Will They Know We are Christians by Our Love?

Will They Know We are Christians by Our Love? February 5, 2014

Funny raise your voice argument

“A Christian murderer…It’s not me saying this, it’s the Lord. And there is no place for nuances. If you speak ill of your brother, you kill your brother. And every time we do this, we are imitating that gesture of Cain, the first murderer in History.” Pope Francis

I want to tell you two stories, both true, and both of which happened to me.

Back when I was running for office the first time around, I held a fund-raising party at a friend’s house. During the course of that campaign, I had been the target of a group of people who were strongly pro life. I had preachers at the largest churches in the district, preaching against me every Sunday. I had pro life people, walking door-to-door throughout the entire district, spreading outrageous lies about me.

For some reason, whenever a woman runs for office, the lies usually center around sex. I was denounced as a lesbian/prostitute/whore. I was also called a Communist.

When the fund-raising party took place, several of the pro life people showed up and took photos of the guests as they entered the house in what everyone thought was an attempt to intimidate them. They also made a point of writing down the license tag numbers on the guests’ cars.

That was back then, when I was pro choice.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and I am a converted Catholic, and what has been called the most pro life member of the Oklahoma legislature. (That’s the same Oklahoma legislature I was in back when I was pro choice.)

I hold another fund-raising event, this time a reception at the law office of a long-time friend of mine. Once again, I have been attacked by people who are passionate about the issue of abortion. Only this time it is the pro abortion people. I almost get censured by the Oklahoma Democratic Party. I am called a woman-hater/liar/whore. I am also called a (get ready for this) Fascist.

Now, at this fund-raising party, the pro abortion people show up. They — you guessed it — take photos of the guests as they enter the building, presumably to intimidate them, and write down the license tag numbers on the guest’s cars. The only difference between them and the pro life people who attacked me in my past is that they add the flourish of pickets with signs and chanting “traitor” at me in loud voices when I walk into the building.

Here’s my point: How, exactly, would a person on the sidelines be able to tell these two groups apart?

Answer: They’re can’t.

Both groups justify their behavior with claims that they are behaving badly out of a desire to create a greater good. The pro choicers claim that they are motivated by their love for women. The pro lifers say that they are motived by their love for unborn babies.

But if there is love in either group, you can’t see it by watching them. Their motivation appears to be hatred of one another.

In my humble opinion, if you can’t tell the difference between the behavior of pro life people and pro abortion people, then the pro life people are doing something wrong.

Evidently, my earlier post about slander and hate in political campaigns, felt like a personal attack to at least a few Public Catholic readers. That was not my intention. I know how hard it is to keep your religion when you are dealing with evil, and abortion is evil, right down to the ground. It perverts everything it touches, including good intentions.

It is the easiest thing in the world to convince yourself that sin is not sin if it is committed in the name of doing good. Politicians do this all the time. It’s why nobody trusts them. Politicians have extraordinary verbal skills and a good dose of legal sophistry at their disposal. They can spin up explanations about their own behavior and use those explanations to give themselves a green light to do just about anything. They excuse immoral behavior by claiming a moral imperative to behave immorally on just about every weasel vote they take.

Anyone who engages in the political battles of this world — even volunteers and well-wishers — is positioning themselves for a blast from the temptations of power. There are plenty of power brokers out there working full-time to grease the slide of ordinary people into the same self-congratulatory self-excusing self-justifications that politicians use.

But the truth itself remains untouched. In the end, the only ones we fool are ourselves.

What I’m trying to say is Do not let the evil of abortion and the venality of politics overwhelm your goodness and destroy your Christian witness. Do not tell yourself that sin is not sin if it is committed in the name of fighting abortion. Do not tell yourself that maliciously spreading ugly stories and gossip about other people is ok if it’s done to keep a pro abort out of office.

Because it is not ok. You may not do evil for a good cause. You also may not do evil because someone else did it first. It is wrong. It is sinful. For your own sake — for your own soul — do not become hardened in this sin of personal character assassination.

Several commenters have objected to the use of the phrase “murder with words” to describe the deliberate destruction of another person’s reputation for malicious purposes. I have looked into the eyes and seen the faces of people from both sides of the argument as they spit out vile epithets at me. I saw who sent them in their eyes. I never doubted that they were trying to hate me to death, that the only thing between their hate and actual, physical murder was fear of the law. The experience gave me an understanding of what Jesus meant when he said that a person who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and no murderer has eternal life within him. 

Think for a minute. Consider the dark pleasure that you feel when you are venting your righteous rage. Ponder the ugliness that enters your soul, along with the anger that accompanies it.

I spent a good bit of time in church this weekend, praying about my own righteous anger over fallen Catholics in high places. I knew that I could not and would not take to the various forums that are open to me and begin calling them names and putting out Photoshopped versions of their faces, replete with horns and ugly expressions. I had no temptation to degrade them as human beings or to spread ugly stories about them to punish and hurt them.

But I knew that the anger I felt could fester into bitterness, and that this bitterness would separate me from the one place above all that I want to be, which is in a state of grace. I want to do what my Lord Jesus Christ requires of me. So, I prayed about this anger before it had time to grow roots and begin to own me.

It is ok, it is fine, in fact, to deal with issues and facts and to point out the areas where you disagree with a person. It is ok, when the facts themselves warrant it, to say something such as President Obama is the most pro abortion president in history. I think there is sufficient factual evidence to warrant that statement, and I also think that it pertains to his job performance.

As their employers, the American people are obliged to have opinions about their elected officials’ job performance. Judiciously considering the facts and making reasoned judgements about how our elected officials perform their jobs is part of our charge as citizens of this Republic.

It is also imperative that Christians engage the larger culture through their work, their politics and their ministries. We are called to be the light of the world. We need to go into the world and be that light.

But trashing another person for the pleasure of hurting them — which is the real reason people repeat ugly, personal stories — is sinful. Trashing another person as a tactic is just as sinful. I am not talking about legitimate political criticism. I am talking about attempts to destroy someone’s reputation by spitefully spreading personal stories about them in what amounts to a political vendetta. Use any excuse you want, that is a sin. If you will just look into your own heart, at the darkness it puts there, you will know it for the sin it is.

I can attest to this because I am a human being. I know about the dark pleasure of hurting someone with words because I have felt it. I can tell you, based on my sinful experience that this is a grave sin that not only inflicts helplessness, humiliation and scalding pain on the person you attack, it dips your own soul in the blackness of evil. It is from the pit.

The question is not whether or not “everybody else is doing it.” Of course they are. Our whole culture is rotten with the politics of personal destruction. That is not a question at all.

The real question is: When people look at pro life advocates, will they be able to tell a difference between us and the pro abortion advocates?

Unless the answer to that is a clear-cut and resounding “yes,” we will never, no matter how hard we try, convert this culture to Christ.

After I wrote this, I found these comments from Pope Francis on this subject. From CNA/EWTN:

.- During his morning Mass homily in Santa Marta, Pope Francis focused on the topic of gossip – saying that when we participate in this sin, we imitate Cain’s gesture in killing his brother Abel.

The Pope began his homily Sept. 13 by echoing the words of Jesus in the gospel reading, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

He spoke for a few minutes on the virtue of humility, adding that Jesus addressed those who practice the opposite and who foster “that hateful attitude towards one’s neighbor when one becomes a ‘judge’ of his brother,” calling them “hypocrites.”

“Those who live judging their neighbor, speaking ill of their neighbor, are hypocrites, because they lack the strength and the courage to look to their own shortcomings.”

Pope Francis said that the “Lord does not waste many words on this concept,” and that “he who has hatred in his heart for his brother is a murderer.”

The Pope added that in his first letter, John the Apostle emphasizes that “anyone who has hatred for his brother is a murderer, he walks in darkness, he who judges his brother walks in darkness,” and that those who judge or speak ill of others are “Christian murderers.”

“A Christian murderer…It’s not me saying this, it’s the Lord. And there is no place for nuances. If you speak ill of your brother, you kill your brother. And every time we do this, we are imitating that gesture of Cain, the first murderer in History.”

During this time when there is so much debate and discussion about war amid cries for peace, the pontiff pleaded that “a gesture of conversion on our own behalf is necessary.”

“Gossip,” he cautioned, “always has a criminal side to it. There is no such thing as innocent gossip.”

Quoting St. James the Apostle, the Pope imparted that the tongue is designed to praise God, “but when we use our tongue to speak ill of our brother or sister, we are using it to kill God…the image of God in our brother.”

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18 responses to “Will They Know We are Christians by Our Love?”

  1. I’m going to tell another story. The story of why I became pro-life and anti-gay marriage.

    When I was in college, a third party called “the Christian Coalition” took over city government in Klamath Falls. Their main thrust seemed to be against homosexuals (or perceived homosexuals, more on that in a couple of paragraphs) and homeless people.

    The homeless were easy. Free one-way bus tickets to Medford with every vagrancy arrest. Out of sight, out of mind.

    The homosexuals were a bit harder. An ordinance was passed- no tax money could be spent promoting homosexuality. The response? A couple of elementary school teachers got fired. And suddenly, the DA decided he could not prosecute any assault and battery case that could be gay bashing.

    That’s right, calling your opponent gay in a bar fight was a get out of jail free card.

    The Newman Club responded to this with a “The Body of Christ Has AIDS” vigil and retreat. And I participated in it. I learned then the difference between sacramental marriage and civil unions, and became anti-government marriage.

    I was also passively pro-choice at this time. There were Operation Rescue volunteers in the Newman Club, I considered them to be a bit fanatical. Even back then, I saw charity, not law, as the surest way to end abortion (still do, my KofC council raised $1800 for Birthright last year, as well as giving money to Fr. Taaffe homes for unwed mothers).

    What changed in the next dozen years? Exactly the type of rhetoric that Rebecca describes. Churches vandalized. Multnomah county (having graduated from college, I moved back to the Valley) loudly flouting state law and issuing marriage certificates for homosexuals. The birth of my special needs son. Finding that letter on George Tiller’s website from a mother with a son with my disability wishing she had killed him. Lawsuits against businesses that don’t want to be involved in homosexuality. The general destruction of our pluralist society has convinced me that the middle of the road is now a very bad place to be.

    Good for my soul? Maybe. But horrid for the common good. And we’re now falling apart into 11 separate countries, each with its own customs, laws, and economics.

    And remember, it was behavior exactly like this from the other side that turned me against them.

      • It was the name of a retreat in the early 1990s, pointing out to more conservative types that AIDS was no longer just a minority gay-hippie-drug user disease, that we had members within the church who had contracted the disease, and that we needed to show more charity to those who had contracted the disease- especially to outcasts like homosexuals.

        Even today, I still give occasionally to an AIDS hospice in my parish. Just because I’m against gay marriage, doesn’t mean I get to throw my enemies out like they aren’t human.

  2. This is a good reminder in our hyper-polarized society, it reaches far beyond the issue of abortion. May our many disagreements be grounded in respect and said with kindness – an ideal I too often fail to meet.

  3. I confess. I can be bad, though I think I usually control myself here. About an a hour ago at a debate site I just told off a young lady who was so heartless in her pro-abortion stance that i just lost it. I told her she revolted me. I know, that’s no means of changing anyone’s mind (an admittedly sinful), but it’s unlikely she will change her mind any time soon. Still, it reflects badly on me, which doesn’t bother me so much, but it does reflect badly on Christians – and she knows I’m one – which does bother me. Thanks for the reminder.

    • At times like that, I sometimes think that it is better to say nothing, rather than lashing out, cowardly as it can seem. The best response is to find a way of treating the other person with love, but if we’re not capable of that, then silence is always arecourse. When John McCain and Sarah Palin were in the presidential elections, my brother’s wife, who is passionately pro-choice, declared that Palin “wasn’t a woman” because she opposed abortion. What Palin was (instead of a woma) wasn’t clear, but the message was that the membership card for womanhood required supporting all women’s “rights” to an abortion. I’ll admit that reacting with silence was not so difficult because I was speechless.

      • I’ve been told I hate women and want to see them raped and murdered. Hatred makes people crazy.

        I think I need to write more about the whole topic of how to deal with people who hate Christians, are pro abortion, etc. We’re in a war and we need to know how to fight that war as soldiers for Christ.

        • I’m not sure I could take the criticism that turns into outright hatred that politicians get. In order to take it goes way beyond having a thick skin.
          Thank you for being courageous enough to deal with it 🙂

        • As I was thinking about this more last night, I thought that perhaps the ability to regard others with love, when our instincts urge us to lash out at them–perhaps that ability is a grace that God bestows on us. Certainly it doesn’t come naturally, at least not for most people. While we are praying and waiting for that grace to descend upon us, it would help to read more insights and practical about how to respond to others who express hate for Christians and Christian beliefs. So I hope you do write more about this topic, Rebecca.

      • I have a few “friends of friends” on facebook who seem to enjoy making replies to things I say for the sake of trying to get a reaction. I have also found silence is often the best thing I can manage to “reply” with, tho it does feel cowardly. But when I consider what I “want” to say reflects poorly on Christians (I too don’t care about my personal rep that much!), I have to swallow my pride and, in lieu of something witty let the provocation/insult slide. When I don’t, I always regret it. :-/

        • Dehumanization is the root of it. This came from someone who I like very much, although I disagree with some of her views, and she delivered it in the context of being strongly “pro-woman.” So perhaps by dehumanizing a female public figure who is opposed to abortion, my sister-in-law gave herself permission to attack another woman.

  4. Thank you for going here again with great examples… We all need more of this… love is the only weapon we have. Respect builds bridges rather than blowing them up. Pope Framcis is the best example I’ve seen since Dr. King and Ghandhi. I’m finally making progress helping folks see that pushing abortion and unsafe chemicals at women is not healthy. Prayer, facts and respect make all the difference. And going to confession many times for detraction as I learn. It helps to rennet that not every group or journalist who appears to be on “our” side truly is and those opposed may one day be great saints. Keep us real Rebecca…jah love!

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