WHEATON, Ill. (RNS) May a Christian send hate mail?
This is no mere academic exercise; a friend of mine regularly receives many hateful emails from self-professing Christians. For example (I’ve kept their spelling and grammar intact):
- “I am a spirit-filled ordained pastor of the Gospel from the great state of Nebraska … We pray as one for you to die tonight in your sleep leaving a bloody mess for your family to find at daybreak … In Jesus holy Name we pray. Amen.”
- “…I pray to Jesus that heart will explode and bleed out gushing through your pointy jew nose. Jesus and the Air Academy will have the last laugh while you choke to death on your own blood you evil jew scum f****r.”
- “…our womens prayer circle at our church will be ending your wickedness against Christ Jesus and his anointed of the USA in our military … we pray that the women who work in your MFRR and the women in your family will befall fast moving breast cancer which can not everbe cured.”
What distinguishes these emails from ordinary hate mail is the weaponized use of Scripture and theology. The writers claim to be Christians and then write the most un-Christ like emails I’ve ever seen. What would Jesus do with his opponents today? He wouldn’t threaten violence and death to those he disagreed with or used vulgar, anti-Semitic and repulsive language.
I’ve known Mikey Weinstein, a self-described agnostic, since the late 1990s. We both served as military JAG officers, Weinstein in the Air Force and I in the Navy. He served as a lawyer in President Reagan’s White House. I served as the U.S. Attorney in New Mexico for the George W. Bush administration. I’m a practicing evangelical Christian, the son and grandson of Southern Baptist ministers and missionaries.
Some target Weinstein as the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Its mission is to ensure that “…all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom…”
Based on my 30 years of active and reserve duty, I understand military culture. Its rank structure requires commanders and senior officers to be careful not to force their subordinates into extra-military activities like commercial ventures, voting for specific candidates or forced participation in sectarian religious practices. The hierarchal, pluralistic and disciplined culture of the military, combined with its global reach into dangerous places, distinguish it from civilian professions.
Weinstein and I do not agree on many things, but we are still friends. While he focuses on the First Amendment’s prohibition on established religion, I focus on its guarantee of free religious exercise. I agree that our military members should not be forced to accept sectarian religious views, any more than they should be forced into voting for one political party. I believe the Constitution’s free exercise clause allows service members to share their faith subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. Christian service members may comply with the Great Commission, subject to common sense limitations.
Yet the vile emails Weinstein receives display an appalling rejection of Christ’s message of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
When I was young, people said to avoid conversations about politics and religion with strangers. In this day of anonymously posted comments, that advice has gone by the wayside. It is far too easy to snipe from the shadows without the courage to identify yourself to the person you are attacking. The stench of hate mail I’ve read concerning the MRFF leads me to believe that many self -described Christians either do not know or reject biblical authority.
The Bible is crystal clear on how to treat opponents. Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He also tells his followers to “turn the other cheek.” James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote in his epistle, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” The Apostle John adds: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” (I John 2:9)
I used to sing a hymn in church as a child with this lyric, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” Perhaps we should start singing that song again.
(David Iglesias is the director of the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy and is an associate professor of politics and law at Wheaton College outside Chicago. He retired from the U.S. Navy Reserve JAG Corps as a Captain in 2014. He is a veteran of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Enduring Freedom where he prosecuted war crimes in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.)