GOD HATES YOU
The Last of Deuteronomy
Like the nations that God will cause to perish before you, so shall you perish – because you did not heed the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 8:20
There is an independent Baptist church in the Midwest that has gained national notoriety by carrying a message of hate to every corner of the country. Unlike a lot of groups that are accused of purveying hate, this church is up front about it. Its picket signs are familiar at gay pride events, military funerals, the Supreme court and, why not, synagogues. At least one slogan among the many always includes the message “GOD HATES (your characteristic here).”
I have spent no time reflecting on their theology, which is somewhat peculiar for adherents of a tradition that celebrates God’s love and grace. But were I someone who read the Bible both literally and selectively, I could identify the exact place that would undergird the message of a vengeful deity who demands total obedience.
It’s this last verse of chapter 8 of Deuteronomy, and reading it brought this renegade band of proud hatemongers immediately to mind.
Ideas like this are a difficult challenge for people of faith. There is a temptation for believers to swat them away by claiming a broader context, or a superseding set of scriptural texts, or a different revelation, but this angry rhetoric turns up in more than one place and in more than one tradition. Whether you are convinced that your sacred text is divinely written or the product of inspired human transmission, suggesting a verse like this is not determinative requires denial or intentional misinterpretation.
It’s a pretty terrorizing assessment of the relationship between God and the devoted. In fact – forgive me the blasphemy – it sounds downright abusive. “I will love you and provide for you, but if you don’t do what I say, I will punish you, maybe even kill you.” It doesn’t matter what the nature of the transgression is (in this instance, it is alienation of appreciation and infidelity), such a conversation between lovers would be grounds for a restraining order. Okay, I am finished with the blasphemy.
I have no obligation to defend God, not that the Holy One needs it to begin with. The verse is not the only description of the consequences of transgression in the Bible, and it strikes me as an attempt to set boundaries that might be crossed by those who would presume an uninvited familiarity or, worse, parity with the Divine. For someone predisposed to seeing this warning as definitive, it is proof positive. But there is no denying that for someone predisposed to God-as-love, verses like this mean pretty tough love.
The members of that church must find some strange satisfaction in lifting up the dangerous side of devotion. Just as I can’t explain away the harshness of the Biblical threat, I can’t explain away the hatefulness of these believers. But if I am skeptical of their message, then I must be skeptical of anyone else who limits the nature of a limitless God. I will stick with mystery over certainty. There is less pressure to be correct.
But I do have a reaction to the public theology of these midwestern fanatics. I won’t respond in kind. I don’t find much satisfaction in going head-to-head with people determined to have such a sour view of humanity and such an unpleasant sense of rectitude about God.
They have been more successful than any of us hope (maybe except them). The mantra of “GOD HATES (insert political opponent here)” has gained favor throughout the land, part of the politics of confrontation that began at least three administrations ago with a set of angry and unscrupulous leaders of the House of Representatives. Their confrontational, take-no-prisoners style, combined with a set of ethics from Roy Cohn, have encouraged the right and the left alike to embrace abusive behavior. And what is worse is that at least some of them do it in the name of their reading of the Bible.
The human family has managed to splinter into enough subgroups to cover modern expressions of “the nations God will cause to perish.” That they are still alive and thriving, including that midwestern church, is a pretty good indication that the verse in question is not literally operative. This verse would not be the first pronouncement of absolutism that has been reconsidered, even by God, and certainly not the last. Maybe it is time to try something else.