You’re a “hate group.” They’re a “hate group.” Your mom’s a “hate group.” If you disagree with me, you’re a “hate group.”

That is essentially what I’m hearing more and more these days coming from organizations on the ideological Left, and it has reached a tipping point of ridiculousness. Throwing around labels like this is intellectually lazy. It’s inflammatory. It’s defamatory. Frankly, it’s juvenile – something a school yard bully could get away with saying during recess that could never fly in a real classroom discussion.

It also has the effect of undermining the credibility of those touting these claims. (Much in the same way that reflexively hurling the terms “racist” and “bigot” or “[fill-in-the-blank]-PHOBE” are sadly becoming code words for “I’m not respectful or intelligent enough to engage you in a meaningful dialogue about complex issues.”)

Along with other leftist groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has for years been building upon its list of organizations in the United States it deems “hate groups” – a list used as authoritative by the Obama administration in order to target those groups.  More recently, the “mainstream” media has been using SPLC’s list to label groups it finds distasteful.  Some of the groups being added are Christian or pro-American groups who hold to common-sense traditional values like natural marriage, freedom, national sovereignty, and the rule of law. (In other words, all those things which enable a prosperous society.)

In the past week, SPLC dubbed Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) a “hate group,” apparently because the sitting Attorney General of the United States addressed a group of ADF attorneys at a closed forum wherein he had the audacity to say, among other similarly-themed things, "that every American has a right to believe, worship, and exercise their faith in the public square." Why…that must be code language for “HATE!” Darn it. Can’t get anything past that SPLC.

Considering some of the notables that have made SPLC’s list (Alliance Defending Freedom, American Family Association, and Family Research Council, to name a few) who work hard to protect life, preserve religious liberty, and promote freedom and domestic tranquility through the rule of law, I’m frankly surprised The Family Foundation of Virginia has yet to make their list. (Maybe even a little disappointed.) 

As we have also seen, labeling groups with which you disagree “hate groups” is also an invitation to violence.  A few years ago, a man entered FRC’s headquarters in Washington, DC intent on killing everyone there and had in his possession SPLC’s list that included FRC as a “hate group.”

The absurdity of it all speaks for itself. Yet few seem to be challenging the “hate group” label at a more fundamental level. The reason I know this is because it is generally true that deeming someone a “hate group” or “hater” is universally received as a kind of social stigmatism with which no one wants to be branded. It’s akin to publicly designating someone a leper, but with an intended effect more like that of designating someone a “terrorist organization.” That’s because it’s really about directing the overall narrative and defining your opponents rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. In that sense, it’s Political Mass Communication 101.

But getting beyond that, we must ask the question: What does SPLC mean by “hate”? And furthermore, is “hate” in itself always bad, as they seem to imply?  In actuality, when you take all of three seconds to think about it, you realize that everyone hates some things, while other things, they love.

In other words, while it is undoubtedly true that the groups mentioned “hate” certain ideas and actions they believe are harmful and destructive to individuals and society (clearly SPLC feels similarly about certain ideas), it doesn’t follow that they therefore “hate” the people associated with those ideas and actions.  In fact, I bet if SPLC was to really learn about many of these groups, they would find that it is not primarily their “hatred” for particular ideas and actions that motivates them, but rather it is their love of certain truths and for the people who tend to flourish when those truths are embraced.

The relevant question, then, is not whether or not someone “hates,” but rather: Who or what does a person or organization hate? And correspondingly, who or what do they love? Ultimately, it isn’t “hate” that is the problem. If anything, the problem with “hate” lies in the object of our hate vs. the object of our love, whether we have rightly categorized those objects, and whether our energies towards them are being channeled in an appropriate and constructive way.

The goal should be to love those things that are worth loving (like people, and goodness, and truth), and also to hate those things worth hating (like evil, and destruction, and chaos) – even if it means that someone else may be prone to overlook our love, and overemphasize our hate, and unfairly stick us with the dubious label as a member of a “hate group.”