Confronting My Inner Hatred
Three weeks ago, I was staring in disbelief at the TV. An evil I had read about in history books – an evil that 80 years ago people on North American and European continents used bombs and guns to try and eliminate from the earth – was still very much alive. Flanked by a dying KKK, and ideologically empowered by the alt-right, our nation saw white nationalism on full display.
Since that moment, I’ve been in contact with fellow pastors who lead minority congregations in this area to explore how we can work more intentionally together. I’ve made clear from my own pulpit that the ideas on display in Charlottesville were anti-Christ and have no place in the civilized world. But I’ve also been driven to think deeply about the roots of this toxic movement. Like most who watched aghast, I wondered to myself, “How can an ideology like this exist in such large numbers in the 21st century?”
Some have blamed a lack of education, claiming these people are just ignorant and need to be enlightened. Yet Richard Spencer, who essentially founded the alt-right and coined the term, was educated at the University of Virginia, the University of Chicago and Duke. Still others have suggested that outside forces – immigration, and the increasing ethnic and cultural diversity in our nation – have encroached upon the ability of white men in particular to live successful lives. But the bulk of demographic research into “white America” – described with great detail in Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart,” and shared anecdotally by J.D. Vance in “Hillbilly Elegy” – reveal that the collapse of the white working class can be largely blamed on the precipitously declining moral values of too many white working class men. As a pastor of more than 25 years, I’ve had a front-row seat to that moral slide, and the broken marriages, traumatized children and financial disasters reveal that the greatest damage to “white America” is morally self-inflicted.
So where do ideas like this come from? Christianity provides an uneasy answer, most directly defined by the prophet Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9). At the time these words were written, Judah was coming apart as a nation. Jeremiah’s explanation for why this was happening got him arrested and humiliated, but his words turned out to be true. The reasons for their national distress were all deeply personal. The people of Judah had sick hearts. And so do we. In the New Testament, Paul universalizes what the prophet said about the people of Judah when he says “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:10-11).
I may not have participated in the events in Charlottesville, but the hatred that fueled the display there exists within my own heart. And yours. It may not come out in the same way, but just a cursory glance at our lack of civility and kindness, the way we treat people we don’t agree with on social media and in culture – the way in which we too often treat those not like us – reveals a pandemic spawned by hatred for others, and for God in whose image they are created.
But thankfully, there is a cure! The same prophet who spoke of sick hearts also spoke of heart transplants that are available to anyone – transplants that bring our lawlessness and hatred for God and each other to an end. (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
Charlottesville reminds us that we aren’t in unity with each other because our relationships are not right with our God. But Christians worship a Savior who was crucified for racism, as well as every other sin, and then rose in triumph over it all. Each Sunday at Covenant, I stand in front of a large and increasingly multi-ethnic congregation – people from very diverse backgrounds who sometimes have nothing in common except their Savior – and I’m reminded that the Bible’s promise of new hearts is real.
If we want an ultimate answer to evils like the alt-right, it starts with confronting our inner-hatred. And any community of real faith can help you get started.
Joel Rainey is Lead Pastor at Covenant Church and Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina. He and his family live in Shepherdstown.