I have been striving really hard to portray this message in my life and in this ministry. Still, some lessons need to be repeated more than 1,000 times. So I offer these words in collaboration with others resounding the same style of message – such as this recent article by Relevant Magazine of the same topic.
As a Christian I can understand the sentiment behind the statement, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It makes sense and it sounds biblical. We are to hate evil, which sin is. We are to stand for purity, which sin isn’t. We are to live in the world but not be of the world. We are to love people but not accept their sin. If Christians don’t point out the sins of the world, especially the big ones some people live out each day, then we’re not doing our job. To overlook sin is to go against what Jesus taught.
I get all of this – I really do. In fact, I used to champion the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin.” The words seemed harmless, and conveyed a true sense of love and grace.
However, this seemingly correct response brought about unseen hurt and resentment to those this phrase was directed towards. While Christians felt they were portraying love, others heard nothing more than hate and conditionally love. This wasn’t the message I wanted to portray. Therefore, since the phrase hindered my message of hope, I stopped using it. To me, it is high time that the Church follow suit.
Can we really love and hate someone?
When Christians say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” the people on the other end move from being people to now being sin. And for many of us, this sin is all we see of the person. We take their identity and make it something filthy and damning, and those we’ve now newly labeled begin to see themselves as only this sin, too. As I’ve said earlier this week, we are all guilty of sin. At the cross, and beyond the cross, is level ground – common ground.
In using this phrase, Christians may mean love, but all people hear is hate. So we have to ask ourselves, are we really loving those who only hear hate from us? Therefore, our words need to change, so people can hear God’s message of hope – which needs to be said. How do we do this? I think we need to understand a few things before we go further.
It’s not wrong to hate evil. In fact we’re commanded to hate evil (Romans 12:9). Here’s the thing though, we’re called to hate all evil, from those things we like to talk about to those things we ignore talking about. The great sins of our time are not homosexuality and abortion. While they are in fact issues to deal with, I think there are other things we should be focusing on instead of just these two issues.
In this country alone:
- There are over 635,000 people (adults and children) living homeless.
- There are over 1,000,000 people living with HIV.
- As of September 2010, there were over 408,000 kids in foster care.
- In 2010, 15.1 percent of the US population lived in poverty. Of them, 16.4 million were children.
- The number of single parents living with their children in 2010, 11.7 million. Of these, 9.9 million were single mothers and 1.8 million were single fathers.
As Christians, the majority of us are quick to picket gay marriage and abortion clinics, but why are we not quick to protest homelessness, poverty, lack of AIDS funding, divorce, and the abandonment of children? We’re called to hate sin (evil), but it seems we pick and choose which sins we want to hate and those we want to by-pass.
The stats of these issues are far greater when viewed world-wide. Yet for many of us, we barely notice. We forget that before Paul says to “hate evil,” he implores us to “Let love be genuine.” If we ignore certain evils, while protesting others, then are we truly loving genuinely those that Christ created and died for? I don’t think so. Doing so makes us guilty of doing evil as well – according to scripture passages such as Matthew 23:23-28. We hate the sins of others, while overlooking our own.
The love of God transforms people. It’s God’s loving-kindness that led us into repentance, and it is His loving-kindness that continues to lead people into repentance (Romans 2:4, 5:8). Not fire and brimstone. God’s love transforms lives – first our own. It is through His transformation that we should love and minister to others. Take for instance the story of Jesus being anointed by a sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. To paraphrase it, Jesus is among His disciples and some religious leaders. A sinful woman enters the room, goes over to Jesus, and anoints His feet with perfume, her tears, and wipes them with her hair. The woman is scolded by those around Jesus. The story ends as follows:
41 A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.
Are we ones who have been forgiven much, or forgiven little? Are we ones who are to love much, or love little? Remember, Christ said the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love others as yourself. As Christ genuinely loves us, how are we genuinely loving others?
Genuine love does not mean we overlook evil, nor does it mean that we accept evil for good. It means that we love in spite of evil. It means that we remember who we were before Christ came into our lives, before He saved us, redeemed us, and transformed us. The same love He gave to us, we give to others, regardless of what muck they are in and no matter if they admit their muck is sin or not.
But what would happen if our churches threw us a curveball this weekend? What if during the meet-and-greet moment, our pastor announced: “Please take a moment and share the sin you’ve been secretly battling with the total stranger standing next to you.”
Would we run for the door never to return? Or, do we believe that our church is a safe place to offload the massive burden of our deepest secrets?
We all carry sin, secrets and pain into church every week. No matter what we do to keep our secrets—our attempts at masking them and the weight of it all is too much for us to bear. The good news is the Church is intended to be a safe place to share our secrets without fear of judgment or abandonment. Not with total strangers during an icebreaker question, but in the community of a few friends, a small group and loving leaders.
I should mention here, this was my point in writing a response to the Chick-fil-A and gay marriage episode a few weeks ago. Many of you understood what I was saying. Some of you though, took offense and thought I was jumping off the deep end. I was simply trying to make a bigger point for the Church to understand: we are called to love people regardless of who they are, what they do behind closed doors, and what they think about us, just as Jesus loved us into His Kingdom.
In This World
Jesus guarantees that the world will misunderstand us, hate us, and try to destroy us. Our response, He tells us, is to pray for world, love the world, and be a light in the world. More often than not, the world around us knows what we are against more than it knows what we are for. How about we change this mindset. What if we started fighting against the injustices of this world, instead of each other. What if are hearts were broken for the 2 billion people world-wide who have not heard the gospel, instead of throwing a fit because most of our kids can’t pray in school. What if we spent our money on caring for the nearly 150,000,000 orphans world-wide and feeding the 500,000,000 people starving to death, instead of raising millions of dollars to stop certain people from getting married. What if the Church worked just as hard to eradicate more than 700,000,000 slums world-wide, as it does to end abortions. After all, being pro-life extends from the womb to the grave.
Instead of “love the sinner, hate the sin” mindsets, the Church needs to love people genuinely while working hard to fight evil with good. Instead of telling a gay person, or anyone else for that matter, “I like you but find your lifestyle repulsive,” we simply say, “Hi, I’m Shawn. Pleased to meet you.” Then pray, “Father, help me to love this person in Jesus Name.” Imagine what would happen if the Church started to react like this.