Klux Klan tells a very different story: their history of lynching people, bombing black churches, burning crosses on people’s lawns, and intimidating people because of their race. That tells a very different story, and you can’t be a Christian and engage in that kind of behavior.
Well, of course, I’m sure that probably none of us have done any of those things, but there are more subtle ways that we can hate our brother. We can look down on people simply because of their race. We can pre-judge them and treat them in negative ways because of their race. Now prejudice is a natural defense mechanism that God has given us. If we get bit by a snake on one day, the next time we see a snake, we’re not going to worry about whether it’s the same kind of snake the one that we met yesterday because nature tells snakes bite. Now, some snakes are poisonous and some snakes are not. And so not all snakes are the same, but that’s a natural instinct that God has given us. And it’s also natural, when people encounter people of another race and culture for us to notice the things that are different. And people have an inclination to blame the first things that they see for the negative things that they might experience for someone in that kind of a situation.
I used to, in my secular job, have the job of being the assistant to the program manager, who was the supervisor over several offices, and one of my primary duties was I was taking all the complaints so that my boss wouldn’t have to be on the phone or have people in his office all day complaining about how things were being handled. And the area that I was working in was a fairly racially diverse area. So it was a roughly a mix between black people, Hispanic people, and white people. And when people would complain, it was amazing to me how often they would say, if they were white, “if I was black or if I was a Mexican, I would have been treated differently.” Or if they were black, they would say, “If I was white or if I was a Hispanic, I would be treated differently.” Or if they were Hispanic, they’d say, “if I was white or black, I would be treated differently.”
And I would assure them, because I knew my coworkers, and I knew that they just wanted to get people out of their offices and be done with it, they didn’t really care about what race they were. In some cases they might have made mistakes on their cases, but it wasn’t because they had anything against them. But that was the knee-jerk reaction that people often had.
You’ve often heard people say, you don’t hear people say this as often as they used to, but they would make statements like, “all Asians look alike.” I heard a story. I don’t know if it’s true, but supposedly during the Vietnam War there was some sort of a crime committed by an American soldier, and they went to the villagers and asked them to identify the soldier. And they identified a soldier, and this person was punished, but later it was proved that he couldn’t possibly have done it. So they went back to these villagers, and they asked them, “why did you say that this guy had done this?”
And he said, “well these people all look alike to us.” And you can imagine, particularly with crew cuts and white skin, most of these soldiers would have all looked the same. But the more you get to know people of other races, the more you get to realize that there really are a lot of distinctions and that people really are different.
And so we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about negative experiences that we have. If we get mugged by a white person, we’re white, we don’t tend to jump to the conclusion that we need to be afraid of white people. But if we get mugged by a black person, the temptation for a white person is to say, “all black people are dangerous, and I need to avoid them.” So while prejudice is natural, we have to apply reason, and we also have to filter it through the love of Christ. We have to be willing to suffer wrongs so that we don’t act in ways that are unchristian or unloving to other people. There was a pan-Orthodox synod in 1872 that addressed this question, and it said,
We renounce censure and condemn racism, that is racial discrimination, ethnic feuds, hatreds and dissensions within the Church of Christ as contrary to the teachings of the Gospel and the Holy Canons of our blessed fathers which support the holy Church and the entire Christian world, embellish it and lead it to divine godliness.
Historically, the idea of race is a very recent concept. It’s partly connected with the whole idea of evolution because racists, Adolph Hitler being an example was a big advocate of evolutionary theory because he wanted to believe that the white people were sort of the highest step on the chain of human evolution. But prior to evolutionary thinking coming on the scene, people didn’t really think in racial terms. They thought in cultural terms. They also certainly noticed differences of skin color. But the idea of race was not what it is today. Historically, the church has only considered there to be two races. There is the race of Adam, and then there is the Christian race. You often here, in the hymns of the Church, mention of the Christian race. When you become a Christian, you become a member of that race, and everyone who is a Christian is your brother, and everyone who is not a Christian is one for whom Christ died, and it’s your job to make that person your brother.
The response of the families of the victims in the Charleston massacre is an amazing example of how Christians should respond to their enemies. They forgave the man that killed their family members, their loved ones. And the result of that has been really amazing just to behold because we’ve had some racially charged incidences recently. They were a lot less severe than this one, and we saw rioting ensue. But in this case, we had nine people who were gunned down because of their race, and there wasn’t any question about what the motivation of it was, and that community has been, for the most part, brought together by what happened. And it was inspired by the forgiveness of these families.
The history of the world is replete with one group of people wronging another group of people. And so any nation can sit and talk about how they historically were victimized by some other nation. The Scots can complain about the British. The Irish can complain about the British and the Scots. African-Americans can complain about all of the above. The British can complain about the Roman occupation. You know, if you go back far enough, everybody was victimized by somebody else at some time or another.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote a book in the 70s. Actually, he edited a book that was written by several authors. But the name of the book, in English at least, was From Beneath the Rubble. And that book amazingly predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union with incredible accuracy, and one of the things that Solzhenitsyn talked about was the ethnic divisions that would arise in Russia and elsewhere in the Balkans because historically there are so many diverse peoples in these areas, and he foresaw that this was going to be an issue. And he also acknowledged that different groups have had reason to be suspicious of other groups. They’d been victimized by other groups in history. He said that the only way forward was for repentance and forgiveness.
We all need to repent. Even if we did not personally commit a wrong against some other nation. We all need to repent of sins of our forefathers. We find this in the prayer of the three children in the book of Daniel. We also need to be willing to forgive because, as Christians, it’s for God to repay. It’s for God to get vengeance. It’s for God to bring justice. Because there’s no way that man can possibly right all the wrongs of history. God will reward everyone according to his deeds. We have to pray for those that hate us. We have to forgive those who have wronged us. And we have to pray for the forgiveness of those that we may have wronged or that our ancestors may have wronged.