On ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’

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According to Huffington Post blogger Micah J. Murray in “Why Can’t Say ‘Love the Sinner/Hate the Sin’ Anymore“:

I’m done.

I can’t look my gay brother in the eye anymore and say “I love the sinner but hate the sin.” I can’t keep drawing circles in the sand.

I thought I just needed to try harder. Maybe I needed to focus more on loving the sinner, and less on protesting the sin. But even if I was able to fully live up to that “ideal,” I’d still be wrong. I’d still be viewing him as something other, something different.

Not human. Not friend. Not Christian. Not brother.

Sinner.

And despite all my theological disclaimers about how I’m just as much a sinner too, it’s not the same. We don’t use that phrase for everybody else. Only them. Only “the gays.” That’s the only place where we make “sinner” the all-encompassing identity.

Then we try to reach them, to evangelize them. We speak of “the gays” in words reminiscent of the “savages” from those old missionary stories — foreign and different and far away, the ultimate conquest for the church to tame and colonize and save.

Maybe we accept them in our midst. But even then, it’s sinners in our midst — branded with a rainbow-colored scarlet letter. They aren’t truly part of us.

Even that word “them” makes me cringe as I speak it, as if my brothers and sisters are somehow other, different from me.

It’s a special sort of condescending love we’ve reserved for the gay community. We’ll agree to love them, accept them, welcome them — but we reserve the right to see them as different. We reserve the right to say “them” instead of “us.” We embrace them with arms full of disclaimers about how all the sinners are welcome here. And yet, they’re the only ones we constantly remind of their status as sinners, welcome sinners.

In all this, we turn our backs on all the gay brothers and sisters already in our church, already following Jesus. Our “us vs. them” narrative leaves little space for those who didn’t choose to be gay, but did choose to follow Jesus. Using “gay” and “sinner” interchangeably, we force them away from the Table and into the shadows.

They say Jesus was a friend of sinners, but he didn’t describe himself that way.

His motto wasn’t “eating and drinking with prostitutes and tax collectors.” Those were the labels used by the religious community, by the disapproving onlookers. What’s amazing about Jesus is that when he hung out with sinners, he didn’t act like they were sinners. They weren’t a “project,” a “mission field.” They were his friends. People with names. Defined as beloved children of the Creator, not defined by their sins. Icons of God’s image. His brothers and sisters.

It was the Pharisees who looked at them and scrawled “sinner” on their foreheads. It was the accusers who drew circles in the sand with themselves on the inside and “those sinners” on the outside.

Those words — “a friend of sinners” — were spoken with an upturned nose and a self-righteous sneer. And that’s the same phrase the church has adopted to speak of our own brothers and sisters — “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

It’s the same self-righteous sneer heard in the words of those who dragged the woman caught in adultery to Jesus: “What should we do with such a woman?” They defined her by a moment. She was “one of those.” Not a sister. Not a human. Just a pawn in a political debate. A sinner.

But Jesus knelt with her in the sand. Unafraid to get dirty. Unafraid to affirm her humanity. “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

He could have said “You’re a sinner, but I love you anyways.” But she knew she was a sinner. Those voices were loud and near and they held rocks above her head.

Jesus refused to let his voice join theirs. By telling her “go and sin no more,” he affirmed that sin is not her deepest identity. It’s not how he saw her. It’s not who she was at the core of the being.

I am a sinner.

But before I was a sinner, I was created in the image of God. While sin has twisted and smudged that image, it can’t erase it. Sin is so terrible that it killed Jesus. But it doesn’t define me any longer. I am a new creation.

Because of Jesus, “sinner” is not how God sees me. It’s not how I see myself. And it shouldn’t be how I see my brothers and sisters in the church.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus. To look at my gay Christian brother and say “God loves the sinner” is to set myself against Jesus and bring condemnation again to those he’s already redeemed.

So I’m done.

I’m done with “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.”

I won’t say it anymore.

I’m done with speaking as if I’m different, better than you.

We are icons. We are children of the Creator, redeemed by Jesus. We are brothers and sisters.

And today, that’s enough.

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Boy, have I heard this phrase before. So where did this terrible phrase originate from? According to Catholic Answers in response to the question, ‘I read that Christ did not say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Who did?‘:

It’s from St. Augustine. His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The phrase has become more famous as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate the sin and not the sinner” (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography).

In fact, according to Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel in his post “Did Jesus believe in Original Sin?”:

You are correct in assuming that most Christians believe in Original Sin, to a greater or lesser degree. As to whether Jesus himself really believed in Original Sin or not, I have serious doubts. In one of the Gospels, we read about how Jesus’ disciples once asked Jesus, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” (John 1:1). However, Jesus gives one of the most profound rabbinical answers imaginable, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (John 9:2-3).

As a Jew reading the Gospel narrative, it seems to me that Jesus explicitly disapproved of any idea that man suffers from an inherited sin. By extension, every human fault we are born with serves a spiritual purpose so that we may glorify the Creator despite our natural shortcomings. Nowhere does Jesus ever speak of anything resembling the idea of a prenatal sin.

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