Living by the Word: Holy Hate

Article excerpt

Sunday, November 25 Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 23:33-43

THEY WERE no angels. Whatever else they did or didn't do, or hoped to do, they hired strippers. Then prosecutor Mike Nifong charged them with rape, Duke University turned on the boys involved and the media feasted on what these white jocks gone wild had done.

Along with many others, I hated them. In the 1960s, jocks gone wild like these had taunted the herd I was in high school. I was sure that these spoiled rich boys deserved the punishment my boyhood accusers should have faced.

Jesus, who came to bring good news to the poor and let the oppressed go free, who embodied the Jeremiah 23 dream of one who would "reign as king and deal wisely, and ... execute justice and righteousness in the land," would have hated those rich boys too, we think. He would have chastized the offenders.

Except things got complicated. The villains turned out likely to be victims of false accusations. One victim apparently shredded young lives with lies. We could hate her, then, but even better to hate one who exploited lies for his own gain.

Nifong became the new villain, a prosecutor who cared nothing about evidence but only about ensuring his own reelection. Thank God Nifong had no redeeming qualities to complicate our righteous judgment. He deserved to pay for his sins. "Mr Nifong was clearly one of the worst," as the Economist said (September 15), so it was good to see him sit there, abjectly apologizing, even spending a night in jail, the mighty one fallen so those he oppressed might go free.

We could also hate those who had abetted Nifong, like "Mr Nifong's enablers in the Duke faculty" who, as the Economist asserted, "have learned nothing from it all.... Even after it was clear that the athletes were innocent, 87 faculty members published a letter categorically rejecting calls to recant their condemnation."

I even found myself tempted to hate the Economist, as it was so eager to turn the story into one more example of political correctness run amok. One could wonder if Nifong was the latest victim of mob justice. Was this finally the truth, or just the latest turn of a tale shot through with enough sin, ambiguity and hate to lure us all into its cesspool?

Thank God I at least was smart enough to wonder this. Thank God I was able to evaluate the sins in everyone else and even in myself, to see not only their own hate but also to acknowledge my own, and in so doing to be one step holier than the rest of the rabble.

Despair tempts. How do we climb out of the sewer of holier-than-thou-ness? Iraq: an Evil One once empowered by the U.S. hangs from a noose the U.S. helped weave. As blood and chaos flood the dictator's former killing fields, war supporters hate peace lovers' inability to hang tough in the name of freedom. …