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Love, hate and fundamentalism

May 18, 2014

I’ve been looking at the news and I have been sad. I have seen the pictures of the mining disaster in Turkey and I pray for those who were injured and those who have lost loved ones. I ponder the news and I am sickened by all of the evil that comes directly from human beings. People created in God’s image that have been filled with hate – so much hate that they set bombs in shopping centres, like the Nairobi bombing. People so filled with hate that they turn on their neighbours, men women and children that were their friends and hack them to pieces. I hear about those Nigerian girls kidnapped from their school and I shout to God, “What is wrong with this world?”

With this in mind, I turned to the story of Stephen being stoned to death (Acts 7). It brought me up short. It reminded me that mindless hatred and violence are nothing new. As I read, I found Stephen’s story upsetting and uplifting, both at the same time.

I was upset because I get upset and angry when I think of those religious zealots murdering a young man to shut him up. I feel sickened every time I see or hear of a religious person acting out of hate and spite. Fundamentalists of whatever creed are sickening to see because they are a corruption of all that is good and true. Religious fundamentalists have everything worked out about God and so don’t need to listen to him any more. They are certain about everything and of course they are absolutely sure that they are right. Then if they are right then everyone else must be an enemy of the truth. Someone to be got rid of; To be silenced before they can lead people away from the truth. They should be shot, or bombed (like those bombs in Kenya) or be murdered by vigilantes like the stoning of Stephen.

Once a fundamentalist creed is swallowed then all else goes, including any sense of love or compassion. No matter how strongly you disagree with someone that is no good reason to murder them, or to steal their daughters while they are at school. Religious fundamentalism, Muslim or Christian or Hindu or any other creed; Religious fundamentalism quickly becomes hard and unforgiving, a creed of hate. I would also include other forms of fundamentalism like Soviet Communism and some forms of modern atheism. They are godless religions, but religions none the less, and can be equally closed and hateful.

Now I can’t speak for any other faith, but I can speak from my experience of Christianity.

We Christians by our very name follow the way of Jesus, the “Christ”. We follow his commandments. Actually Jesus only gave one commandment – to love (John 20?). That one commandment was expanded, to loving God and neighbour as ourselves (e.g. Mark 12.31) but basically we have one commandment. We are to love, then to love, then to love some more, because that is what God has done for us, and continues to do for us. Then no matter what else happens, no matter how angry we might get we know that we must not fall into hate, not ever.

I can see injustice, poverty, people starving, terrorism and I can get angry. I Could well be called to act to make things better but I will never be called to hate. Those who have fallen into the trap of fundamentalism have left the way of love. In fact I suspect that it is that lack of love that often leads people into such hard and closed belief.

I am told in Scripture, “that perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4.18). I know that if I follow the leading of the Holy Spirit I will have nothing to fear, that good times or bad I will never be abandoned. I know this, it is true because I know the one who makes those promises. Having faith that God is in control I don’t have to run scared from people who disagree with me. I don’t have to be so terrified by their unsettling words that I have to fight and hurt them.

I know and trust God and worship him only. I know that God alone knows all things and that he reveals them to me by his Spirit. I also know that I don’t know everything. So I can listen to people that say things that I disagree with. I can listen and pray. In listening I have to accept that some or all that they are saying could be true, whether I like it or not. I then need to pray and bring it the Father for his judgement. I may need to change my mind – so easy to say, but so hard to do – but I do need to allow for the fact that the Holy Spirit may be speaking through the person that I am arguing with. I am to allow Jesus to work in me, to fill me with the love that he was given from the Father, love for that person in front of me.

It is so tempting to try and protect my religion: It feels like I am standing up for my God. But just think how absurd that statement is, “standing up for God”. God doesn’t need me to stand up for him, I just need to be true to all that he has revealed to me, and he will take care of the rest.

So, returning to the story of Stephen’s death. That young man’s death is saddening and sickening. The fundamentalist hatred that prompted Stephen’s murder and all hatred like it just make me feel sick, sick to my very core. All humanity is violated by such hatred.

I also said that the story of Stephen’s death was uplifting. What is uplifting is Stephen himself. I hear his final recorded words and I want to cry tears of hope.

“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died” (Acts 7. 59-60). Stephen, full of the Spirit, was Christ-like right to the end. Like Jesus on the cross he died with his heart full of love, even for those that were killing him. Like Jesus, when dying Stephen prayed for the forgiveness of the people who were murdering him.

So again,I am told to love, and love and then to love some more. I can disagree with someone but I must never fall into the trap of hating them. That is the way of evil. Hate will cut me off from God and his love, make me weak and more fearful, and make me ripe for even more hate. When that temptation comes I need to remember the teaching and example of Jesus. I need to remember words like those from John 14.1, “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” or when I’m tempted to make laws for myself to follow to remember Paul’s teaching from Romans 13.10 “to love for love is the fulfilling of the law”.

So, Stephen the first Christian martyr, is a wonderful figure to contemplate in prayer. I think about Stephen’s murderers and pray for love to break into all hearts that are locked shut with hate. I think about Stephen’s unwavering faith, and pray for a faith even half as strong. I think about Stephen and most of all I try to think of God’s love that poured out of him, and I pray to be filled with that same love.

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