Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?
As part of our sermon series on Half-Truths, today we delve into the depths of our faith and confront a Christian cliché that, although well-intended, reflects a judgmental attitude that causes massive pain. On its face, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” sounds like a perfect Christian sentiment. Jesus told us to love people and avoid sin. But upon deeper examination, there is something dangerous about this sentiment and how people use this language.
The positive side.
We might say that the slogan aims in the right direction. There is sin, there are bad behaviors and It’s easy to totally discount someone because of them. Loving the sinner reminds us never to totally write anyone off. It’s a better attitude than those holding signs that say God hates you, and so do I. I understand some preacher peddled this stuff with a bullhorn at the pride events last week.
I love you, BUT…
When someone says love the sinner, hate the sin, it’s a bit like saying, “I love you, but…” Do you hear anything after the but if I were to say to you, “I love you, but you are disgusting. I love you, but your basic identity is offensive to me” Do you feel the love? No! No one ever feels the first part about love when your big “but” gets in the way.
We are all sinners.
When we’re tempted to zero in on someone’s sins, it’s important to remember that we are all sinners. The Bible in Romans reminds us that we are all sinners, falling short of the glory of God. The word “sin” comes from archery and means to miss the mark. We all do that, it’s humanity’s common denominator. You’ve heard it said death and taxes are the only two sure things in life. The third is we all sin. No one needs you to point that out to them, they’re more aware than you can imagine.
No one appointed you as judge of anyone else.
Although we are all sinners, no one appointed you as a judge of anyone else. That’s not your job. In our scripture today, Jesus warns against harboring judgmental attitudes. He says instead of worrying about someone else, work on getting your own spirit in order. “Why worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye when you have a log in your own?” he asks. And one of the most blinding logs that can get in our eyes is when we present judgmental attitudes.
Here’s a fun fact: the only people Jesus spoke harsh words to were judgy religious leaders who applauded their own righteousness while making everyone else feel shame and blame. This point is exemplified in his parable about the pharisee and the tax collector, where the pharisee is proud of his righteous life while looking down his nose at the sinful tax collector. Jesus valued the simple faith of the sinful guy way above the self-righteous Pharisee.
Instead of being judges, we should treat sinners the way Jesus treated them.
How did Jesus treat sinners? Let’s take a look. First, he accepted them. Jesus was routinely criticized for partying with and eating with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes. Who you chose to eat with in Jesus’ day was like middle school where you are supposed to stay at your group’s table. The jocks eat here, the cheerleaders, the band people, and the high-achievers. When Jesus got up from the righteous table and sat with the sinners, it implied acceptance and solidarity with them.
Distancing yourself from others is hurtful.
This is a far cry from what we see from the love the sinner, hate the sin crowd today. Several weeks ago, I attended a same-sex wedding, but the parents of one of the bride’s were no-shows because they don’t believe in that. It was so hurtful, all in Jesus’s name, who modeled the exact opposite. No one felt their love, they only felt the rejection, and it gave folks another reason to reject our faith.
Cast down your stones!
Let’s see what Jesus did when a judgmental group caught a woman in adultery. Instead of joining in the judgment, he told the crowd who had already picked up rocks to stone the woman, whoever among you is without sin, to let him cast the first stone. One by one, the stones thudded in the dirt as they let them go. “Neither do I condemn you,” he said. Jesus took the side of the sinner over the self-righteous crowd. If you are holding a stone of judgment, let it go and let hear the thud.
Jesus intervened for people being harmed.
I think Jesus modeled something important for us who strive to be his followers. He intervened for someone who would be harmed by the judgmental crowd. Our faith is not “anything goes.” There are sins we are supposed to speak out and intervene on behalf of people who are being harmed. Jesus was always very gracious with people’s personal shortcomings but taught us to intervene when someone is getting hurt. So, we speak out against hate and racism, injustice and domestic abuse.
The LGBTQ community is harmed by hate the sin, love the sinner attitudes.
Shortly after my brother came out 40 years ago, I tried to hate the sin, love the sinner attitude. It didn’t work. My hate kept slopping out of its container, splashing onto him. Maybe God can love the sinner and hate the sin, but when humans introduce hate, the negative outweighs the positive.
You may not intend harm, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
Jeff Gidley was telling me about a big puppy they took care of this summer. He said that the puppy in its playfulness wrapped his big mouth around his upper arm. “It wasn’t aggressive, but to my old skin, it hurt.” As with all the cliches we’ve been addressing in this series, you may not mean anything aggressive by them, sometimes it may even feel playful to you, thinking “I was just kidding—jeez.” But in someone else’s skin, it hurts and leaves scars—or worse. So, if we are going to love others as Jesus told us to, be mindful of how your words may feel to others.
What it feels like when a queer person hears, “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
Consider this letter by a young Christian to his uncle.
After our recent conversation, I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings. I appreciate your intention to express love and uphold your Christian values. However, I wanted to discuss how the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” has affected me and why it was hurtful.
When you used that phrase, it brought up a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I understand that you genuinely believed you were acting in a Christian manner, guided by your faith’s teachings. However, this phrase had the opposite effect.
The phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” suggests a separation between my identity as a gay man and the love and acceptance you have for me. It implies that my inherent being, an integral part of who I am, is flawed or sinful. This distinction creates a sense of rejection and hurt as if my nature is something to be fixed or overcome rather than affirmed.
My journey toward self-acceptance has been difficult. Hearing this phrase evokes feelings of shame as if my very existence is a sin that needs to be condemned. It intensifies the internal struggles I have faced throughout my life, a life that I nearly took in my younger years, like so many young people who commit suicide.
When striving to create a more loving and understanding world, love should not be conditional or compartmentalized. As Christians, we are called to emulate Christ’s love, which transcends boundaries and embraces all individuals with grace, compassion, and empathy. Singling out aspects of my identity as sinful hinders the possibility of genuine understanding, dialogue, and connection.
Our shared faith invites us to focus on the values that unite us rather than emphasizing the differences. Let’s build bridges of love and understanding, extending our compassion to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or other aspects of their lives. Could this allow us to foster deeper relationships and promote healing within our family and the wider community?
I share these thoughts with you not to place blame or create division but with the hope of fostering a greater understanding and strengthening our bond. I believe that by engaging in open and honest conversations, we can grow together, support one another, and exemplify the love and acceptance that Christ demonstrated.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I am open to further discussions and would love to hear your perspective as well. Let us continue on this journey together, guided by love, empathy, and a shared commitment to understanding.
With love and affection,
The Bible in context doesn’t condemn same-sex relationships.
The tragic thing about all this is the assumption that homosexuality is a sin. As I’ve said from this pulpit numerous times, this is a horrible reading of the sacred texts in their context. We will link to it here. The Bible has nothing to say directly about same-sex loving created relationships. Yet, people cherry-pick a few verses to make it seem otherwise. But scripture does have a lot to say about being hateful and judging and hurting other people with our words and creating room at your table for those others to judge and exclude.
What you are going through does matter to us—you are not alone.
Spoiler alert! In the TV series Ted Lasso, there is a touching episode where a soccer player reveals he is gay to his teammates. They are supportive and one speaks on behalf of the others, “It doesn’t matter to us that you are gay.”
The coach, Ted Lasso, says it should matter. In the character’s typical fashion, he tells a quirky story that seems off-target but then makes a beautiful point. He recalls how when he was a kid, he had a group of friends, but one liked a different football team than the rest. He said we told him it didn’t matter that he liked a sucky team. They could still be friends.” But when his team made it to the Super Bowl and lost one year, his friends weren’t there to console him, nor were they there the next year to help him celebrate. Because it didn’t matter, they weren’t there.
Then he said your identity does matter to us, it should matter to us because we know that what you’ve been through and what you could face isn’t easy. We want you to know that you matter to us and we are going to be there for you, backing you up—no matter what.
Open and Affirming
It’s time for our church to look into what it would mean for our church to develop our own Open and Affirming statement. Lots of churches say they are open to everyone but do a bait-and-switch. They say LGBTQ people are welcome here and we are going to change them because we think it’s a sin. How do we let people know that we really mean it when we say, “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” How do we let them know we will be there for them, no matter what.