By the Rev. Mark Harris
The church sign on the corner in front of St. Peter’s Church, Lewes, read, Hate has no home here.” So did the sign on the rector’s lawn. They both appeared shortly after the violent demonstration in Charlottesville last August. At a difficult time in the life of the country, they made a statement about both the stance of the Parish and the leadership of the rector.
Hate has no home here. It seems a simple declarative sentence, but of course it is not. Hate is not always an expression totally in our control, and in some cases, hate is exactly the right word to express our revulsion of particularly loathsome ideologies. Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark opined, “Nazis, I hate Nazis!” And if hate has no home here, we might also assume that we hate hatemongers, because we are being inhospitable to them in our declaration. Hating hate is, well, hate. Maybe.
Saying, Hate has no home here is not a declaration. It is an opening to a larger discussion about the limits of tolerance; the demands of justice; the hope for mercy; and on a less grand scale, the need to balance the desire to include with the need for trust.
For a church community, these are all elements of our continuing desire to be open and welcoming. At the same time, they are elements of our desires to be a coherent and cohesive people set on a journey of our own choosing, namely the journey to be followers of Jesus and members of the body of Christ.
In the normal course of parish ministry and life, we define our limits, sometimes consciously and sometimes not. We say, “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” But some have come and then have discovered that this welcome does not include changing our normal patterns of worship or community life to fit the needs of the newcomer very much. Often our welcome has been, “you are welcome to come and be like us.” Those who come and try to change us sometimes find that they don’t really have a home with us at all. We love to have them, but on our terms.
If we are willing to risk and perhaps even grow from the risks, we open the door wider, knowing that those who join will change the community, even as they are changed themselves. That takes courage. We all know of some parishes where this has been true. We end up finding a new normal in which elements of who we were as a parish continue, but we are new because other elements changed, were replaced, or simply dropped altogether.
It is, as they say, complicated.
Still, Hate has no home here as a Christian community’s statement draws a clear line. As Christians, we believe that God has made a home with us and is, in Christ Jesus, among and with us. And in our better moments, we believe that God’s love now pervades our home, even as we believe it pervades the whole of creation. That’s the sort of home we want to live in — one in which God’s love is present.
It would seem obvious that hate should have no home with us. But it is not so obvious, for surely Christians ought to hate what is evil and love what is good. Surely it is appropriate to hate the sin but love the sinner. Surely, we can hate sin.
Well, yes and no. The trouble with hate is that it can mean a wide range of things: to despise, to abhor, to reject, or simply to dislike. When we say, Hate has no home here, What I think we mean is, hatred that turns to violence has no home here.
Violent hatred has no home, nor does hatred that denies the Holy Spirit the possibility to work in us. But we can hope that the Church is our home, even with our hatreds, dislikes, rejections, and so forth, and that perhaps being home with a God who loves even us will change us.
I suspect that these signs are a bit of shorthand for us in the Christian community. Hate has no home here, points to a larger sensibility — a greater Good News.
We Christians believe that God is love. Now the opposite of love is not hate, but fear, and that perfect love (that is love that is of God) casts out fear. Hate is a product of fear, and in particular, the full-blown form of hate is violent rejection.
In the faith community we call home, there ought to be the presence of that perfect love that casts out fear, if only we are open to it. Fear not, is the constant call of the messengers of God. And when fear is cast out, violent hatred also has no home. So Hate Has no Home Here becomes true when we find ways to live in love together without fear.
My sense is that every parish ought to proclaim, Hate Has no Home Here with the humility of knowing that we are imperfectly working at being communities of love, trying to do so without fear, and being open to God’s spirit working in us. We are not asked to do what we cannot do. We can live without fear. If we do, we will have no place for violent hate, and we will never march to produce fear or engender violence. Rather we will stand for that love that casts out fear.
In a world filled with fear and violent hatred, this will be our sign, Hate Has no Home Here.” It’s a start.
(Mark Harris is associate priest at St. Peter’s Church, Lewes, Canon of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, and a printmaker. He maintains a blog, PRELUDIUM, on Anglican Communion issues at Anglicanfuture.blogspot.com.)