Defining "Hate"

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, January 27, 2014

Defining "Hate"

I think I’ve reached a tipping point with our culture’s recent use of the word “hate.”

The last straw came with the uproar over the nomination of Joni Eareckson Tada’s song “Alone Yet Not Alone” (from the movie by the same name) for an Oscar.  Beating out Coldplay, Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey to join the ranks of Frozen’s “Let it Go” and U2’s “Ordinary Love” (from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).

(Click on the link under "Sources" for the video of the song featuring Joni).

The nomination has received numerous negative reactions, and it has nothing to do with the song.  It has to do with the fact that it is tied to a faith-based film that was endorsed by such people as (gasp!) James Dobson and Rick Santorum. immediately said the movie was endorsed by “anti-gay hate group activists.”  The Boston Globe chimed in with a headline, “The Oscar nomination that stinks to heaven.” 

As I said, this was just my tipping point.

Long before this was the constant use of the word “hater” for anyone who disagreed or critiqued another person, usually in the blogosphere and twitterverse. 

Let’s define hate, shall we?

Webster’s Dictionary says it is “to have strong dislike or ill will for; loathe.”  It goes further and says that “hate implies a feeling of great dislike or aversion, and, with persons as the object, connotes the bearing of malice.”

That’s strong. 

Much stronger than those it is often attached to in our modern world.

Which is why I don’t like the “haters” label applied to anyone who disapproves; it’s like crying “murder!” when anyone expresses frustration. 

I will say that using “hater” this way is slick.  It brings all the emotions against “hatred” to bear on your critics.  It puts them into a category that is easily dismissed instead of earnestly engaged. 

It’s a deft move.

But it’s also a false one.

Because it guts the importance of a word called “admonishment.”

The apostle Paul used it in a very important teaching:  “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16, NIV).

To admonish is to address, to upbraid, to confront, to challenge, to stir…

I don’t hate someone just because I might admonish them.  Actually, it might mean that I’m not a “hater,” but a “lover.”  I’m so rooting for them, believing in them, wanting them to succeed that when I see them walking toward a ditch – I’m going to say something.

Without a doubt, Christians (and non-Christians) have expressed their views in the past in ways that have felt hateful.  That is not only reprehensible, it is sad.

But to label all who disagree as “haters” is to take a powerful and important word and dilute it to mean mere disagreement.

Or even worse,

…actual concern.

James Emery White


Kate Tracy, “Hollywood's Latest Controversy: Oscar Nod for Christian Movie Song by Joni Eareckson Tada,” Christianity Today, January 17, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Defining "Hate"