“Whom am I allowed to hate?” is such an awful question, yet I observe that it is the focus of so much energy for many in our present culture. And it is not necessarily a new question. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He told a man that inheriting salvation required loving God and loving our neighbor, after which the man promptly asked “Who is my neighbor?” Or, said another way, “Whom may I not love?” (the text makes it clear this was an attempt at self justification for not loving widely). This resulted in the story we know as “The Good Samaritan”.
Jesus answers this question very clearly, that our love for others is not dependent on their being the “right kind of person” in “the right kind of group”. The Samaritan and the beaten man he cares for are enemies; they belong to groups that are at odds with one another. We love those on “the other side”, and likewise we don’t get to hate people for being in an “out group”.
For the sake of clarity, I am not of the view that every single person ought to receive our acceptance and approval. We are certainly given examples in scripture (Diotrephes, Alexander the Coppersmith) of those who we are to oppose and draw boundaries against. Likewise, when we see people doing evil and who are full of malice, it is right and just to call that out. This is how we protect and serve the vulnerable, and show love to those whom these people harm. But this is a very different thing from identifying a group of people we are supposed to hate, and yet that is the behavior I see rampant around me.
There are so many divisions: race, economic status, political leaning, religious belief (or lack thereof), gender, sexuality, vaccination status, even fans of [xyz], and in each I see people determining, rather loudly and emphatically, why it is appropriate to have hatred for those who fall into the other group. And honestly, I do empathize with a lot of these positions. It IS natural to hate those who are in groups that are formed around ideas that do real harm. But I also believe that Jesus calls us to rise above the “natural”. I can empathize with those feelings, and yet I still think it is ultimately our undoing as a culture. Once we all have, justly or unjustly, cordoned ourselves off into groups that hate one another, how do we reach across to actually make progress toward peace and growth?
The church itself has become known for its hatred. If you question this, simply start asking the non-religious what they think of the church. You’ll soon hear it characterized as hateful and angry, and it is not difficult to see how much energy the church pours into answering the question “whom am I allowed to hate?” Is it Hollywood? LGBT? Feminists? Depending on which church you go to, there might be variations, but SO many speak publicly and loudly about who they condemn (though usually this is called “love”).
But it is also not JUST the church. In the US where I live, political liberals and conservatives alike are certain their hatred for others is justified, sometimes even celebrating the death of their enemies. Insults are levied, and the contempt is clear. These groups have crossed the line into “people I am allowed to hate” by folks who no doubt see themselves as loving, kind, and accepting. Extend this by every axis that divides us, and you have a very polarized people who spend a lot of time on hatred. I do not think the church is notable in this regard, with the exception that the church is supposed to be part of the solution, not the problem.
To me, this is clearly the human condition. We feel a drive toward determining the “other” so we can feel OK about our hatred for them, and thus preserve our positive energy for those who we feel really deserve it. And this is where I think Christianity demands more. We are to love our enemies. We are to pour our energy into love and not hate, even when the latter is deserved. Because, of course, when WE were those who Jesus could choose to hate, He loved us instead. We show grace because grace was shown to us. And to be clear, I do not think this is transactional, but rather following a pattern of love: as we know love, we see how to show that love.
To reiterate, bad actors with malice in their hearts, are content to see other people destroyed, do exist. I think it is more than fair to speak up clearly against these kinds of abuses. The story of The Good Samaritan is not the victim pretending he was never beaten or that harm was not done to him. But the vast majority of people in this world, even those who get it wrong and support ideologies of harm, are not malicious. They see themselves as good people, and they want to do good to others. Which is not to say their actions are absent of real harm; they do harm, and sometimes there will have to be consequences, but I am sure we will go further with an attitude of grace that seeks to activate the goodness, than one of hatred, which can only overwhelm with superior numbers, and activates defensiveness and aggression.
If we find ourselves asking the question “Is this person someone I am allowed to hate?” (or worse, if we just assume the answer without even thinking it through), we are living according to the world. We will do so much more if we instead ask “How can I show love to this person, whom Jesus would call my neighbor?”