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Tolerate Intolerance?
January 16, 2000

PSALM 139:1-6, 13-18, 19-22

A member of our Merced church is a retired school bus driver. During one kindergarten run, a little black girl sat behind him and talked. Oh, she loved to talk. She talked all the way to school, and she talked all the way home, day after day. But, one day she didn't say a word. He asked her if she was okay. She said, "I've been thinking. I think we should get married, and I will have two babies'a white one for you and a black one for me." Why can't we live in a world with that kind of harmony?

I consider myself a tolerant person. I am accepting of people. I look for the best in people. I believe in "live and let live," but tolerance has its limits. What I cannot tolerate is intolerance!

Isn't it interesting how the lectionary (the Sunday passages of Scripture which have been selected by some committee somewhere that Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and United Methodists use) edits the passages and leaves out the offensive parts! The lectionary omits the parts that offend our delicate, sophisticated, so-called civilized ears. Thus, we end up with pabulum for a gospel. This morning, you heard read an edited version of Psalm 139 (vs. 1-6 and 13-18)-- beautiful, comforting words how the Lord is always with us. Let me read a section the lectionary omitted: Psalm 139:19-22

"O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

And that the bloodthirsty would depart from me'

Those who speak of you maliciously,

And lift themselves up against you for evil!

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

I hate them with perfect hatred;

I count them my enemies."

Wow! Yes, even today, especially today, there are enemies out there who hate the Lord, who speak maliciously, who lift themselves up against the Lord for evil! Often they hate the Lord in the name of the Lord, holding the cross, calling themselves the true believers. They hate the Lord because they hate selected people, and if you hate people, you hate God. 1 John tells us we love God by loving people, and conversely, 1 John 4:20, "Those who say, 'I love God' and hate their brothers and sisters are liars." And Psalm 139 tells us to hate the haters with perfect, total hatred, to count them as enemies. Yes, Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but Jesus did not tolerate hatred; and we must not tolerate intolerance.

When Tiger Knowles moved with his family to Mobile, Alabama, he was a loner, accustomed to rejection. He dropped out of school in the 8th grade. He was vulnerable when he was approached by an organization called the United Klans of America. The people were nice to him. He felt accepted. He joined and swore to uphold the "God-given supremacy of the white race." Tiger began his career with the klan by burning crosses on lawns, slashing tires on the cars of homosexuals and blacks, and beating up gay men.

When a hung jury failed to convict a black man for killing a white policeman, Tiger and his friends decided a statement had to be made. "I wonder," Tiger said, "what people would think if they found a nigger hanging in Mobile." They got a rope, tied a hangman's noose, and went looking for a victim. 19-year-old Michael Donald was walking alone that night. They forced him into the car and drove to a garbage dump. When they got out of the car, Michael lunged at Tiger. They fought. Tiger grabbed a tree limb and beat Michael over and over until Michael lay on the ground gasping for breath. They put the noose over his head. They burned a cross that night on the courthouse lawn and hung Michael's body on a tree. At his trial, Tiger wept and said he was sorry for what he had done.

Charlie Howard was fair-haired and small-boned. He had a learning disability. He had severe asthma. The way he walked and talked set him apart from most of the other boys in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. As a little kid, he got laughed at and called a "sissy." In high school, he got shoved around and called a "fag." After graduating, he eventually moved to Bangor, Maine, and moved in with two men who befriended him. One bright spot in his life was how warmly he was welcomed by the Unitarian Church who had a number of openly gay members. Many of the other churches were openly hostile and preachers used their pulpits to blame gays and lesbians for many of society's ills. One day in the grocery store a middle-aged woman suddenly started shouting at him, "You pervert! You queer!" Humiliated, Charlie dropped his basket and walked to the door, terrified. However, just before exiting, he turned and blew a kiss at the cluster of hateful faces. One morning, he stepped outside to find his pet kitten strangled on the doorstep.

One evening, teenagers hollered from their car, "Hey, fag!" and chased Charlie. He ran but tripped on the sidewalk and fell down. He couldn't get his breath. His asthma kicked in. The boys grabbed him, kicking and punching him. "Over the bridge!" one of them shouted. Charlie snatched enough breath to yell, "I can't swim," but they heaved him up onto the guardrail, pried his hands loose and shoved him over into the black water 20 feet below. Hours later, the rescue divers pulled his body out of the river. A week later, on the bridge where Charlie Howard was tossed over, someone spray-painted three words: "Faggots Jump Here."

Can we tolerate such intolerance? Should we tolerate hatred? My plea this morning is that we cease tolerating hatred, that we cease letting such things happen without doing something, and be assertive, be aggressive in no longer tolerating intolerance.

What is frightening today is that hate crimes and hate groups are growing. Why? According to Morris Dees, cofounder and chief counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, "The most dangerous aspect of the modern organized hate movement is the (what do you think?) Internet." There are web pages dedicated to hate--- spewing, recruiting, and inciting hate. One popular and influential web site is operated by William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries which gave Timothy McVeigh the incentive and blueprint for the Oklahoma City bombing.

The current targets of organized hate groups are blacks, Jews, gays, and immigrants (especially Southeast Asians and Mexicans.) Hate groups are taking advantage of the troubled situations of an underclass of white, working-and middle-class youths throughout America, and are actively recruiting them.

Let's get off our chairs and be assertive in the fight against hatred. Be aggressive. I have five suggestions on how to fight intolerance.

  1. Don't laugh at racist jokes. We don't have to be prudish about it and make a fuss; just don't laugh. The teller may eventually get the message when he/she gets no reaction to jokes about minorities, gays, or women.
  2. Teach your children and grandchildren not to hate or ridicule or put people down. Do not allow racism, sexism, etc. in your home. You are in charge of your house. Monitor TV and the Internet.
  3. Show solidarity with victims, show solidarity with those who are openly fighting hatred.
  4. Come this afternoon to the sanctuary at 3:00 when we host the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration.

    During the Annual Conference session last June in Sacramento, a Jewish synagogue was torched. In solidarity, we took a generous offering and Dick Whitmore's daughter, Pastor Faith Whitmore, led hundreds of us United Methodists to the Friday evening Sabbath Service where we worshiped with the Jewish congregation.

    Pastor Maggie showed solidarity by participating in the celebration of the holy union of two lesbians, in defiance of the intolerant social principles of the United Methodist Church. She goes on trial in February.

  5. Join a group that is combating intolerance. Ellie and I have supported the Southern Poverty Law Center* for many years. Morris Dees, who is white, is the son of a tenant cotton farmer in Alabama. In the 1960s, the example of civil rights crusaders transformed him from a successful mail-order publisher and general practice lawyer into a committed advocate in the struggle for racial equality. He cofounded the Southern Poverty Law Center 25 years ago. The center represents victims of discrimination and bias-motivated crimes. The theory is to bankrupt the hate groups through civil law suits. Dees' trial theme is "In America, you have the right to hate, but you don't have the right to hurt." The Center also tracks and reports on hate violence, monitors emerging white-supremacist paramilitary groups, and publishes and distributes a free magazine to school teachers called Teaching Tolerance.
  6. Get involved personally with victims of hate crimes. When you know them, or even if you don't know them, offer support and encouragement. Tell them they have legal rights. They don't have to take it, and there are lawyers who will represent them.

Do we tolerate intolerance? No way! Let us be aggressive so everyone together will walk hand in hand.

*Southern Poverty Law Center
400 Washington Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36104

© 2000 Douglas I. Norris