by Peter Larson
Political hatred is nothing new. Critics of Abraham Lincoln called him a baboon, a bumpkin and a warmonger who goaded the South into rebellion. The national press mocked him. Even his own generals and cabinet members treated Lincoln with contempt.
Today, many Americans hate George Bush. The president has been called a liar, a lightweight, a war criminal and a demagogue as dangerous as Adolph Hitler. The level of hatred is so visceral that it's impossible for the two sides to engage in any reasoned dialogue or debate: It's too deep for words.
Many of the Bush-haters are Christians. They worship the same Jesus I worship and read the same Bible that I read but when it comes to politics, we disagree. I view George Bush as a courageous leader doing his level best to deal with the threat of global terrorism; they view him as the anti-Christ. I view Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 as a mean-spirited piece of propaganda, while they view it as the gospel truth.
Lately, I've been wondering: is it wrong to hate Bush? Of course, there are many Christians who hated Bill Clinton and who felt justified in their hatred. But isn't that the problem? When it comes to politics, it's easy to justify our hatred. In fact, we consider it something godly and righteous.
But Jesus tells us to love our enemies, not hate them. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies, not to treat them with contempt. The Bible doesn't give us a free pass to hate anyone, including our political leaders. According to the Scriptures, we have a responsibility to treat our leaders with honor and respect: "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. Show proper respect for everyone….fear God, honor the king" (1 Peter 1:13-14;17).
The problem with hatred is that it blinds us: We perceive everything through the eyes of our own prejudice. If you hate Bush deeply enough, everything he says will seem false. If we demonize Bush, everything he does will appear demonic. And at that point, we're not far from the Muslim extremists who are able to justify anything – even the slaughter of innocent children – because of their blinding hatred.
Another problem with hatred is that it poisons our relationships with other Christians. It becomes a "root of bitterness," a wedge that destroys our unity in Christ. If I hate George Bush, then I must also hate everyone who supports him. In recent years I've learned to avoid any mention of politics with my Bush-hating friends because it quickly spills over into our relationship. Instead of free and loving debate, now there is silence.
There are many things about John Kerry that I don't like. But as I search my own heart, I don't hate him. There are many things about Bill Clinton I didn't care for, but I didn't hate him. Years ago, when I was pastoring a church in Indianapolis, Attorney General Janet Reno visited our congregation. I treated her with the honor and respect that her office deserved, even though I disagreed with her political views.
The problem for many Christians, I suspect, is that politics has taken the place of Christ. Our desire to win, to control things, to grasp power, to reign and rule in this world, is at the root of our hatred. As Christians, we need to be involved in the political process. But we need to remember the words our Lord spoke to Pontius Pilate: "My Kingdom is not of this world."
Peter Larson is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, OH – email@example.com.