By Reverend Alex Czerwonka
OPINION: Brian Tamaki declared, "This will be war if you call the Bible hate speech when any verse in it is quoted".
So, is there any hate speech in the Bible? Well, plenty actually.
During the more than 1000 years in which the Bible was written, the writers recorded a lot of what we would call hate speech.
They lived through turbulent times, so the Bible records their experiences and, in many cases, the language used is extreme.
It is a mistake, however, to think that just because something is described it is thereby prescribed.
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The Bible describes Cain's murder of his brother Abel. This doesn't make it a recommendation for others. This, and other evil deeds, are recorded to caution us against doing the same.
The basis for our current understanding of hate speech is in the Human Rights Act section 61 where it is described as an offence to use "words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting... likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons".
Other sections of the Act prohibit such speech directed at groups on the basis of their religion or sexuality.
The Bible has several passages that would fit this description, among them the maledictions of Matthew chapter 23 in which Jesus accuses a prominent religious group of his time, the scribes and Pharisees of being hypocrites, blind guides, fools, and a generation of vipers. Jesus had his reasons; context matters a great deal. When people act despicably, murdering the innocent such as in recent terrorist events, what language can we use for such people and actions?
Those who act in ways contrary to law - and mass murder is surely that - must be brought to account before the law; and if the group they belong to has supported them and their actions then that group must be brought to account as a criminal group. This is not prejudice or hate speech, it is evidence-based due process.
When people come to recognise that their inherent sexuality is different from the heterosexual majority, does that make them fair game for hate-filled denigration? No! Does that strip them of the right to be recognised and affirmed as citizens; to have the rights and freedoms of other citizens - to fall in love, marry, work, be treated with respect in the community? No, it doesn't and our society, and some churches, now affirm their rights and freedoms and seek to protect them.
Those who cherry-pick favourite verses of the Bible to support prejudice or hateful speech or violent actions have misread the overarching theme of the Bible.
This theme is redemptive love. However, hateful, murderous, sinful and criminal human actions and words may be, redemption is possible. What people intend for evil, God can turn to good.
Do Brian Tamaki's words point us in that direction? Not without some explanation. What does he mean by "This will be war!"? The Bible is not the exclusive property of Brian Tamaki, nor of the church.
Some passages in it are disturbing and difficult when read out of context. It has an overarching message of love including respect for those who are different and even love for our enemies.
In the multi-religious and multi-ethnic world of St Paul's time, he gave this advice: "Live in such a way as to cause no trouble either to Jews or Gentiles or to the church of God".
His approach was to think and act for the good of all. It would be good to hear more of this kind of message from our religious leaders.
Rev Alex Czerwonka is the Vicar at St Luke's Anglican Parish in Rotorua.