Howard Thurman on the Contagion of Hatred and the Antidote of Love

Lesson 1: The Infection of Hate

Emily Morrell

Concept or Focus: What do we mean when we talk about ‘hate?’ How should we talk about hate as people of faith who believe in a God of love? “What is the anatomy of hatred in our times?” (Jensen, 7) 

Setting: Adult/young adult gathering; ~45 min-1 hour  

Goal: To explore what ‘hate’ means, how it operates in our world, and wonder together how we might witness it and define it. Specifically, take time with Jenson’s essay to outline what Thurman means when he talks about hate and the work it does in the world.  

Objectives: Participants will… 

  • Share their own definitions and experiences of hate  
  • Reflect on those definitions in light of Thurman’s algorithm of hate as outlined in Jensen’s article   
  • Choose a contemporary case study in which they see Thurman’s algorithm at work  
  • Discuss how hate might be disguised in their current context and wonder together about how it contributes to the disintegration of faith, ethics, and morals  

Materials Needed and Preparation: 

  • Participants will have been strongly encouraged to read Jensen’s essay “Howard Thurman on the Contagion of Hatred and the Antidote of Love;” if possible, have copies on hand during the lesson for reference. White board and markers (outline agenda), computer or notebook paper and pens for participants to use for reflection. Chairs in a circle or around a large table, arranged in such a way that all participants can see and engage with one another comfortably.  

 

Lesson Step and Time Allotted  Teaching Activity  Resources Needed 
Opening 

10 minutes  

 

 

  • Greet participants and, if nametags are helpful for the group, invite people to wear them. Point participants toward the outline for the class posted on a white board or butcher paper in the room.  
  • Once everyone has arrived, open with prayer and encourage participants to introduce themselves with their name and why they were interested in joining the group.  
Nametags, markers, extra copies of Jensen’s essay if possible  
Reflecting  

10 minutes  

 

 

  • Before delving into the essay, invite participants to share their own definitions of hate and briefly explain why they define the word the way they do.  
  • Depending on the size of the group, this might be an activity better suited to small groups who then report back to the larger class. 
  • Participants are also welcome to share their experiences of hate, but remind them that reliving trauma is not necessary for this class and invite them to chat afterwards and provide pastoral care (or connect them with a therapist) if this is the case.  
Whiteboard or newsprint to write definitions/keywords on in order to share with the entire group 
Exploring 

15 minutes  

 

Move to discussing Jensen’s essay by reminding participants that his argument hinged on Thurman’s assumption that people of faith must “possess a deep understanding of hatred” rather than merely preaching about it. Hatred is not a distant, sentimental subject, but rather a visceral reality in our broken world. A love-ethic hinges on understanding hate. (Jenson, 2) If the group is large, divide them into small groups and invite them to discuss the following questions for ~7 minutes: 

  • What are the three stages of Thurman’s algorithm of hate as outlined by Jensen? 
  • Which of these stages feels most relevant to your context or experience of the world? Why? 
  • Do you agree with Thurman’s stages? Is something missing that should have been added since he explained them in the mid 1900s? Why or why not?  
  • Might hate as it is outlined in this algorithm ever be productive?  
  • What does hate as it is explained in these stages prevent from occurring between people, communities, nations, etc.?  

After ~7 minutes reconvene the group and ask each group to share insights or questions from their conversations. Make sure that the three stages of hatred are delineated and broadly understood by all participants.  

Space for small group conversation if necessary; Jensen’s essay for Thurman references  
Responding 

15 minutes 

 

 

Transition to encouraging participants to look back on their own definitions of hate and comparing them with Thurman’s algorithm. Where is there overlap and why? Where do the definitions diverge and why? Do their definitions align with a particular ‘stage’? 

  • Invite participants to quietly reflect for three to five minutes about a contemporary context in which they perceive Thurman’s algorithm to be at work. Encourage them to write down how the context they choose or have experienced aligns with or diverges from Thurman’s stages. Remind them that Thurman considered patriotism and nationalism to function as disguises for hatred while they consider varying contexts. “What is the anatomy of hatred in our times?” (Jensen, 7) 
  • Reconvene the group and invite people to explain why they chose their respective case studies. (If this sharing is better suited to occur in small groups in your context, facilitate that, then reconvene the broader group to hear reports from each cohort.)  
Pens and paper to use for personal reflection; Jensen’s essay for Thurman references  
Closing 

10 minutes  

 

  • As the class comes to a close, invite participants to wonder how their different examples and definitions of hate engender different forms of isolation and stifle creativity among people and larger groups. 
  • Guiding questions: how does the context you chose separate people or groups? Who is left out and why? How does this example of hatred restrict people’s imaginations and creativity—how are people boxed in and limited by your examples of hate?  
  • Remind participants that the next lesson will shift to Jensen’s discussion of Thurman’s ideas of love, the love-ethic, and how to confront hate in both tangible and creative ways.  
  • Close with prayer.  
 

 

Rationale or Explanation: 

This first lesson serves to introduce hate: the concept that the ‘antidote’ of the essays is focused on irradicating. The group will not only reflect on their own ideas about what hate is and how it works in the world, but they will be challenged to use Thurman’s algorithm of hate to explore the dynamics of hate in their chosen examples or contexts. This will help the class avoid the preaching sentimentality that Thurman warns against when people of faith discuss hate. Instead of abstract notions of dehumanization and ill-will, participants will discuss the current realities of hate they observe in the world.  

 

That said, it is possible that class members will have experienced hate in their own lives. This tragic and painful reality should not be avoided or glossed over. However, it is also important that class members for whom this might be true do not feel as though must be ‘ambassadors’ for their experience by reliving their trauma. If these participants feel moved to share their stories, remind everyone present that it is important to listen without judgement or the need to ‘fix’ someone’s pain. Even if a participant who has experienced blatant hatred does not share, check-in with them following the class and connect them with any pastoral care or therapy resources that might be helpful.  

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