Personalities And Issues
Several months ago an act of hatred cut down the president of the United States. In more than one place, there were reports of jubilation and unrestrained rejoicing that he was dead. Such acts and attitudes of hatred are surely to be condemned. But in the backwash of this wave of hatred came a lot of pious preachment placing the blame on all who opposed his policies and calling for enactment of all his programs as an act of contrition and as a tribute to his memory. Both these attitudes, though seemingly contradictory, are but symptoms of the same malady.
The malady is an inability to distinguish between a man and his program. The man who murdered the president and those who rejoiced in it made the mistake of allowing their hatred for his policies and programs to become hatred of the man. But those who have been the loudest in condemnation of this have made the identical mistake by insisting that the only way to show love and sympathy for the slain is to support and enact his programs. Hatred of a man is wrong; hatred of a detrimental or evil policy is right. Love and sympathy for a man is right, but support of any detrimental or evil policy is wrong regardless of the circumstances.
In Religious Matters
If straight thinking along these lines is important in political matters, it is essential in our spiritual relationships. We have paid lip service to the principle, saying: "Hate the sin but not the sinner," but in reality we have fallen far short of this ideal On the one hand there are those who develop an exceedingly strong dislike (if not hate) for all who disagree with them. They think it a sign of weakness to speak civilly to a denominational preacher. If we learn that a brother now disagrees with us on current issues, we feel that we should avoid him altogether and do everything possible to hurt him personally. It becomes a sport to think of cute remarks to make about him. We wink at each other if some unsuspecting person mentions his name favorably. Some will even stoop to various childish personal aggravations; and it is not impossible for us to reach the point of rejoicing in calamities that may befall him, such attitudes seem most in evidence at debates. We do not object to debates and discussions of differences, but we do regret the confusing of issues with personalities, if not among the disputants almost invariably among the audience. The huddling in a corner to map deceptive strategy, the guffawing when our champion humiliates the opposition, the pleasure in seeing someone squirm — these are the things that may indeed make a discussion out of keeping with the spirit of Christ.
But the opposite symptom of the same malady has been observed. Many who have been most Critical of the spirit described, above have similarly identified the personality with the issue by insisting that all opposition to a man's error is opposition to the man himself. To hate a man's false doctrine and oppose his unscriptural projects and schemes are bigotry, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and — worst of all anti-ism, according to these people. Those whose convictions have placed them in disagreement with the school where they were educated or with some preacher who has befriended them are considered guilty of base ingratitude. Loving a brother is taken to mean that we must support everything he teaches and practices and defend him if he is challenged. Thousands on both sides of the current issues hold the positions they do, not because of the merits of the positions but because of their respect and love for some brother who holds those positions,
"Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?" the apostle Paul asked (Gal. 4:16). Did the fact that the "contention was so sharp between them" (Acts 15:39) prove that Paul and Barnabas hated each other? In the same chapter (Galatians 2) in which Paul reports his confrontation with Peter in Antioch, when he "withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed," he also speaks of God's effectual working in Peter, and Peter later speaks of "our beloved brother Paul." Even if a man's conduct becomes so seriously defective that fellowship must be withdrawn, we are still to "count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (II Thess. 3 :15) .
Jesus said, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:43-45). Thus the command of Christ and the example of the Father teach us to love and do good to both good and bad people.
At the same time we have a command to hate the garment defiled by the flesh (Jude 23) and we have the example of Him who "loved righteousness and hated iniquity" (Hebrews 1:9) and Who hated both the deeds and doctrines of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6, 15). These teachings and examples are not in the least contradictory and must both be followed by Christians.
— 1801 No. 27th Street, Birmingham, Alabama