Call it hate

The first headline I saw yesterday morning was “Gunman kills 5 at LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.” An unknown motive so far. Being investigated as a hate crime. Was it? People wonder – and argue.

Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted: “The news out of Colorado Springs is absolutely awful. This morning the victims & their families are in my prayers. This lawless violence needs to end and end quickly.” Many were quick to point out how public condemnation of LGBTQ folks from “the right” is one reason for such violence. She is not alone in this, but her words are an example. She has repeatedly used language like …. perversion, monstrosity, mutilation, butchering, grope young children – and how such people are “spitting in God’s face.”

Does that not sound like hate? Yet she – and millions of other people who share her views – deny that they hate anyone. At Reawaken America Tour events, the same language dominates the rhetoric with words like enemies, demonic, perverted, evil. If you heard all of this in reference to people like you, would you not experience it as hate? I would. I do.

People who claim the name of “Christian” direct such violent, hate-filled words toward the LGBTQ community, but not to them alone. Liberals and Democrats and “woke” people are public targets of the same language of hate and the violence it provokes. BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are openly attacked, not just with hate-filled language, but with violent acts, such as the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde and the ongoing abductions of Indigenous girls and women.

As they have been for centuries, Jews also bear the brunt of this hatred. Antisemitism has been on the rise for several years, with attacks on synagogues, schools, cemeteries, and Jewish centers. About 10 days ago, FBI Director Wray said that “…antisemitism remains ‘a pervasive and present fact,’ and vowed to protect American Jewish communities against unyielding threats of violence. ‘Jewish people continue to face repeated violence and very real threats, from all kinds of actors … simply for being who they are.’”

Confronted with the hate-induced violence so pervasive in our country, how do people respond when challenged about their hate? They deny that they hate anyone or that their language is hateful. The ideas and language of anything systemic are anathema to this movement. Only individual responsibility matters to them, and hate only exists (in their minds) if an individual consciously hates another person. In their minds, they don’t “hate” their enemies – liberals, Democrats, LGBTQ folks, Jews, or Blacks – for instance – they just oppose them because “they are evil.”

None of this is new, especially in the context of Christian Nationalism, a movement led by people completely convinced they are the defenders of morality, of what God wants, and of what they call “a Christian nation.” Historically, religious certitude of what is true and moral has divided tribes and nations for centuries. More recently, founders of this modern movement in the U.S., like Jerry Falwell, claimed absolute knowledge of God’s will according to their interpretation of “God’s Word.” And their “interpretation” includes what they see as the “evils” of abortion and homosexuality, the “destruction” of marriage and family, and the undermining of white male supremacy (although they deny that term).

Someone asked me recently (as a Baptist minister) what this movement does with the teachings of Jesus. For the same reason, I’ve often asked aloud: “how can Christians act like this?” At the core of this movement is a worldview that allows little space for difference of opinions or empathy for people. It is a rules-based, authoritarian movement, firmly entrenched in one version of traditional Christian religion where the power rests with those who defend “the truth” and oppose “evil”. And in that tradition, there is no room for people outside the boundaries they have set. Far too often, people on the outside become the target of hate-filled language and sometimes the literal target of deadly violence. Let’s call it what it is. Call it hate.

What about antisemitism?

Joyce Herman, in Rochester NY, responded to what I have been posting about Christian Nationalism. She focuses, especially, on White Nationalism and the antisemitism that accompanies it. Her comments deserve a wider audience than a “reply” at the bottom of a post. With her permission, I am posting what she wrote:

Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation about the radical White Nationalist Christian Right. As we know, they have morphed from what seemed like a fringe group into a large force that is tolerated, if not embraced, by the Republican Party.

Comparisons to the tactics and rhetoric of Germany in the 1930’s are hard to ignore. (See Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny, written originally in 2017, Graphic Edition 2021).  As we look at the underlying and sometimes slyly hidden bedrock of their beliefs, antisemitism is more than the elephant in the room. In their intergroup communications they explicitly blame Jews as the all powerful force promoting the “Great Replacement” plan.  This Great Replacement narrative, actually a version of the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion, now serves as code for directing blame onto Jews for white people’s feared loss of power.

Eric Ward, senior consultant for Southern Poverty Law Center and the founder of the Western States Movement opened a lot of eyes, including mine, as to just how central antisemitism is to the White Nationalist movement in Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism I highly recommend his article for anyone seeking to understand the underlying dynamics.  Also, you can read about Eric Ward here.

As antisemitism has exploded in the last couple of years, and until this week, I had noted the curious dynamic of invisibility that had muffled antisemitism reports. In retrospect, even after Charlottesville, where marchers carrying tiki torches yelled “Jews will not replace us” as they went back and forth in front of a synagogue on shabbat, most media reported that they were “racists,” as if that covered it … without mentioning antisemitism. I find even folks who want to be allies to Jews tend to talk about “hate” without specifically mentioning anti-semitism, or Jews.

I was pleased to see that you did mention antisemitism early in your talk, although Jews were only assumed included when you report that speaking of “the enemy” was central to their talks.  White Nationalists vitriol for the hated “enemy” is likely to conjure an image of Jews in their followers’ minds.  Barbara Love, another Black liberation leader (Ward is Black) has pointed out that failure to talk about antisemitism is part of the problem and increases the chance of it escalating. 

Invisibility and erasure are indeed part of many oppressions. Our Black siblings speak of “erasure,” when their obvious and horrendous history is not taught. LGBTQ+ folks history and treatment has been hidden.  It seems to me that allies not naming and condemning acts of antisemitism is a similar hurt.  Further, as Ward understands, not exposing the various ways antisemitism is perpetrated is ultimately a threat to everyone. He says that racism will never be solved so long as antisemitism is unaddressed.  The “oldest hate” has long been used by tyrants to derail progressive movements.

I am aware that even as I write this, the picture is changing, with more coverage of the most egregious antisemitic rants, which then cite the huge rise in antisemitic incidents. New York Times columnist Bret Stevens “thanks” Ye (Kanye West) for bringing antisemitism out in the open.

I appreciated your thoughtful suggestions about how to proceed If we are to meet the challenges that our country and the world face now and in the near future. God knows we need to be vigilant and active on many fronts as our society is collapsing. I’d like to suggest adding the following strategies against the rising threats.

  1. Stay awake and aware.  Notice both what is in plain sight and what is lurking beneath the surface.  Do not allow yourself to be hoodwinked by insinuations and dog whistles and other tricks that are designed to point blame and scapegoat Jews or others.
  2. Do not go silent:  Be vocal about what you see 
  3. Seek ways to build alliances across identities. Reach out to those who are different. Form common cause with them. 
  4. Stay in the room with allies even if if gets uncomfortable.  This is not a time to be defensive, compare oppressions, or leave if things get tricky.
  5. Affirm goodness, kindness, connection, beauty… and love …  and bring them into relationships as widely as possible.