“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Nowhere in the Bible do we find the phrase, but this tired expression is as much a part of modern Christian vernacular as “God helps those who help themselves.” (Which, by the way, is also a foreign concept in the Bible!)
It did not originate with Jesus, though it’s repeated as if it’s a divine mandate. It wasn’t penned by Paul nor proclaimed by Peter but many declare it as if they are fulfilling some kind of apostolic directive.
Note: It’s attributed to Gandhi, and I’m certain he would object to the flippant way it’s used today.
While on the surface the statement sounds reasonable, even noble, I personally find it trite and distasteful for several reasons:
1. It’s inconsistent with the Gospel (“Good News”) message. Where are we told to hate sin? Where are we told to hate…period?
The repetitive command of the New Testament is love. Jesus called us to love God and love our neighbor (cf: Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27), not point out their “sin.” In fact, Jesus instructed us to be less concerned about the “speck” of sin in another’s eye and concentrate on the “log” of sin in our own eye. (cf: Matthew 7:3) It goes against the nature of love as embracing and inclusive, and seems to seeks some caveat to restrict or limit our love. It’s certainly not an expression of the way God loves us and all of our failings. And besides, Jesus promised to send us the indwelling Spirit of God, who would tell us personally about our sin. (cf: John 16:8) Do we assume to do a better job than God's Spirit?
2. At the core, it’s judgmental—one person defining and highlighting the “sin” of another, especially since we might not agree on what constitutes “sin.” If I see another through the filter of how I understand “sin,” it colors my perception of them, and (I believe) hinders my ability to fully love them.
3. The assessment contains a hint of superiority. “I have determined your sin, but I am going to be the bigger person and rise above it to love you…while continuing to point out your sin.”
4. It tends to be selective in application. The pilatitude (I made up that word: Pious + Platitude.) is almost exclusively used by those who oppose homosexuals. (When’s the last time we heard this phrase used for someone who’s greedy?)
Most reputable science shows that sexual orientation is innate; being homosexual is part of who a person is (identity), and definitely more than what a person does (behavior). When we say “I love the homosexual, but hate homosexuality,” it’s a rejection, not an affirmation. It’s the equivalent of saying “I love you, but I hate the color of your eyes.” (Or your race, or your height, or any number of unchangeable traits.) Can we not see that it is demeaning, disparaging and dismissive?
5. This paradoxical “theology” is not practical in real life. How can hate and love co-exist?
Most of us are appalled when we see the horrid signs at a Westboro Baptist Church picket, but how is this different? We are still seeking to blend an element of hate with the Gospel of Love. And we are directing that mixed message at a person.
Take it from me: those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of this bi-polar religious approach will testify that while we hear the word “love,” what we typical experience is the hate.
Love me or hate me, but don’t insult me by saying you can do both!
In my opinion, “love the sinner, hate the sin” is little more than a religious excuse to hate.
It’s hate…with better PR!
I’m not suggesting ignoring faults and shortcomings in others. But let’s make love and grace higher priorities than judgment and condemnation. Let’s invest our time and energy loving people, confident that God is able to point out their sin…and ours.