One part of my life’s history that I don’t talk about a lot is my experience with racial issues growing up in a divided society. As a child, I lived for several years in Alabama, where my father had his first college teaching job at Talladega State Teacher’s College. He and the school president were the only whites on the staff, and I was the only white kid in my school. All of my friends were black, and the people we knew in our daily lives were black. We never had a problem with anyone in that community.
When we left the campus area, we had problems. I remember when I had my tonsils removed. My mother had to take me to Birmingham to have it done. She told me later that when they brought me out of the operating room on a gurney, covered with blood, the doctor shoved the gurney at my mother and said, “Here nigger lover, you clean him up.”
We moved to McComb, Illinois, where my father got a job at Western Illinois University. When people learned that my father had taught at an all-black college and that I had attended an all-black school, we had all kinds of problems. The fact that I had spent grades 2, 3, and 4 in an all-black school meant to a lot of folks that I was inferior, and it was okay to beat me up. I tell you this to point out that now as a Christian and having had that experience, I can relate to the current struggles with prejudice and abuse in America.
Jesus dealt with similar issues throughout His life. John 4 tells us of His exchange with a Samaritan woman. Verse 9 says that the Jews avoided and rejected the Samaritans because they were of mixed race and had different religious beliefs. She was a woman, married five times, and living with a guy she wasn’t married to. Jesus addressed her needs and taught her. In Luke 8:26-39, Jesus showed compassion to a man who was severely mentally ill. The crucifixion of Christ happened because people had the same willful blindness that permeates our society today. The people who welcomed Him to Jerusalem in Matthew 21:7-11, crucified Him in Matthew 27:22-25.
The early Church faced massive persecution. In Acts 6:8-14, a man named Stephen was doing great things in the community. In Acts 7:54-60, the community stopped their ears and stoned him to death when he stated religious facts they didn’t want to hear. Christians are still being persecuted today. Racial prejudice still survives today. Children are still growing up in a divided society. We must replace hatred and division with love and service. That’s the only way our world can survive. If Christians don’t lead in this vital matter, who will?
Jesus taught many unique ideas. Perhaps the most unique and astounding are his teachings about how to deal with those who differ from you. One of the major problems with atheistic evolution is the “survival of the fittest” motivation. That philosophy justifies acting superior to those who are different from you and destroying them because they are less fit than you. People have used that excuse to justify slavery. We have to contrast the magnitude of hate and the love of Christ.
When the liberation of Auschwitz occurred on January 27, 1945, (75 years ago), the world saw the result of “survival of the fittest” when applied to humans. It is hard to comprehend that Nazis murdered 1,100,000 people at Auschwitz during World War II. Russian liberators told of battle-hardened soldiers vomiting when they saw the magnitude of human tragedy in that Nazi death camp. Can you get your mind around over a million people being slaughtered in one human-controlled camp?
Try as we can to comprehend the magnitude of hate and the love of Christ, we find that His teachings are also beyond the ability of most people to understand. Consider the words of Jesus: “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” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus not only taught this radical concept, but he lived it. When Peter took out his sword and started to defend Jesus against those who would crucify him, Jesus not only told Peter to put the sword away but healed the man Peter had attacked. (See Matthew 26:51-54, Luke 22:49-51, and John 18:10-11.)
It seems that hate dominates the world news every time we read the paper or turn on our TV. I recently heard a news commentator suggest that hatred began with the Bible and continues today in extremists that go into a building with a gun and start shooting those they hate. The commentator suggested that New Testament battles between Jesus Christ and the Pharisees are an example of religious hatred similar to the violence in our world today. The truth is that leaders can be wrong, but not Jesus.
The commentator suggested that Matthew 23 is a demonstration of the hatred that Jesus preached. The chapter does present Jesus using strong language to condemn the Pharisees and religious leaders. He called them hypocrites (verses 13,15, 23, 25, 27 and 29) and blind guides (verse 16). He even accused them of murder (verse 35). That commentary is a classic case of “cherry picking” the Bible by taking verses out of context to make a point while ignoring dozens of scriptures which contradict the argument.
If you read Matthew chapters 5-7 you won’t get a picture like the one in Matthew 23. What is the difference? The difference is to whom Jesus is talking. The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day should have understood and accepted what Jesus was teaching. Instead, many of them were blind guides who wanted to murder Jesus. When Nicodemus who was a ruler of the Jews (John 3:1-18) came to Jesus, he didn’t understand what Jesus was teaching. Jesus asked him, “Are you a master of Israel and don’t understand these things?” (John 3:10). Later Nicodemus became a worker for the Lord, even securing Christ’s body after the crucifixion.
When Jesus talked to the common people like you and me, He was kind and patient and full of compassion. When he spoke to the Jewish leaders who should have been understanding and supporting Christ but were advocating violence, Christ was firm and strong. But He still rejected violence and any kind of hatred. It was the leaders who crucified Christ, not the common people.
Leaders can be wrong, but not Jesus. I have never in my 80 plus years seen a president that I felt never made a mistake. When I was in the army, I had superior officers who made dumb mistakes and who were abusive themselves.
The reality of life is that leaders are frequently wrong, and in Christianity that is also true. Denominational and congregational leaders can be wrong, and that is why we must rely on the inspired Word and not on human teachers. Second Timothy 3:16-17 makes it clear that the only way to completeness is by following God’s Word. Christ opposed violence, but some “Christian” leaders have acted contrary to what the Word teaches, and the result has been catastrophic.
We repeat that leaders can be wrong, but not Jesus. We don’t defend what humans do. We follow what Jesus did, what He taught, and what He left for us in His Word.
Any Christian reading the newspaper or watching TV has to be disturbed by the volume of hate coming from politicians, entertainers and media people, as well as extreme special interest groups of all kinds. There are even groups formed to oppose hate that are spreading their own hatred. What should concern Christians is that some of these groups have turned out to be as extreme as the hate groups they are allegedly opposing. We are even seeing anti-hate groups attack the Bible.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Citizens for Transparency have both posted materials attacking the Bible and those who promote the teachings of the Bible. A primary target of these particular groups has been the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). As we posted before, the ADF defends people like Jack Phillips the Colorado baker who refused to create a cake for a same-sex wedding. ADF also believes in the biblical concept of marriage between a man and a woman, which the SPLC and Citizens for Transparency label as being “a hate message.”
The SPLC and Citizens for Transparency are well funded and recently placed a huge billboard attacking the ADF on Times Square. Teaching Bible morals and the principles God has established for us to live by is not hate. Concerning their attitude toward those who promote biblical principles, the SPLC has stated that their goal is to “say plainly that they aim to destroy these groups.” If teaching God’s word is accepted as hate then every Church that preaches the moral teachings of the Bible is vulnerable.
Rational human beings cannot read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 – 7 and construe what Jesus said as hate. It is true that the way you say things is as important as what you say, but we need to be careful not to stand by as anti-hate groups attack the Bible. We cannot support them as they use the current battle over hate to condemn the Bible and promote atheism.