I doubt there is a Christian in America who hasn’t heard the almost credal aphorism, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” One can scarcely have a discussion regarding homosexuality with a non-affirming believer without hearing it. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was somewhere in the Bible.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the saying, it refers to people’s belief that God calls us to condemn (hate) the sin in people’s lives without hating those who are committing the sins. It attempts to make a distinction between sinners and the sins they commit, saying that one should be hated, while the other should be loved.
In theory, it certainly seems reasonable. A Christian should despise acts of disobedience to God’s word, while loving everyone. But, I want to pull the veil back on the rhetoric and examine the use of the phrase in real life. Beyond the assemblage of words, what does it really mean to “love the sinner, hate the sin?”
When people employ this phrase, it’s always in the context of their condemnation of someone’s “lifestyle”. In the vast majority of cases, it refers to people’s disdain for homosexuality, while supposedly affirming their love for homosexuals. What we must consider is the practicality of this maxim.
As Christians, we are all called to hate sin in our pursuit of holiness. Sin, by definition, is that which is contrary to God. We cannot, therefore, consider ourselves faithful children if we love that which is opposed to God (Jas. 4:4).
But, this relates to sin as a general concept. The problem with trying to narrow this generality to particular sins is that we have a penchant to perceive sins differently. For instance, why is it always necessary to “love the sinner, hate the sin” when it comes to homosexuality, but we rarely hear this adage when it comes to the sins of pride and greed, for example? The very fact that the phrase is rarely levied outside of a context of homosexuality proves the ungodly partiality with which we perceive and relate to those around us.
In practice, the claim to “love the sinner, hate the sin” usually only applies to sins the one doing the hating doesn’t commit. It’s convenient how that works. While I’m busy hating your sin, I seem to have forgotten about my own! Jesus had something to say about that.
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
While we’re busy hating the sin in the lives of others, what we’re really doing is focusing on those sins. It is, in fact, in the act of condemning homosexuals that this adage is so often levied. So, people who are quick to point out their hatred for the sin of homosexuality are, in effect, dealing with what they perceive as sin in the lives of others, when Jesus commands that they worry about their own sins instead.
Furthermore, how realistic is it to identify a specific sin that we despise, yet draw a clear line of distinction between that sin and the ones committing it, so as not to allow our disgust to seep onto people? I submit that when we narrow our hatred of sin to a specific list, we make it near impossible to draw this distinction. In fact, something in us causes us to look more favorably upon those who don’t commit those particular sins, while harboring some degree of disappointment or even indignation toward those who do.
The phrase itself calls attention to the “fallenness” of the one being judged. “Love the sinner” refuses to lift the person supposedly being loved from the identity of “sinner.” It ever-reminds people that while they’re loving someone, they’re loving them “in their sin.” But, Scripture’s description of love says that we aren’t to keep a record of wrongs (1Co. 13:5). So, why does it suffice us to classify, relate to, and even love people on the basis of their status as sinners? Why can we not love on the basis of a person’s quintessential human quality—the inestimable value of their being created as an expression of God’s image and likeness (even though we all fall short of that wonderful ideal)?
It doesn’t seem to occur to us that every Christian sins, which means that this saying applies equally to the entire human race. In being so broad in its application, the phrase loses all potency and purpose, and becomes nothing more than a self-righteous way to justify the negative feelings we have toward people.
I submit that Jesus didn’t love “the sinner”, while hating their sin. I believe He simply loved people. He saw all of us as falling short of His grace, and simply loved us. He loved the adulterous woman, the Gadarene demoniac, and even the self-righteous Pharisees who were so busy pointing out the sin in the lives of others that they neglected to deal with their own.
So, I think the phrase needs to be completely retired from Christian vernacular. Since we all sin, yet should all be loved, let’s just take it as a general rule that we should hate sin, while fiercely loving everyone. Let’s not perceive or relate to people on the basis of their sin, and just worry about our own sins, while encouraging those around us to strive, along with us, to be the best servants of God that they can be!
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://IMPACTmagazine.us/wp-content/uploads/Weekly-Romell.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]ROMELL WEEKLY pastors an affirming congregation in Saint Louis, Missouri, and has written two life-changing books about homosexuality and the Bible: Homosexianity and The Rebuttal, both available from Amazon.com.[/author_info] [/author]
The Rebuttal: A Biblical Response Exposing The Deceptive Logic Of Anti-Gay Theology
by Pastor Romell D. Weekly
Homosexianity: Letting Truth Win the Devastating War Between Scripture, Faith & Sexual Orientation
by Pastor Romell D. Weekly
In these two faith-affirming books, Pastor Weekly uncovers the biblical witness about sexual orientation and gender identity that will bring peace to your soul, and equip you to effectively minister to members of the LGBT community from a spirit of love and truth.