When Loves Leads Us to Hate

Hi Joel,

I want to come back to one of the hardest questions of Christianity and one that I think Mennonites have made important contributions to answering: How do we love our enemies? Can we (Is it even appropriate to be?) friends with people who espouse hateful beliefs and endorse hateful actions?

Having worked with hate group members for awhile now, I think they can offer us some insight here. And here is what I consistently hear from them:

They aren’t hateful. They’re loving.

Westboro Baptists don’t see themselves as hateful. They see themselves as loving. Indeed, founding pastor Fred Phelps, who died a few years ago, saw himself not as a harasser of queer people but as a missionary to them. To be clear, his goal wasn’t their conversion, because Westboro’s unique hyper-Calvinist theology teaches that only God can convict a person. Instead, they preach to warn, and warning, they argue, is a form of love.

It’s like this, one member explained to me: If you saw someone about to drive off a cliff, you’d warn them. You’d shout at them, “No! Stop!” Even if you knew it would upset them, you’d tell them. Even if it meant that they were angry at you, you would tell them. Indeed, if you allow your fear of their anger at you to dissuade you from speaking up—no, screaming out—you would be allowing your discomfort to take precedence over their safety. That is selfish.

This is why the church carries signs that say “Love Thy Neighbor=Rebuke.” Because, as Jesus explains in the story of the Good Samaritan, everyone is our neighbor, we must love everyone. Loving them means correcting them (“rebuke”) when they are in danger.

That might sound like an excuse for angry behavior, but I can tell you that almost every member of WBC I know truly feels this way. (There are singular exceptions who take I think do sadistic pleasure in their “rebuking” activities, and the church monitors these folks fairly carefully. Indeed, a criterion for joining is that your anti-gay actions can’t be motivated by personal homophobia, so someone who expresses too much personal disgust for gay people is flagged as a potential threat to the church.) In her memoir about their time in WBC, ex-member Libby Phelps say that there is no more sinister explanation: They were socialized into a subculture that teaches that hell is real, painful, and eternal. Nothing is worse than hell. They were taught that everyone outside the church is hell-bound—and likely some inside the church were too. Westboro Baptists preach that your only hope is that God has already elected you; their mission is to help you hear it, should God love you enough to open your ears.  Doing this is an act of love for people socialized into this church.

That often means getting loud (that is, offensive) as an act of love.


When I look more broadly at the claims that hate groups make, I began to see that it is love, not hate, at the center of their claims. Now, I don’t mean to say that hate isn’t part of what they do or that, in many cases, hate actors proudly claim the title of “hater.” But, in many cases and especially in their engagement with the public they are trying to persuade, they use the word love, not hate.

I don’t want to push the comparison to WBC too far, because I think that anti-gay groups are quite different from race hate groups (though most racist groups are also homophobic). However, this theme of love keeps coming up. Here are some other examples:

[W]e must first rid ourselves of the fear of being called “racists” and the other meaningless epithets they use against us. What is really meant by the [anti-racist] advocates when they peg us as “racists” is that we adhere to ethnocentrism, which is a natural affection for one’s own kind. This is both healthy and Biblical. I am not ashamed to say that I prefer my own kind and my own culture. Others can have theirs; I have mine. No group can survive for long if its members do not prefer their own over others.
— Mike Hill, Web essay, League of the South

Hill calls for “a return to a political and social system based on kith and kin rather than an impersonal state wedded to the idea of the universal rights of man.” That is, we should love those socially near to us (“kith and kin” rather than those far (“universal”).

From the violent Kingdom Identity:

We prefer the culture and abilities historically demonstrated by Christian White men over that of all other races.

From Gregory Hood of American Renaissance, the “intellectual” magazine of white supremacy:

White advocates must insist on the legitimacy of European-Americans pursuing their group interests, just as every other group already pursues theirs.

In each of these cases, it is love of one’s “own kind” that prompts hateful action. Indeed, the new “racial realism”—the term that what supremacists prefer over “white supremacy”—foregrounds the natural, intrinsic, common-sensical, and one might even say (if one were a white supremacist), genetic preference that we ought to have for those like us. This is an argument for separate but equal, for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” of non-whites from the US and Europe, for the “voluntary self-deportation” of immigrants. The goal isn’t the destruction of non-whites, immigrants, or Muslims but the rearrangement of the world to its proper (pre-Babel, for those looking for a “Biblical mandate” that multiculturalism is defiance against God) distribution. (White people get Europe, plus Canada, the US, and Australia.) “Invasive species” populations aren’t destroyed but returned to their “proper” homes. (All of this ignores, of course, that humans are migratory animals, that races have never been divided, and that white people aren’t indigenous to most of the places where we now live.)


In making this claim, white supremacists appeal to things that many of us, in fact, agree are good: families, safety, respect for cultural differences. Don’t we all, they argue, have a right to our cultures? To our own space? To protecting our families? To ensuring the welfare of our children and their children? To pride in our histories? To liking our own appearances?

“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” 

“It’s okay to be white.”

You see the connection. These are not claims about hating people of color or immigrants or Muslims. They are claims about ensuring that our own white children and white culture (Whatever that is.) have space. That makes them sound innocent and even fair.

In this view, even Jews will not replace us isn’t about anti-Semitism. It’s about preserving white (non-Jewish) space and making sure that white culture is celebrated for its role in world history.

Image result for 14 words tattoo

Above a 14 Words tattoo spells out the love that defenders of white supremacy say is at its core. 

Related image

“It’s Okay to be White” Flyers appeared on campuses this fall. An innocent statement, right? Tucker Carlson sure says so. And neo-Nazi groups loved this “prank.”

The wide-eyed college recruit to the alt-right may even tell you that this isn’t hate but multiculturalism, about respecting differences by ensuring that they can be maintained.

It’s about everyone finding their spot in the world. It’s about the separatism that is necessary to making that happen.

This is why we are seeing Latinos joining the alt-right. It’s why we’re seeing white nationalism in Orthodox Jewish communities.

It looks like love, not hate.

The hate comes later.


If the life of a child isn’t a reason to stop mass violence, what might be?

Hi Joel,

So, there are lots of possible solutions to gun violence, and lawmakers pursue none of them. Like, zilch. There are lots of reasons for their cowardice, including the fact that some of them are actually afraid of the citizens to whom they’ve deliberately fed a diet of fear and lies. Kind of like how children are afraid to go to school now.

One reason, I venture, is because they do not care about children. Letting children die from gun violence is just one more way that conservatives let children die–you know, like by threatening to take away their food, poisoning their air and water, and depriving them of medical help. So I don’t see an appeal to children really moving Republican hearts.

I venture that, in part, this is because children are (and are especially in the minds of conservatives) the work of women. As long as women are devalued, children are also devalued.

We grow them, bring them into the world, and do most of the tending to them. Of course, there are fantastic dads, fathers who raise their children without a partner at all or even with a mother who undermines his children’s well-being. But we’re talking large-scale trends, and that’s clear: children are the work of women.

So maybe we should stop working on gun violence because it kills kids because, frankly, I don’t think our current lawmakers mostly care about killing the work of women. Sure, they wouldn’t argue for actively killing children, but we have a long history of men destroying the things that women make and devaluing that which they achieve.

Image result for pro-life pro-gun

Huh. Pro-lifers argue for–and fight pretty effectively for–the rights of embryos and fetuses. Why don’t they fight with the same vigor for the right of school children not to be gunned down at lunch? Above, a bumper sticker with white outlines of a cross, a gun, and a heart on a black background and the words “Pro God Pro Gun Pro Life.”

Why else, then, might we want to not have regular mass shootings?

  • increased cost of security at public schools a necessary part security theater, which gives us the illusion that something is being done. Bonus feel-good points if we hire a veteran from a pointless war!
  • increased teacher turnover as more teachers realize that they’d rather work in an ER hospital, where violence is more common but less often mass, than a school
  • strain on local government resources in small towns where there aren’t dozens of ambulances or lifeflight helicopters available to remove dying children to hospitals
  • PTSD among rescue workers means high turnover rate here, too, so the expertise that comes from experience is lost
  • loss of productivity the day of and days immediately after as no one can think straight at work
  • the rest of the world despises us, starts putting us into the same category as nations that allow child marriages, child labor, and child soldiers
  • loss of Americans sick of this looking for jobs in places where their children are less likely to be killed, which is almost everywhere now
  • a generation of children will hate us forever

Do I sound disgusted? I am, because I really think that some of these reasons are more persuasive for lawmakers than the inherent worth of every life.








Why is Congress a Gun-Free Zone but your Area High School isn’t?

Hi Joel,

Remember way back to last Friday, when I wrote

There’s an angry young white man at your area elementary and junior high and high school this morning and he has access to a gun.

Well, it looks like it happened in your town just today. A local high school there announced that a young man had been making “indirect threats” to kill people on Snapchat. Police are investigating, but, if it weren’t for the snow and ice that canceled school, they’d be asking parents there to go ahead and send their kids to school.

Now, we don’t know yet if he had access to a gun, but he very likely does. Kansas has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation. It has no minimum age for the possession of a firearm with a barrel under 12 inches. On February 1, the Kansas House approved a bill that would allow anyone over age 18–about half of high school seniors by this point in the year–to conceal and carry a weapon. Between 18 and 21, they would be required to have a permit.

But a student doesn’t even need to bring his gun to school. In Kansas, teachers can bring it for him. All he has to do is take it away from the teacher. If one boy couldn’t, then two easily could, especially if, like most mass shooters, they don’t care about dying themselves. In the last ten years, 3.5 million guns were stolen from law-abiding people who just can’t seem to keep their guns secured. No reason to think that this couldn’t happen to a teacher at school.


You might be tempted to think that our lawmakers simply don’t understand the danger or ways to prevent it. But of course they do. We know this because

  • Republican leaders and the NRA (A difference without a distinction?) choose venues for their national conventions that don’t permit guns. Surely, if guns keep us safe, they would choose convention centers that permit concealed or open carry in states that do likewise?
  • The Secret Service can–and does–ban the presence of guns when the president is near, even if the state and local laws permit them. Why don’t more good guys with guns increase the safety of the president?
  • Congress has tighter security even as the rest of us have less of it. For most of our history, most of Congress was accessible to everyday people. Not until the 1980s did we start to see metal detectors installed, ID tags for employees, and tickets for citizen-visitors. Even in 1954, when Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the House floor, critically wounding Michigan Republican Alvin Bentley, Congress didn’t add new security measures, nor was there a dramatic revisioning of security after the 1971 Weatherman bombing in the Senate. Not until 1983, when a bomb went off near Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd’s office, did we begin the process familiar to us now: X-ray machines, manual checks of purses and bags, metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, and overall less access for journalists, those seeking contact with their representatives, and visitors.

Image result for house of representatives floor

Above, the floor of the House, where lawmakers were sitting ducks during the 1954 shooting. Kind of like how our students are now. 

In their defense, Kansas state lawmakers do allow concealed guns into the Capitol. They’re fools, but at least they’re not hypocrites. I’m glad that they are putting their own bodies in the same position they’re asking of their high schoolers.

All together, in constant danger.







Can we Make our Culture Inhospitable to Hate?

Hi Joel,

You asked recently about if we should (and if so, how we can) love our enemies. For Christians, this is an order from Jesus: We must. This is just another variation on his theme: Love God, love thy neighbor as thyself, and love your enemies. Jesus is clear about who are neighbors are: everyone. And he’s clear about who our enemies are: those who would persecute us. He also gives us many examples of loving our neighbors and our enemies: He feeds them. He suffers with them. He heals them. He doesn’t use violence against them. In fact, he treats his friends and his enemies pretty much the same—perhaps most clearly illustrated in his treatment of Judas.

But how? How now? How interpersonally? How collectively? For what reasons? And how, when these people are espousing terrible, even genocidal, ideas?

These are big questions, and I hope we keep coming back to them. (I’ll be coming back to them, anyway, and I hope our readers join us.) But, first, a caveat: what I suggest here isn’t for everyone. First, non-Christians are under no mandate to love their enemies. Second, loving your enemies is not a code word for accepting abuse or ignoring injustice.  Mennonites in particular have used the concepts of “forgiveness” and “community” to protect abusers (which is to say, to a very great extent). A millstone around every neck that has abused Jesus’ words this way. (Is hoping that people drown unloving? Shoot! You see how complicated it gets when we start quoting Jesus?)


For more than a dozen years now, I have worked in the field of hate studies, which means that I think a lot about this kind of question—what can/should/do we do with/to people we deem hateful—a lot . As an area of study, hate studies includes a lot of criminologists and sociologists interested in deviance. They do important work tracking hate groups and examining hate crimes. In general, they frame hate activity as deviance, the breaking of a norm. It is seen as exceptional to the human experience. Those who hate are labeled as deviant, unworthy, sometimes criminal. When they hurt someone, they are called outsiders, drifters, not “like” those in the communities from which they come. “This,” the community says, pointing fingers at the reviled hater, “isn’t us.” (See Clara S. Lewis’ fantastic book Tough on Hate? The Cultural Politics of Hate Crime for more on this.)

I argue against this framework, which says that hate is felt and hateful acts committed by certain “kinds of people” (bad guys) and opposed by others (good guys). Hateful acts aren’t merely the aberrant act of a morally deficient social outcast. Hate is deeply embedded in our culture, including our institutions and structures. Rather than asking “What kind of person hates and how do we neutralize them?” I am interested in the questions like “What fertilizes the ground that hate falls on? Who ignores its growth? Who benefits from it? Why does hate so easily align with our American values? Why is it such a comfortable fit in our culture? And how do we change our culture so that hate becomes not just unthinkable but impossible?”

One way we can love our enemies is by changing the ground. We can change our culture so that it is not a fertile place for hate to grow. We can’t necessarily prevent someone else from sowing seeds of hate, but we can prevent the culture in which they fall from nurturing them.

This is true in a heart-to-heart way. It’s why we adopt anti-racist, feminist parenting strategies, for example. It’s why I teach, and I’m guessing it’s part of why you write. It’s why when they go low, we go high (or, at least, we’re supposed to).

But we can also structure our culture differently so that hate just isn’t appealing. We can make it nonsensical, silly, archaic, or just unthinkable.

So, how do we do that?

Image result for trump hate

It didn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way. 

I don’t have a great answer for that yet, but we know it can be done because we’ve seen the reverse done: Trumpism has recalibrated the scale of what we are willing to tolerate as “hateful.” Trump didn’t just reveal or tap into the deep misogyny, ableism, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia of our culture. He and the culture he promotes are also persuasive in making people into haters. Indeed, there are people who are new to this culture who wouldn’t have been part of it before. Trumpism normalizes this behavior—and then works to codify it, as the current attacks on the Americans with Disabilities Act show.

We don’t have to wait for the culture to change to make it difficult for hate to grow here. We can be strategic about making that happen. In fact, I think we have to and I think that this is part of loving our enemies.  I don’t think it means taking away their freedom to hate but instead making it as hard as we can make it to do so.


Why do gun owners shy away from actual “personal responsibility”?

Hi Joel,

A couple months ago, I wrote a post saying that there was no such thing as a responsible gun owner. Some folks thought I was overwrought (a term that gets almost exclusively applied to women). Some folks probably tried to dismiss my claim on the grounds that I live with trauma from gun threats on my own campus.

But I really mean it. Of all the gun owners I know (and if I’ve been in your home, I know you are a gun owner because I asked), only one of them keeps his guns secured to the safety standard of the NRA. One. This means my children don’t visit my own grandparents in their homes. It’s sad.

But don’t feel bad for me. My kids are alive.


Video games.  Those are the problems, we’ve heard this week. Our young people have too much screen time. Call of Duty desensitizes them to violence. Politicians like Kentucky’s Matt Blevins argued this week–while the school shooting in Kentucky should be still fresh in our minds–that

As much as I hate violent games and films, the link between violent media consumption and mass violence isn’t strong. It is also often an attempt to pass the responsibility for normalizing guns and valuing violence from parents to games.

But parents are the strongest forces of socialization, even during those hard teen years. We matter more than video games. We’re far more influential. That’s why our romanticization of guns and our refusal to secure them (because we need them at the ready!) matters so much.

Most teen mass shooters get their guns from their parents. They practice with their parents at shooting ranges. They learn from their parents that gun violence is sometimes justifiable.

In video games, they learn that guns are fun and should be used to kill bad guys. From their parents, they learn that guns are fun and should be used to kill bad guys. The message from their parents matters more.

Call of Duty doesn’t teach our children to ready, aim, or fire, and it doesn’t arm them to do so. Parents do that when they decide to keep guns in their homes.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 4.08.07 PM

Above, just two of thousands of images of “gun rooms” you can find on Pinterest and elsewhere. If you want to see how valued these rooms are, ask your realtor how the cost of a home increases when the current owner maintains a gun room. What do rooms like these tell our children about the value of owning dozens or hundreds of guns? About how guns and status are linked? 


Gun fetishists fall back on the language of “personal responsibility” a lot: We should hold the shooter and no one else responsible for the deaths he causes. But we can’t really make a shooter accountable. We can only punish him retributively–and most of the time, we can’t do that because he’s dead at the end of the shooting. We can’t make the situation fair. You can be responsible for repairing things you break. You can’t be responsible for bringing the dead back to life.

And there are all kinds of responsibility that gun fetishists reject:

We can’t require parents to secure weapons. We can’t require gun safes. We can’t require biometric locks that would only allow the dedicated user to fire a shot.

We can’t limit who can buy guns. We can’t track who owns them. States have attacked pediatricians’ right to ask about guns in the home in the same way that they ask about smoke detectors and car seats.

We can’t sue gun manufacturers or gun sellers except in rare cases. We have a federal law that deliberately makes it hard to sue these people. We protect the gun industry like we protect no other.

We can’t require insurance that would force the recognition that guns often cause accidental and malicious wounding and death. We can’t make gun owners pay for the risks they take.

We can’t make them report lost or stolen weapons. Most states do not require people who have had their guns stolen to report this information to the police. Who steals guns except for people plan to use them to commit more crime? These are the very people that gun fetishists are always invoking as their reason to own a gun in the first place, yet they don’t think that the rest of us have a right to know that they’ve just irresponsibly allowed themselves to be robbed of their own guns by these people.

We can’t hold parents responsible for shooting their children “by accident” or for the “accidental” shooting deaths their children cause. We call failing to secure a gun an “accident” when it is really a failure of personal responsibility. And it happens all the time. Today, more toddlers than police officers are killed by guns. We’ve made childhood more dangerous than fighting crime.


All of these ways that gun owners could be responsible but refuse to… they make me think that “personal responsibility” is just a code for “arm yourself”–that the goal isn’t a more responsible society but one that simply has more guns in it.


Is there actual grace for this moment?

Hi Joel,

I admit to feeling lost in my anger this week. Is it the Mennonite thing to do? On the one hand, I’m a Mennonite and I’m doing it (a descriptive approach to faith), so, yeah. On the other, it’s not what this faith teaches (a prescriptive approach), so no. And it’s certainly not admirable.

But God knows it’s honest.

That’s a public confession (the kind we used to do before communion, if you were a certain kind of Mennonite), not a point of pride.

And the worst of this feeling isn’t that it’s directed at the NRA or do-nothing members of Congress but at people I love, like my grandmother and my great-aunt, who together lovingly finished a set of quilts for our family this past year, ones that my great-grandmother had begun before she died a few years ago. I tuck my children into bed each night under them, a new generation of my family enveloped in the labor and love of generations. And I’m furious, because I know that either of these two women would, in fact, take a bullet for my children–but their support of a gun culture is actually what puts my children in danger. They aren’t villains, but I can’t visit my grandmother in her home because she won’t lock up her guns.

So, how do we forbear when our people who are loving and sometimes even heroic also support practices and policies that risk our lives?

You quote the Confession of Faith:

Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of children and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital punishment.

How do we “witness against all forms of violence” when it seems that the only thing that proponents of guns understand or respect is violence?

Let me turn to a Catholic concept: grace for the present moment. The 18th century Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes in Abandonment to Divine Providence: “If we have abandoned ourselves to God, there is only one rule for us: the duty of the present moment.” That is, in whatever moment we are in–even if it’s a very hostile one, with enemies all around us and confusion about our place here–we can rely on God to help us  adhere to our faith. In Catholic terms, God provides actual grace, the extra help or encouragement we need in that moment, to do what might in a different moment be impossible, like the shot of adrenaline that propels you forward into danger to save someone’s life in an act of bravery you couldn’t do in any other moment. It doesn’t just happen, though–it is something that God blesses you with when you “abandon” yourself.

Image result for Jean-Pierre de Caussade

I see your Menno Simons and raise you a Jean-Pierre de Caussade, pictured above. 

That’s the hard thing, though. The abandoning yourself. And it’s especially hard when the reason you are holding on to yourself is because you are afraid for the lives of your children. If there is a harder “present moment,” I don’t want to imagine it.





Toward a (mostly) Mennonite politics

Good ol’ Menno Simons.

Dear Rebecca:

The slogan of this blog is that we write from a “(mostly) Mennonite” perspective. It’s a recognition that we both have long ties to the church, while also acknowledging there are areas where we part with church orthodoxy.

And let’s face it: There are days when our minds are Mennonite, but our hearts aren’t. In our anger over the Florida school shooting of recent days, I think it’s fair to say we’ve both approached that state of being.

There’s nothing more Mennonite than pacifism, right? Here’s part of what the confession of faith has to say about that:

As followers of Jesus, we participate in his ministry of peace and justice. He has called us to find our blessing in making peace and seeking justice. We do so in a spirit of gentleness, willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service. The same Spirit that empowered Jesus also empowers us to love enemies, to forgive rather than to seek revenge, to practice right relationships, to rely on the community of faith to settle disputes, and to resist evil without violence.

Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of children and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital punishment.

As I say: I don’t think either of us are 100 percent on board with this. But I think we both largely are.

I wonder how the confession of faith would be written in today’s American political climate?

Our political debates are not usually violent, per se, but there’s no denying that — these days, at least — they’re extremely hostile. Mennonites used to sit politics out. Not so much anymore. But should we be witnessing against that hostility in our politics and political speech?

There are practical reasons to think so. For one, it’s clear that outside forces are using that hostility against us.

Moreover: One of my core beliefs is that almost nobody in life sees themself a villain. There are rare exceptions. But treating people like villains hardens hearts and makes progress more difficult in 97 percent of cases. So it seems incumbent on me to treat people like they believe what they say, even if I can spot what should be cognitive dissonance a mile away, even if what they say seems like transparent bullshit. Screaming and name-calling rarely produce solutions or consensus. Hostility only breeds more hostility. It almost never breeds justice. That’s true even if the hostility is utterly deserved.

And justice is the aim, right? Or, depending on where you’re at on the Menno spectrum, one of the aims, right?

I don’t just think this stuff because I’m a nice guy who can’t take his own side, though I know some folks think that about me. I also happen to think it’s true, and because true, the best path toward lasting justness and rightness.

I have fallen short of this standard, frequently, in thinking about our politics. All we can do is stumble, dust ourselves off, and resume the journey. And pray that we’re doing it right.

We fall short sometimes. But this is my statement of purpose.