A little more than 10 years ago, I worked with Chuck Johnson.
In 2015, Johnson was permanently banned from Twitter after soliciting donations to help “take out” prominent Black Lives Matter activist Deray McKesson.
Johnson runs a crowdfunding site that has raised tens of thousands of dollars for legal fees related to the white supremacist website the Daily Stormer, as well as various other figures in the alt-right movement.
Johnson has also said that the actual number of Holocaust victims is far lower than the accepted total, and questioned whether gas chambers were used at Nazi concentration camps, though he maintains that he is not a Holocaust denier.
He’s a nasty bit of work. And he was an intern at a startup I worked at about a decade ago.
There are no surprises here: He was a dick. The difference between then and now, mostly, is that he’s famously a dick. (To be clear: I don’t recall that Holocaust denial of any sort – or even anything in the neighborhood of that – was part of the package at that point. He was just more a dick in that “I’m not sure we need to be in touch on Facebook” way.)
I wonder if it might’ve been different. After he left college, Chuck wrote a book about Calvin Coolidge. It was a bit dry. And it had the misfortune about the same time that another conservative with higher profile also came out with what became a fairly celebrated Coolidge book. I’m fairly sure that was an oversaturated market, and Chuck lost out.
I read the book. Even interviewed Chuck for it as part of a podcast I was doing at the time. I was hopeful maybe he was growing up. From everything I’ve seen reported in the years since: He didn’t.
I do wonder how things might’ve turned out if the incentives had aligned differently — if the Coolidge book had become a high-profile success, would Chuck be … Chuck now?
Probably. Maybe not. Who knows?
But as I think through my shabby old faith these days, I think about him. Chuck Johnson is about as detestable a person as I’ve ever known. And that raises a question for me.
Does Jesus want me to love Chuck Johnson?
I don’t want to love Chuck. I don’t think there’s much lovable about him. But that’s kind of the point.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Oh, I’m not perfect.
But I suspect the answer to my question is that yes, Jesus wants me to love Chuck Johnson.
It doesn’t mean sharing or affirming his opinions. It doesn’t mean standing silent in the face of his unjust pronouncements. It just means … loving him. Maybe it even means being willing to be in relationship with him.
This is why I resist Christianity as tribalism. Following the example of Jesus means putting down our swords, dining with tax collectors, and doing a host of other seemingly foolish things. It’s hard to do.
Praying for your enemies, loving them, is probably the hardest.
Sometimes, it’s nearly impossible.