This phrase of ‘Religious Hatred’ (also covered with words like ‘antigay’ or ‘intolerance’) has been bandied about more than its fair share in the media recently. I can’t help thinking two things about this:
- Do we deserve this label? Let’s not just react and say ‘of course we’re not hating’; let’s actually look at the way we live and interact with people and evaluate if we are living as God wants us to.
- Are we prepared to answer this accusation? If we make claims that go against the cultural norm, then these accusations are going to become more and more common. Do we have an answer for why we believe what we believe?
Both of these are things we should be concerned about as believers in the Lord. The first because at no point do we ever want to be a bad witness ourselves and so must remain constantly aware of what we do and say. The second we need to be able to deal with in any discussion where it might come up or any time we are going to be making a claim which might elicit this sort of reaction.
So what we must ask ourselves is this: How are we to act and/or prepare for this sort of statement or reaction?
The answer to this question goes to what is at the heart of being an apologist. Notice I don’t mean Apologist (capital A). I mean the apologist that we are all called to be as followers of Christ. Let me explain that using the typical scripture that is most used for apologetics.
1 Peter 3:13-18
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
Two things for us to do:
Live as witnesses of God’s Holiness in this world
The assumption that is made in Peter’s exhortation is that we will be asked for the reason we have hope. Why will we be asked that? Because we will lead such lives that are starkly different to those around us!! Not simply for the reason of being different, but because as we strive to live as godly witnesses through the strength of the Holy Spirit we will simply be different to those around us.
This comes off the back of what Peter was talking about further back in 2:12 “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Isn’t this exactly what we’re facing today? We are striving to do good, but are being accused of doing bad.
What we MUST do, however, is do our utmost to actually live up to this challenge by Peter. We must strive to live as Godly witnesses in all that we do. This means studying God’s Word to understand better how we must act. This means examining ourselves (honestly) so that we know and understand how we need to change. And it means praying to our Lord and Heavenly Father to strengthen and discipline us, through his Holy Spirit that we might actually be conformed to the likeness of his Son, Jesus.
I understand that none of us are perfect at this and I am not saying we will ever be so (I am so far from perfect it’s really not even funny)… but the goal should remain.
Be prepared to give an answer…
This one is much harder to give advice on as the answer (or question) will be different every single time.
But in a general way, you can never go wrong with two very simple, even obvious things:
- Read the Bible. The more we understand the riches and depths of God’s Word, the better we will be able to share it with others.
- Think deliberately about what kinds of questions we will be asked and think about how we would answer them.
Here is an example in what we are talking about. When we are accused of hatred, or being antigay, or intolerant… think about the following:
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
We are called to love EVERYONE, no matter if they are our friend or our enemy. So you can say quite clearly that the biblical teaching is that we love everyone.
BUT you can also quite clearly see that these people are enemies. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we are at “war” with them in a physical sense. It will often just be that we disagree fundamentally in what we believe to be true. However, the question you can ask which may get a discussion on better grounding is this;
“Can I love you (or anyone) and disagree with you at the same time?”
The answer has to be yes, of course you can. Otherwise you could never lovingly disagree with your partner, family, children or anyone for that matter. The difficulty has become that to be “tolerant” has become synonymous with finding agreement. However I would argue that you cannot truly tolerate someone you agree with. You can only tolerate someone you disagree with.
But if you can get to some level playing field by settling that you can both be loving and disagree, then the conversation can possibly move past the idea of “religious hatred” to something resembling “disagreement in love”.