Pastor advocates separation of church and hate

Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I am not a huge fan of bumper stickers. I find them to fall into the category of "bullet" statements. People load them up and shoot them as they pass by, and there isn't time for discussion or debate. A drive-by debate, if you will.

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Because of this, I have vowed that I would never have a bumper sticker on my car. I had made that my plan. But, you might have heard the old joke, "If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans." And thus, I believe, I have stumbled upon a bumper sticker that is the solo piece of advice I would like to share with anyone how comes into contact with, or at least reads, my bumper.

"I believe in the separation of Church and Hate."

This statement, emblazed on a bumper years ago, jumped out at me as one of the most profound and true statement to be made. Or at the very least, it jumped out as the greatest hope, or prayers we can have for our churches.

"I believe in the separation of Church and Hate."

I cannot help but think of this bumper sticker in light of the tragedy that has been brought upon the Jewish community of Juneau. It has been said that it isn't positive that the graffiti specifically targeted the Jewish people. Yet, when I came to church, Resurrection Lutheran Church was not tagged. I read nothing about another Christian church being tagged with this symbol.

"I believe in the separation of Church and Hate."

This bumper sticker brought to mind another quote I have heard. Jonathan Swift said, "We have just enough religion to hate one another but not enough religion to love one another." When I am flying on a plane, and I get asked what I do for a living, and I say, "I am a pastor," the main response I receive is, "Oh, I see. Well, I am spiritual, but just not religious."

Please do not hear this as a critique of the answer. It is honest. And I understand it. There are times where I don't feel comfortable saying that I am pastor or a Christian for that matter. When I see what people have been doing in the name of my God, or when I see what I can do in the name of my God, I worry. And I don't want to claim my religion.

But the fact of the matter is, God has claimed me. God is working in me, and it is because of this that I can say, "I believe in the separation of Church and Hate." It is because of the group of people that I meet with weekly, called the Congregation, or community of believers, that I can have hope in my life. The hope that my humanness will be kept in check. That the feelings of hate that might rise up for no other reason than I am afraid, confused or misinformed, will be confronted, and dealt with in my community. That I will be kept in check.

No matter how difficult it is for me to see, I know that God is working in our churches. And because of that, we also have a responsibility to work in our churches. I cannot give up hope that our churches can be a place of love. That we stand up and say, "We will not accept this kind of hate. And the first place we start is with ourselves."

One of the best gifts we can give each other as believers is to look at the other person and say, "You know, I really don't think that, and here is why." To keep each other thinking, and examining our views. To keep each other praying, and asking God to direct actions and to heal our hearts. When we dare confront hatred where it first starts, we do the church and the world a Godly service.

We as a community are called to be in conversations with ourselves, our churches, our world. We are to ask, "How can we as a community better share the love of Christ and the love of God for our fellow neighbor?" How can we bring to light the command of Christ to, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

I believe it is through examining our own hearts. Knowing what we, as human beings, can be capable of, and in the same right, asking God to direct our actions and our hearts. To see the love that God has for us, and act upon that love. And as a community of faith, continually checking, rechecking, and checking again, our actions against those of Christ.

Separation of church and hate is truly what the gospel is all about.

• John W. Stevens is the pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.

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