“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”?

A few weeks ago, on a cold, rainy day, I had a conversation in the Dining Commons that I can’t get out of my mind, though on the surface it was about scant more than the weather. As I sat down, rather damp from my venture through the storm, I griped, “I love the rain, but not when it’s this cold out. I guess you could say it’s a conditional sort of love,” to which my friend replied, “Then it’s not love.” I didn’t think much of this at the time, for I was on the soggy side of life, and it was rambunctious in the Dining Commons as it often is at noon, and ponderings of love don’t thrive well in soggy, rambunctious environments. But later, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many aspects of life I, as well as others, place conditions on. We set standards for our love, as if some deserve it and some don’t, and we place ourselves as the judge behind the desk with the wooden gavel held tightly in our hand. We treat our love as something expendable, something we may one day run out of, and we hoard it so as not to be wasteful.

Blogger Micah J. Murray touches on a similar issue in his post “Why I Can’t Say Love the Sinner/Hate the Sin Anymore.” He discusses how this commonly-used phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” is more harmful than one initially realizes, for it places labels on others instead of on self, thus creating an hierarchy of the one actively “loving” the sinner, and the one being labeled “sinner.” It casts the one saying the phrase as “lover,” completely ignoring their status as a sinner, and the one being loved as “sinner.” Murray writes that he can’t stand when certain groups, particularly the LGBTQ community, are referred to as “them” and welcomed into the church with condescendingly open, “loving” arms, as they are loved as marred “sinners” and not as brothers and sisters.

Murray emphasizes in his post, “They say Jesus was a friend of sinners, but he didn’t describe himself that way.” This is important. Jesus didn’t preach about loving “them”; he lived a life of loving all. He didn’t sit at a table with the tax collectors and tell them that they were thieves but that he loved them anyway, in spite of his hatred for their sins. In fact, in Luke 19:9-10, Jesus sat at Zacchaeus’ table and said, “‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’” (NIV). Every time we stand on our soapbox and say, “I’m loving the sinner, but hating the sin,” we are, intentionally or not, failing to include ourselves in the group of “sinners.” We are failing to include the “this man, too” part of what Jesus said. Like Murray writes, we can throw in as many disclaimers as we so desire, claiming that “all sinners are welcome here,” but saying that doesn’t make the reality of our exclusive labeling any less afflictive. If we as a church boldly proclaim a lifestyle of a love restlessly writhing to love like Jesus loved, we cannot set boundaries, conditions or standards on said love. Whether we look our brother or sister in the eye and see sin, we must live by Luke 6:42 and acknowledge that the Church is full of sinners with planks skewing how they see the specks of sin in others’ eyes. (“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye’” [NIV].)

I believe that as one family living under, for and in speculation of Christ, we are called to love. Love through differences, through disagreements, through heartache, through overflowing joy. Love when your brother or sister is hurt, love even when you feel you can’t stand. Love when you wake up before the sun for a duty-filled day, and love when the stress is almost too much to handle. 1 John 4:8 reads, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (ESV). How does this reflect on the church that will not love its gay brother or sister? “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is not love; it is condescension. Of course we have theological differences. Is homosexuality a sin? Is it dependent on the culture? Should the Bible be taken literally, or do its meanings change in different contexts?

I don’t know. You don’t know. I have opinions of my own, but they’re just that–they’re my own. Every mind in the world has different opinions. Though frustrating to the point of rage at times, this reality–this difference–is quite beautiful. No two people have the same opinion on every issue, so while discussing opinions is essential and more valuable than words are able to elucidate, opinions will remain opinions. We can try our very hardest with no avail to draw others’ opinions to look more like ours, or we can acknowledge the truth that we all crave to be loved, and start from there.

It is not our role as a brother or sister in Christ to judge. We are to hold each other accountable, and we are to walk alongside each other in times of tribulation, but as James 4:12 reads, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (ESV). Murray writes in his post about the woman caught in adultery and dragged to Jesus’ feet: “She was defined by a moment.” If we were all defined by our lowest moment, or even by a moment we were less than proud of, not one head would resist slack to falling in shame.

Why do we believe that love must be bound to conditions? For the same reason I defiled the word “love” by smothering it with requirements on that rainy day: sometimes we forget that love is more potent than affection, more abundant than eternity and more vital than life itself, because sometimes we forget that love is what held our best friend to the Cross. And sometimes, amidst our forgetfulness, our love fails to resemble love at all anymore.

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