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.