I don’t feel hate
The last time I gave an exhortation was in 2005, and when I was thinking about what to say today, I had to make a decision about whether or not to address the elephant in the room, or to ignore him.
I think that life is too short to ignore elephants, so the elephant will not be ignored. I am gay, and I am married to another man, and I am Christadelphian. For many years I was not a member of a Central Fellowship Ecclesia, but in February of last year I was warmly welcomed into this ecclesia. I am profoundly grateful to each and every one of you, individually and collectively for that.
As expected, there were individuals in the wider Christadelphian community who were less than enthusiastic about your decision, and I understand that one or two of them have made their disagreement known to you.
These disagreements have been handled wonderfully by the ecclesia. I’ve never been made to feel that I am a burden to you, and I have seen some wonderfully tactful emails sent by David, as well as receiving many beautifully supportive messages from you.
One of the things that people have said to me in private is that they didn’t realise just how bad homophobia can be, and that they are impressed with the grace that I have displayed in response to some of the hostility that has been directed at me.
One of my last exhortations at Belfast was about tolerance. Somewhat ironically, it was well received. I thought it would be appropriate to tell you, in my first exhortation at Edinburgh, about how I deal with intolerance.
It must be said that it is partly due to experience. As the saying goes, you can get used to anything except hanging.
You will be pleased to know that is only a part of it, and a small part at that.
I am going to fly off at a tangent now and talk about mental health. For almost all of my adult life I have struggled with depression and anxiety. In recent years I have been privileged to have a very good relationship with a very skilled counsellor, and I have benefited greatly from that. My counsellor has taught me cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness meditation. Because of that, depression and anxiety are no longer things that I struggle with. And because of that, I am very aware of how my emotions work and how much control I can have over them.
If someone approached you on the street and started to shout in your face, you might respond by shouting back. That’s the normal thing to do, I guess. But as someone leading a mindful meditation might say “there is a gap between stimulus and response”.
That gap is tiny, but if you are looking for it, it is there. Sometimes, with practice, you can change the response.
The normal response to a hostile stimulus is a hostile response, but if you are aware of that gap, that tiny gap, between stimulus and response you can change it. This is not easy, but it is possible.
To apparently fly off on another tangent, I’m going to talk about the German entry in the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. In 2021, the British entry came last in the final, in 26th place with no points. The German entry came 25th, with three points. Despite that, I think the German entry in the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest was really rather wonderful. It was written by Jendrik Sigwart and Christoph Oswald, and performed by Sigwart, and it is called I Don’t Feel Hate.
If I could, I would perform my own version of I Don’t Feel Hate right now, but, alas, I lack the vocal range necessary, so I am just going to read to you what I think are the most important words in the song.
I don’t feel hateI Don’t Feel Hate
I just feel sorry
You feel so very clever whenever you find another way to wear me down
But I don’t feel hate
I just feel sorry
So you can wiggle with that middle finger, it’ll never wiggle back to you
Those words encapsulate how, with the benefit of experience and the privilege of years of therapy, I feel.
People approach me with hostility. People approach me with hate. They often do those things with a very thin veneer of “Christian love”. I was able to find the gap between those stimuli and my responses. I don’t feel hate; I just feel sorry. I feel sorry for the hostile and hateful.
Negativity feeds negativity. If I responded to hostility and hate with hostility and hate, then I wouldn’t feel any better. I would feel worse. And, of course, there is more hostility and hate in the world, making it a worse place.
Positivity feeds positivity. If I respond to hostility and hate with kindness and love, I feel better. And, of course, there is more kindness and love in the world, making it a better place.
I don’t feel hate, I just feel sorry, and because I feel sorry I can respond with love and kindness.
I just want to clarify at this point that this is something that I have learned after more than a decade of therapy, and my therapist is probably one of the most qualified therapists in the country. It isn’t easy to respond in this way, and nobody should be ashamed if they can’t.
One of the wonderful things about exhorting is you have a captive, and polite, audience. Much as I would like to continue to talk about psychology, and much as I would love to tell you about my second favourite Eurovision song (which is the 2007 Bulgarian entry, if you are interested) this is an exhortation, and it ought to contain some uplifting scriptural reflection, some “edifying preparation for the breaking of bread” as the Ecclesial Guide says.
Matthew 5, verses 38 and 39.
You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.Matthew 5:39-39, NIV
The entire substance of this exhortation comes from those two verses. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek. Don’t respond to hostility and hatred with hostility and hatred. Don’t feel hate, just feel sorry.