By Janice Backer
Contributing Writer, B&R

GATLINBURG — “Who are the people that are hard for you to like?” asked Tony Rankin of the large number of women who were attending the recent Missions Get-Together & Connection Conference held in Gatlinburg.

The responses came from all parts of the auditorium — “kinfolk,”  “coworkers,” and “know-it-alls” — just to name a few.

Rankin, a counselor and author, was facilitating one of the breakout sessions of the conference called, “ I Know God Tells Me to Love, But …”.  Telling funny and yet sometimes vulnerable stories about his experiences, he continued to ask the audience probing questions about why we “hate” others.  He called it “group therapy.”  The audience responded enthusiastically, with laughter and honesty.

He offered four ideas that should be applied to change our attitude and then our behavior toward those that we find hard to love:

  • Realize you are afraid of what you don’t understand.
  • Be less judgmental.
  • Refuse to hate.
  • Ask yourself, Do I look or sound like Christ?

“We are church people,” he said. “And we are the problem.”  He embellished that idea by mentioning how attitudes have somewhat changed when it comes to skin color.  Past generations were outright hateful to others of a different skin color. Although that attitude and behavior has improved, hatred is still in our churches.

“Until we get past it, our churches will not grow,” added Rankin, who also serves as minister of pastoral care at First Baptist Church, Nashville.  He discussed the new challenges facing churches — Muslims in our communities and gender identity issues like homosexuality, transgender, and bisexual.  First, we must understand them to be able to be less judgmental.

Being less judgmental does not mean we condone sinful behavior, he said.  The Bible is still the standard that we must use to know what is correct.

“We should have standards for right and wrong,” he said. However, when it comes to sin, “we are no better.”  Sin is sin whether it is gluttony or perverse sex.

“Our church is full of hate,” he continued. “We hate each other, we hate change, we hate blue hair, we hate contemporary music.  We hate.” Rankin read aloud 1 John 2:9-11 and 4:20-21, and repeated verse 20 — “If a man says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar … .”

He challenged the audience to be careful to be like Christ when dealing with those who are different.  Ask yourself — “Why do I hate this person? Then make a conscious effort to look and sound like Christ.”