“I was surprised when I heard the numbers among black voters, which was f—ing shameful. And, of course, the Mormons. What it comes down to is the churches are not operating like instruments of love. They’re hate machines. They’re ignorance factories.” —actor Sean Penn, commenting on those who supported California’s Proposition 8, a measure that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman [rollingstone.com, 2/6/09]

Our gut reaction to Sean Penn’s comments might be a good indicator of how correct his assessment is of churches and Christians. Was my first reaction one of disgust for his opinion? Did I want to retaliate in some way? Or did I long for him to see and understand Jesus for who He really is? If my reaction is the latter then I am on the right path, the path toward loving those who oppose Christ and His church.

Penn could be considered correct when he says churches are “ignorance factories” if we find it difficult to love him and others like him who slur the Bride of Christ. Ignorance? Of what? Ignorant of the command to love those who oppose us, who hate us, those who deride us and despise us. Any reaction less than love is falling short of Christ’s command. Admittedly, love has many forms and expressions, but it never looks, tastes or feels hateful or demeaning.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Penn is a lone voice. There are many who share his opinion but lack the forum to express it. Instead of a microphone and camera provided by national media, they take to the blogosphere and express themselves there. I personally feel this is part of a growing trend of anti-church attitudes that perceives the church as being an obstacle to growth and progress.

How should the church respond to accusations of “hate machines” and “ignorance factories?” When I read my Bible I feel like the only appropriate response is — one life, mine and yours, lived in obedience and reckless love for every person we come in contact with. Yes, it is slow. It is tedious. The masses won’t respond. But it seems to be the way of faith. Life on life. Day in and day out!