Hating the Sin but Loving the Sinner. Is it Possible?

Soulforce, an LGBT advocacy group, will be on our campus this week. In light of the visit, I was reading an article--"Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" And Other Modern Day Heresies--by Dr. Patrick Cheng, an ordained gay minister.

In the article Dr. Cheng argues that the mantra "hate the sin, but love the sinner" is wrongheaded, both biblically and psychologically, a kind of modern day heresy:

As an openly-gay Christian theologian and minister, I believe that the slogan of "Love the sinner, hate the sin," no matter how well-intentioned, is theologically unsound. Not only is this an unbiblical concept, but it is also not workable in practice. In fact, when it comes to LGBT sexualities and gender identities, I contend that this slogan is actually a modern-day version of gnosticism, which was condemned as heretical by early Church theologians such as Irenaeus in the second century.
Here's a bit of Dr. Cheng's argument that the "hate the sin, but love the sinner" formulation is unbiblical:
First, "love the sinner, hate the sin" is an unbiblical concept. Many people think that this is a divine command, but it actually doesn't appear anywhere in the Bible. Although God clearly "hates" sin in the Bible (sane in Hebrew and miseo in the Greek), God never demands that we carry out this hatred on God's behalf. God is perfectly capable of addressing the sins of others without needing our third-party intervention. Those who truly believe in "hating sin" probably should focus more on hating their own sins (i.e., first taking the log out of their own eyes, as Jesus says) instead of hating the sins of others. (See Matt. 7:5 and Luke 6:42.)

Indeed, Jesus Christ did not subscribe to "love the sinner, hate the sin" when it came to his own actions. He simply loved the sinner. Period. Throughout the gospels, Jesus loved -- and indeed hung out with and even broke bread with -- sinners such as tax collectors and sexual outcasts. He physically touched those people who were considered too unclean under the Levitical laws to come into contact with "normal" society. In fact, Jesus was roundly criticized by the "respectable" people of his day for welcoming sinners into his circle of followers. He upset the religious and political authorities so much that they eventually arrested him and put him to death.
My take is that people might quibble with Dr. Cheng's biblical argument. More interesting to me is the psychological argument, that the "hate the sin, love the sinner" notion is just psychologically a nonstarter. Empathy and moral outrage tend to work at cross purposes:
Second, "love the sinner, hate the sin" simply does not work in practice. It may sound appealing to love LGBT people while also hating their sexual practices, but it is rarely -- if ever -- possible to separate the act from the person. Despite their best intentions, most Christians who "hate the sins" of same-sex acts or transgenderism inevitably end up hating LGBT people as well. Period. The rhetoric of "loving the sinner" is precisely that; it is often nothing more than a wink and a nod that gives people permission to commit brutal acts of spiritual and physical violence against their LGBT sisters and brothers.
I've actually thought a great deal about these dynamics. One of my published papers--Spiritual pollution: the dilemma of sociomoral disgust and the ethic of love--tries to puzzle through the psychological dynamics in play.

So, any opinions on this? Two issues seem to be on the table. Is "hate the sin, love the sinner" biblical? Is "hate the sin, love the sinner" psychologically possible?

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

44 thoughts on “Hating the Sin but Loving the Sinner. Is it Possible?”

  1. First of all, I am intrigued that Soulforce will be on campus; was it their idea, or an invitation from ACU?

    As for whether or not it is Biblical, I believe that we are supposed to leave judgement for God; it is not our territory. However, we are not called to ignore the sins of others. We are supposed to hold one another accountable, which means being cognizant of their public and blatant transgressions.

    There is a fine line drawn between holding someone accountable and judging them, and the line would be practically non-existent to someone looking through defensive eyes, so I recognize that this point will not sit well with some.

    As for verses, I might look into the idea of disfellowship as an example of loving someone, but denying them fellowship as a means of accountability. And I know you have to love someone for it to work, because if they change their ways and repent, they are to be welcomed back with love and forgiveness.

    "Therefore, any member's sin which is open and seen by others , which he refuses to repent of even after seeing the truth about it, is worthy of disfellowship." (II Thess. 3:6, 14) The warning against idleness is an example, in my opinion.


  2. What does it mean to hate the sin anyway?

    We're called to love Osama bin Laden, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be upset about the deaths he has caused. We should. Yes, that's going in a Godwin's Law direction, but I think my point is clear.

  3. The short answer to your headline question: "No."

    Cheng is precisely right. Nobody hates the sin and loves the sinner. It's a dog-whistle phrase intented to justify hate and violence toward people.

    Sin is a concept that has no ability to be a recepticle for hate.


  4. Before I had even read down to Dr. Cheng's point about how the sin we ought to be hating is our own, I was already jumping at the bit to make a comment to that effect.

    I don't know if it's even gnosticism as much as it is a lack of faith, in this case a lack of faith that the ultimate justice promised by God is sufficient.

    When we hate the sins in others, we are essentially saying that we doubt doubt God's justice. We are saying that we are perfectly capable of figuring out what is right and what is wrong in the here and now, and that it is our responsibility to ensure that the proper folks get their heads bludgeoned - if only in an "appropriate," church-moralizing manner.

    I think that one of the most disregarded teachings of Christ is the whole, "judge not" thing. We confuse making inevitable judgments about actions with making qualitative judgments on the value of people. The avoidance of the latter is, I think, our only sure protection against the horrendous things we'll inevitably fall into doing as we partake in the former.

  5. I currently believe that any sex outside of marriages between men and women is sinful, so I suppose that I'm qualified to address the psychology of attempting to hate the sin but love the sinner:

    First of all, I think Dr. Cheng's biblical arguments are pretty weak (especially for an ordained minister). Romans 12.9: "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil - cling to what is good" (cf. Proverbs 8.13, Amos 5.15). I Googled those pretty quickly, and they seem to indicate pretty clearly that we should hate sin. (Jesus' clearing the temple and the Seven Woes also come to the mind.) As far as I can tell, hating the sin but loving the sinner is a great thing to do.

    And I don't think that any of that should be surprising. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that Dr. Cheng's approach to (say) a serial killer would amount to something like "hate the sin but love the sinner." Which brings me to the psychology of the matter.

    I am a student at a pretty liberal school, and I am also in an all-male chorus. This means that I know a lot of gay men, some of whom are quite religious (and one of whom is an ordained minister at my school). I am friends with them and joke with them, and I've even had discussions about Christianity and homosexuality with the minister. Just yesterday, I finished reading a book by a gay religious scholar about sexuality and Christianity. I am trying to question and examine my beliefs in this matter.

    Is there some residual homophobia there? Probably - just like I have residual sexism and racism to deal with. (If I weren't a Christian, I imagine that I'd be much worse.) Are all (or even most) people who say they "hate the sin but love the sinner" reading books by gay theologians and doing things like that? Probably not. In practice, there are a lot of problems with "hate the sin but love the sinner" - just as there are problems in practice with any (good) idea. In principle, however, I think that "hate the sin but love the sinner" is a great heuristic.

  6. I find it interesting that the people who are the most adamant about
    "loving the sinner, hating the sin" when it comes to our homosexual sisters and brothers were the same people who wanted to impeach Pres. Clinton for sexual immorality. Cognitive dissonance?

  7. I have family members involved in sin -- and it is hurting them and the people around them. I dearly love them, AND I absolutely hate the sin in their life (almost as much as I hate the sin in my own life).

    So is it possible? Well, yes. Of course it is.

  8. I cannot hate the sin and love the sinner. To hate the sin means I have defined it and judged it and that the definition is under my control and my rule. So I am putting myself in the place of God. (As James says so clearly.)

    At the same time, there are all kinds of things that I do judge - like violence, exploitation, abuse of power - they are all really the same thing, an indication of fear, compulsion, or distortion in a person.

    So what action brings such things to healing? Not my hate but the love of God in Christ. "Such were some of you" says Paul - but you are washed, sanctified, etc. Of course in these days, people do not believe that God has such power through the death of Christ. Even the believers don't believe it. This power of God is a non-exploitative, non-violent, non-abusive use of our collective abuse in putting Jesus to death. If we really are baptized into his death, then we will learn that he is indeed able to heal. Anything else is not faith and is therefore sin. Again this is from Paul - whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

  9. Here's something I've been thinking about. And some of you have already talked about this.

    1) What do we mean by hate?
    2) What do we mean by sin?

    Regarding #1, my paper is really about the relationship between disgust and love. This is a bit different from the relationship between hate and love, but "sin" is very often understood to be a form of contamination or defilement. And these attributions trigger disgust reactions, if only metaphorically and abstractly. If so, as I argue in the paper, it may indeed be hard to both love and "hate" at the same time as the two emotions pull in opposite directions. Love seeks embrace and holiness (sin as purity violation) seeks exclusion. How is it possible to reconcile the two?

    Outside of religion hate has less to do with purity than revenge. We hate people who have harmed us. Thus, hating Osama bin Laden feels right (given human moral psychology). But hate seems out of place in relation to the gay community. That is, when issues of harm are in play hate seems like a legitimate moral emotion (not that we should act on it, just that it's understandable for victims to feel hate). But outside of harm hate seems wildly out of place. Thus, "hating homosexuality" seems extreme to our ears and hearts.

    Which brings me to #2. Are there classes of sin? Is 9/11 the moral equivalent of same sex attraction? In short, one of the problems with the "hate the sin" idea is another notion: "All sins are equal." But are they? And if they are not equal then might not our emotional reactions need to vary in intensity as well?

  10. I have no problem with the concept of hating sin.

    I think it is how you define sin, the metaphors you use, etc. that determine how you *deal* with sin and the people who commit them.

    Frankly, it is more the classification of lgbt behaviors/identities as *sin* to begin with that I take issue with. I tire of hearing of how my identity is *no more of a sin than your sins* so you won't judge me. I really don't want to hear how that which makes me whole is really no worse than the lying or cheating you've most certainly done at some point in time.

  11. I think DOJ said it well. You can love the person and want the best for them and still hate the sin in their life and how it impacts them. So it's possible, but perhaps difficult.

    Is it Biblical? Well Jesus loved the woman at the well, but he didn't want her to continue in her sin.

  12. Dietrich Bonhoefer in Life Together:

    But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. "My son, give me thine heart" (Prov. 23:26). God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants you to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates sin.

    Bonhoeffer writes this in the last chapter of Life Together on Confession and Communion. It seems to me that, although you could not find a verse that specifically says: "Hate the sin but love the sinner" it is a necessary corollary to the biblical witness. It is a mystery within the life of God. Specifically, it is the mystery of grace. God's stance on sin is unwavering opposition. He and sin just don't get along. Yet He has decidedly moved towards us in love in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. God's response to the sin he so detests IS love of the sinner. It is His hate of sin that makes His love of the sinner so remarkable; so salvific.

  13. i think it's ridiculous to suggest that you can't hate the sin and love the sinner. isn't that what nearly every parent does with their own children? and we do it with ourselves -- cheng even suggests we should. when my friends are mixed up in sin, i absolutely hate that sin because of how it twists and distorts who i know my friends to be, and the life to which they've been called to live. i also hate the sin, because it steals glory away from God and puts it in another place. but i love my friends... dearly.

    and our best argument is that it's only God's job to hate the sin and love the sinner? am i not called to be like God, to have the very mind of Christ? to take pleasure in him and in what he pleasures? and to despise what is evil and fails to honor God as God?

    as for sins being equal or not, i think... yes. all sins are equal in that they separate us from God. but sins are NOT equal in the wickedness involved or in their just punishment or in how they affect us and others, or in their likelihood to bring addiction. sins are, in almost every way, completely unequal.

    i think paul is making the argument that not all sins are equal in 1 corinthians 6, but i know my interpretation is debatable. he points out that all other sins are outside the body except those which are sexual; in these, you sin against your own body, which is no longer yours. makes it sound like he's arguing these are worse.

  14. I really value the respectful dialogue on this blog. It's rare to find a place where both sides of the issue can be heard.

    As a gay-affirming Christian, I share Alex's feelings about "love the sinner, hate the sin". By defining same-sex partnerships as sinful, you are describing their life in a way they don't recognize. To love someone is to know them. If it seems like you don't see them for who they are, they have a hard time believing that you really love them, rather than loving your idea of what they could or should be.

    The word "love" also invites (or demands) intimacy, but once that offer is accepted, the gay person is hit with the condemnation inherent in the words "hate" and "sin". Speaking from personal experience, it feels like a painful betrayal when you realize that your Christian friend's commitment to the idea of your "sin" will always trump his or her feelings of "love".

    So, I would agree that in the case of homosexuality, the maxim is psychologically incoherent. I don't think it's the same as loving your lying/cheating/stealing relative while hating what they are doing. Those folks would probably not argue that lying/cheating/stealing is not sinful per se. They might say "I didn't do it" or "None of your business" or "I had a good reason", but it's not a fundamental disagreement about who they are.

  15. I'm glad someone brought up Romans 12 - I'm pretty amazed that people can so blithely ignore Paul's clear statement that we can, indeed, spot evil and hate it.

    And Matthew 23 and John 2 keep springing to mind as instances where Jesus was hatin' some sin.

    Yes, absolutely, we need to have some epistemological humility with regard to sin and evil. But let's not swallow postmodernity and existentialism's anti-answers to their own dilemmas (No one can know anything, and there are no absolutes except for the absolute that there are no absolutes).

    Let's hear the necessary critique of epistemological arrogance and move forward in faith.

    Regardless of our stance towards sin, whether it is hatred, ambivalence, or apathy, our stance towards other human beings must first be that they are created in the image of God. We have *nothing* to say about the sin of others before we've shown ourselves to be trustworthy (not perfect, not infallible, but trustworthy) in coping with sin and brokenness in our own lives and the lives of those near to us.

  16. Before you can have love, you have to have understanding. It's easy to love a straw-queer or a straw-Osama bin Ladin. But to really, actually love a person, you have to have a grasp of their feelings and motivations, of their values, of what they hold important and why. This knowledge is the kind people most strenuously try to avoid when it comes to their enemies.

    How many people have actually read Bin Ladin's letters to America? How many people who "hate the sin" of homosexuality are willing to sit down and talk, at length, with a homo to find out what kind of person they are and what they value?

    The kind of love offered by these folks is disingenious, pure and simple. It's a slogan. It has no more value than the mindless, thoughtless mumbling of "Jesus is lord" by the theologically bankrupt.

  17. My issue with the "love the sinner, hate the sin" formation is that it so often regards the so-called hatred of sin to be a modifying factor, a limitation on the "love" to be shown.

    Contra that, the love I see prescribed in the scriptures, and modeled by Jesus, knows no limitations.

    This is the order of things, scripturally:
    - "We love because he first loved us",
    - "Neither do I condemn you" comes before "go and sin no more",
    - "Zacchaeus, I'm coming to your house to eat today" comes before "I will restore 10x what I have taken",
    - "Rise up, take your mat and walk" comes before "Stop sinning, or something worse will happen to you".

    Love never fails.

  18. Dr. Beck - I have often wondered about the classes of sin question you posed. It matters to us humans what is defined as a sin and who has committed which sin, we clearly organize them into some kind of hierarchy, some based on personal revulsion, some on the amount of harm caused by the behavior...but I wonder whether it matters to God, i.e., Romans 3:23? All have fallen short, so who cares how they have done so? The short answer is we all do - we don't equate our own human foibles with being the same as Hitler, for example, but maybe to God it's all the same so he doesn't really fuss over the details.

    I also wonder whether we shouldn't examine how one defines "loving" the sinner?

    With no answers, only more questions...

  19. It is hard to love the "sinner" when I define a person by the "sin". How can I love a person if I see that person as a homosexual and I hate homosexuality.

  20. God's love is purifying, according to MacDonald, but we've all seen (and perhaps been) people who try to do God's job for him. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

  21. Cheng's biblical argument is strong in that it points out that the words "love the sinner, hate the sin" are not in fact in the Bible. It is weak in that it's kind of pedantic and silly. Someone could easily argue that the Bible teaches that something like this is how Christians should address other people and the bad things they do.

    It also seems silly to argue that it's not /possible/ to love a person and hate something that they do. We can think of all sorts of scenarios where this is exactly how people get along together. However, as an earlier commenter pointed out, most of these involve someone close to us, whom we love in spite of -- and not independently of -- their behavior.

    Finally, it also seems silly to deny that Cheng has a point. We can all see situations where people hide behind this maxim: when their hate is real and venomous, and their love is abstract and useless.

    So when someone says, "I don't hate gay people, I love gay people. I just hate homosexuality," I believe the appropriate response is: "Show me."

    "Jesus said that Christians would be known by their love, even for enemies, and not by their righteous hatred. But all I'm seeing is righteous hatred. So /show me/. How are your exhibiting your love?"

  22. Dr Beck:

    The empirical literature supports the idea that hating the sin but loving the sinner is psychologically possible.

    Fulton, Gorsuch, & Maynard (1999) found that intrinsic religious orientation was associated with a more negative view of homosexual behavior, but a more positive view of homosexual individuals. Laythe and colleages (2002) and Ford and colleagues (2009) have found that, when authoritarianism and fundamentalism were controlled for, Christian orthodoxy was associated with less negative attitudes toward homosexual people. Ford et al concluded, "Christians can indeed separate their attitudes toward homosexual people from their attitudes toward homosexual behavior."

    Ford, T. E., Brignall, T., VanValley, T. L., & Macaluso, M. J., (2009). The unmaking of prejudice: How Christian beliefs relate to attitudes toward homosexuals. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 48, 146–160

    Fulton, A. S., Gorsuch, R. L., & Maynard, E. A. (1999). Religious orientation, antihomosexual sentiment, and fundamentalism among Christians. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 38, 14-22.

    Laythe, B., Finkel, D. G., Bringle, R. G., & Kirkpatrick, L. A. (2002). Religious fundamentalism as a predictor of prejudice: A two-component model. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 623–35.

  23. Re: Charles' comment:

    From whose perspective is "love" being defined - the giver or the recipient? The Christians in those studies may report positive attitudes towards gays, but if the gay person still feels condemned and misrepresented, I don't know how much that love is really worth.

    I have seen abusive and codependent relationships where the abuser genuinely believes he is being loving, but because he is not willing to hear feedback from the other person about the impact of his behavior, the protestations of "love" are more like the love-bombing in a cult. He gives what he wants to give, when he wants to give it, regardless of whether it actually meets the other's needs.

    I know this is an extreme example - I just bring it up to point out that intentions aren't the whole story. We also need to look at effects. By their fruits, etc.

  24. To say that loving the person, but hating the sin is psychologically impossible is to equate a person's sin with that person. Love calls us to look beyond what they do to who they actually are.

    As I was reading this, I kept thinking of the example of someone who is addicted to drugs. If you love a drug addict, you hate the drugs they take. You hate what they're doing to that person. But you still keep loving that person. In fact, it is your love for that person that makes you hate their addiction.

    I think it's the same for sin. Your love for a person may actually make you hate the sin even more.

  25. My instinct is with the people who've pointed out that when you love someone, it's easy to hate 'sins' like their drug taking, their bad habits, their destructive behaviour etc. But it strikes me that that way of looking at the problem assumes a gap between who a person 'really is' and the way they currently are, which sits quite comfortably with a traditional theological understanding of sin where sin is a twisting of the desires which God gave us and a falling away from the sort of people we were created to be. On that account of sin, it's surely possible to, at the very least, be angry and saddened by a person's falling away from who they 'really are'?

    It's also partly about what hate is: does hate really have to involve disgust? I work with screwed up young women who sleep around, have abusive partners, take drugs, and bully each other. I love them, and seeing them do those things makes me angry, and sad, and frustrated: I would say that I hate those behaviours, but I don't feel any disgust, actually. Am I just mislabelling when I say that I hate them, or is it possible to use 'hate' of a feeling which doesn't involve disgust?

    Finally, isn't the debate about homosexuality partly a disagreement about whether or not homosexuality is a sin precisely in the sense of being something that's at odds with who they 'really' are? A lot of the debates I've seen seem to pitch the idea that homosexuality is an intrinsic, essential aspect of gay people's orientation against the idea that it's somehow inauthentic to them - 'objectively disordered' as the Catholics would say, not 'who God made them to be.'

  26. Hello there,

    I personally agree with Marika, I'd like to add that if somebody close to you, whom you love, harms themselves in any way, you'll hate whatever caused this (pick whatever self-destructive behavior you're comfortable with), besides that, you'll also be in a way doing it, with empathy, on their behalf. You surely would not be disgusted of them.

    I know I wouldn't be disgusted with my kids if they've fallen into addiction for example, but I would hate the drugs, even more every time I look at them and see how it affected them, or how they're struggling with it, and sometimes when I think of the damage it would do to the whole family. I don't expect that at any point I would either hate or feel disgust towards my children, though. More like pity and co-suffering.


  27. There is a difference between thinking a behavior is destructive or even sinful and "hating" it. So people rightly point out that they have some measure of affetion for people who take drugs or have sexual problems. And that is certainly appropriate.

    This gets to Richard's point about defining hate, but people don't "hate" the act.

    All that, however, is an intellectual exercise unrelated to the phrase under discussion. Because no non-Christian would ever have reason to form such a bizarre justification.

    If you put it in in secular terms, the craziness becomes highlighted. Who would ever think to "hate an act but love the actor?"

    So while on some theoretical level and defined very loosely, it may be possible to hate sin and love the sinner, on a practical level, the phrase is almost always employed by bigots looking to justify their bigotry.


  28. Here's my story that I still ponder about to this day...

    About 15 years back now I was a junior in high school. My best friend of a good 5 years or so told me, and some others in our circle of friends that he was gay. This was rather shocking to me. I didn't quite know how to respond. I struggled for a long time in dealing with this.

    Over the course of the next few months we remained friends and talked back and forth about the issue more and more. Ultimately we had a conversation that came down to him telling me this...

    "Ideally, 20 years down the road or so, I see you, your wife, and your kids, getting together with me, my partner, and our kids, going to the park to let the kids run around while we visited, then going to a restaurant and having a big dinner together. Then after all is done, we'd part ways and you could tell your kids that that was my long time friend "Joe" and what what he does is okay."

    I told him that I could wholeheartedly do all of that except for the very last part, because of what I believe. I had no problems with the fun, the dinners, even being long time friends. It was just that the lifestyle was not okay.

    Hating the sin, loving the sinner? I'm wondering if my answer was sufficient, but that's how I've always seen it.

  29. Dillie-O said...

    Whatever else I teach my children, I'll be sure to make sure they know that believing a book written by human beings is the literal truth of God's Word is not okay. It's a lifestyle choice detrimental to their critical reasoning and moral development.

    Let's keep this conflict alive forever!

  30. My biggest question in relation to this argument isn't how we can have someone already in our lives whom we love, who "sins" in whatever way (e.g., drugs, homosexuality, adultery, etc.), and who we continue to love but "hate" the sin that they are committing. I think the more relevant question, and the one that I continually struggle with, is how I can love the person I just met, regardless of the sin that they are struggling with (for are we not all struggling with sin?).

    What becomes both psychologically and, for me, faithfully difficult is to meet people, for example, representing themselves through an LGBT identity. Personally, I am still working through where I stand on homosexuality's sin status, but regardless, my being raised in a conservative environment naturally predisposes me to have some biases against people who represent themselves that way (and other ways - as someone mentioned earlier, racial and gender biases). How do I start in this place, in my broken, imperfect, biased stance and move to Jesus' kind of love: loving the person, hating what evil can be found in their life, but absolutely treating them in the most welcoming, respectful way?

    I think biblically, I agree most with David's stance: "hating the sin, loving the sinner" is the mystery of grace. What a beautiful mystery it is, and one that I continually strive to exemplify. God knows I fail, but I pray that I can continue to learn more about how to move myself out of the way and point everyone to Him.


  31. Dillie-O:

    You have a friend whose lifestyle you believe to be sinful. In what sense do you "hate" his sin?

    If you really are friends with this person as you describe, then I would say sounds it like you mildly disapprove of his lifestyle. But that's not the intense hate that characterizes prejudice against gays.

    I attended a Baptist church in a very blue state a few years ago in which the pastor gave an impassioned anti-gay marriage sermon. He based it on several nutty ideas from the loathesome James Dobson, such as that allowing gays to marry would lead to bestiality, group marriages and destroy the health care system and economy (really).

    And then after all that, he ended by saying that he really loved gay people and unfortunately someone from the first service had not understood that and walked out (or something to that effect).

    But that's insane. You can't express such hatred and prejudice toward a group of people in general and then say you love some of them in particular. It's phony bullshit. Pastor P will go to the mat to ensure that gays face all sorts of discrimination (about 20 years ago, christians were aghast at including gays in anti-discrimination laws in the workforce). He said nasty untrue things about people. You don't do that to people you love.

    Conversely, if you say you hate sin, but like to hang with people who do those things you allegedly hate, chances are you don't "hate" the act as much as you might think.

    I'll say it again: the phrase is an impossible formation usually used to mask something false, mostly outright bigotry.


  32. For as long as I can remember, I've had this visceral, negative reaction to "hate the sin, but love the sinner." Its as if there's something deeply flawed about it, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

    I like what Cheng says, but it still doesn't get me there. I think that it has something to do with how little we can control the direction that we are pointing our "hate." Its as if the saying can too easily be used to justify a kind-of emotional syncretism.

    Do I really "hate" sin? Is it POSSIBLE to love and hate sin in the same way you love and hate people?

    Anyway...enough rambling for today.

  33. First of all, this has been a great discussion and I've benefited from reading it.

    It seems to me that while "hating the sin but loving the sinner" may be possible with most sins, with homosexuality it is not--because the "sin" in this case is not an action, but an identity.

  34. "hate the sin but love the sinner" - maybe it's something about the phrase or symantics, but
    my first internal/emotional reflex everytime I read or hear the phrase is that it immediately postures one into a position of presumed, self-proclaimed moral superiority - and THAT to me seems to be the root of the conflict.

    The definition of love.
    I propose that just one of many, many elements that define love is the old worn out cliche - "to know me is to love me and to love me is to know me".

    I'd rather have dinner and hang out with a friend's brother AND his male partner (we grew up together so I know my friend's brother very well) than a hypocrital, arrogant, self-righteous pastor of a prominent church.

    Why, because I love a hypocritcal pastor LESS and hate the sin of his self-righteous hypocricy MORE than I hate the sin of homosexuality I guess. In other words, I haven't figured out how to "love the sinner but hate the sin".

    Gary Y,

  35. I think the problem I'm seeing in reading through these comments is that all of the anecdotal evidence to support the possibility of hating the sin but loving the sinner is intensely person. We're talking about friends, children, family members, people whose lives you come into contact with frequently and about whom you care deeply. People you ALREADY love.

    Does the paradigm still hold up when you apply it to a large group of people? What about a large group of people, none of whom you have ever met? Can you direct that kind of deep, personal, unconditional, Christlike love at a group of strangers while simultaneously "hating" (again, what do we mean here?) their sin? All of their sin? The same way you hate your own sin?

    I think people have been correct in pointing out that you can hate sin but love the sinners you know and love anyway. Does it work when the "sinners" are a group of strangers?

    Also, as has not been pointed out often enough here: this is a phrase that has been co-opted by groups who have caused great pain to the LGBT community and a great many gay individuals, so whether or not it is accurate or psychologically possible, maybe we should get a new one?

  36. I have a lifelong friend who was bisexual. He says that, however kindly it is meant, Christians should never use the phrase "hate the sin, love the sinner" to refer to gay people. As castlerook mentioned, gay people don't view "being gay" as an action or even a tendency, but as who they are. Therefore, the phrase "hate the sin" translates in their minds to "they hate ME."

    In reality, I think (as others have noted) that hating sin (whatever that might be) while loving the person is exactly what we are called to do. Loving the person should be the emphasis and the motivation for our actions in any relationship, and that love actually is WHY we hate the sin. Sin is destructive. The more I love someone, the more I care what sin might do to them.

  37. The quote "love the sinner, hate the sin" is attributed to St. Augustine.

    Jesus, however, was known to say, "Go and sin no more," such as the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11). That's is an excellent New Testament example of loving the sinner, but hating the sin. Jesus didn't say, "Woman, go and do this some more if you feel like it's right."

    Christ had the perfect opportunity to define conjugal love as gender-neutral when He made his pronouncement on marriage in Matthew 19. The second person in the Trinity, who was and is all-knowing, and did not all future medical and scientific things, and all potential forms of attraction, could have easily phrased his statement on marriage as something like, "a person shall leave father and mother and be joined to a betrothed, and the two shall become one flesh."

    But Jesus didn't say that. This almighty being of infinite power, with full knowledge of all past and all future discoveries, still deliberately defined for all time the definition of marriage by speaking solely in terms of the complimentary relationship of one man and one woman, becoming one flesh. All other sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are therefore illicit.

  38. I agree with Desmognathus. The unfortunate thing is, many people who have same-sex attractions seem to feel that their sexuality is the defining characteristic about who they are. And therefore, when someone else objects to their "sin," even if it is out of love and out of true concern for the person committing such sin, the person of same-sex attraction still feels insulted or under attack. He or she is unable to separate their own self-worth from their sexual choices.

  39. The opposite is true. When you say "you love me, but hate my sin" it's YOU who is defining me by my sexuality. I hardly think you would say that to someone who's divorced. 

  40. If you believe it's an unbiblical concept, you apparently haven't read Psalm 97:10 - "Hate evil, you who love the Lord"

  41. Um... what? Some of my favorite actors play "villains" and I love them as actors but hate the characters they've portrayed. I am on your side of the argument but your statement only detracts from your point of view

Leave a Reply