“THESE are the times that try our souls… Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”
Rev. Frederick W. Hayes
I have this notion,that somewhere very early in the history of salvation, God learned one thing. It may be the essential thing that God figured out as God tinkered with creation. This thing that God learned is, I believe, that the best way to deal with humanity, that is, that peculiar subset of creation of which we are part, that when faced with the behavior, the activity, the horrific bad behavior, and even when confronted with those unexpected moments of goodness, the thing that God learned was to forgive.
When we are awful, God forgives us. And even when we are doing the very best we can, God forgives us. For it is the case, we must remember, that this place in which we live, in which we are born, in which we work out our complicated existences, is both a wonderful place and a world, at times, a world of unspeakable horror. It’s a puzzle. This is God’s world and we have been made free within it. This freedom makes us everything that is wonderful and everything that is horrible. We live freely in this world in a process of completion – a moving towards God that is not unaffected by all the turbulence created by a world of free souls. We do not yet live in the fullness of salvation.
We do not live in the fullness of salvation. The Christian blogger Laurie Nichols answered a colleague's question, What is the fullness of salvation? By saying, “You know what the fullness of salvation is? It’s the reality that salvation keeps going on and on and on throughout all generations. Even mine. Even ours.” We live in a world where the implication of salvation is being worked out day by day. And the one element that remains steadfast in this process is translated in The Message translation of Paul’s Letter to the Romans as, “But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.”
Aggressive forgiveness, I like that. Paul is telling is that Grace is God’s aggressive forgiveness. It goes on and on throughout the generations. Sin doesn’t stand a chance. But that aggressive forgiveness is God's work. What is my role in that?
What is my role? When men march with torches? At that Friday night rally at the University of Virginia, the white nationalists brandished torches and chanted anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans, including “blood and soil” (an English rendering of the Nazi “Blut und Boden” "Blood and soil" was a key slogan of Nazi ideology. The nationalist ideology which was adopted by Adolf Hitler, and Heinrich Himmler. Because of its connections to German nationalism, the phrase has been taken up by twenty-first-century neo-nazi and white supremacist groups in North America as a rallying cry). Yes, they chanted “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. God, I find it repugnant to say it out loud.
I will frankly tell you that there have been moments when I have thought that God might be calling me to punch someone in the face.
But there is, thank God, always a distance between what we think and what we do. I don’t apologize for feeling that way. I’m not going to punch anyone in the face or participate in the vortex of violence that organized hate is calling America towards. But I have no problem telling you that I believe hate has implications that must be borne out in society. I have been associated with many progressive Unitarian and United Church of Christ congregations over the years and I have often heard something said in these places that troubles me. I hear people say, “We welcome everyone here!” and I say, Oh no we don’t!” We don’t welcome hate here. We don’t welcome hate speech here, we don’t welcome antisemitism here, we don’t welcome homophobia here. We don’t welcome white supremacists here. We don’t welcome NAZI’s here!
We welcome the hurt, the broken, we welcome anyone who has been injured by hate and ignorance. We welcome the poor, the poor in spirit. We welcome those who have questions, even questions about God. We welcome those who disagree about this and that. But we don’t welcome hate. I don’t think that it is hard to identify hate. It is, as Justice Potter Stewart said in 1964 in speaking of pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define (this)… and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.” I know hate when I see it or when I hear it! It is not that hard. Even in a world that is not yet living in the fullness of salvation.
Hate has consequences not only for the oppressed. It has consequences for those who hate. The propagation of hate will isolate those who hate from the those who do not espouse hate. This is a tragic isolation, but I will not be polluted by hate. I will not have my church polluted by hate.
I am grateful that I have a God of aggressive forgiveness. I think our God chases hate down in this world. It like Francis Thompson wrote in his poem Hound of Heaven, ‘down the nights and down the days, down the arches of the years, down the labyrinthine ways.” And we participate in that work by staking off our sanctuary spaces where hate will not have its way. We participate in God’s pursuit of hate by teaching our children a Gospel of love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
There is a profound risk for those who hate. Our God is a God of aggressive forgiveness, our two sacraments, baptism and communion are vehicles of forgiveness. Our God pursues hate and pursues those who hate. The possibility of participation in the process of salvation is open to all. God’s hands remain outstretched to all. But I also believe that a further consequence of living freely in a world that is moving towards completion is that God does not save you against your will. You can’t reach the hand of God, if your hands are carrying torches of intimidation, you can’t say God’s healing name if your lips mouth words of malice. I want the hate to stop. These are not schoolboy antics. This behavior is intended to create fear. It does that. It also encourages those who cannot make the distinction between thinking and doing to acts of violence.
Hate isolates those who hate even from a God of aggressive forgiveness.
I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
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