Why ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ fails

loveI 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.

Hate Evil

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:

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.

Love Genuinely

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.

Todd Morrison’s article for Relevant offers a great point here:

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.

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18 responses to “Why ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ fails

  1. Thanks Shawn. This was very thought provoking. I was ready to argue with you until I read the whole post. Thanks for the challenge.

  2. I think that maybe its because homelessness and the like are easier for the church to directly minister to. Abortion and gay marriages, however, the church has little influence and power over, so all they can do is protest it.

    • While this may be true, Kyle, one of the points I try to make is that the Church isn’t really even ministering to the issues of homelessness and the like. Issues like these may be easier for us to do directly, but too many Christians, it seems, are ignoring even the simplest of tasks.

      One reason why I think the Church has no “influence and power over” issues like Abortion and gay marriage is because we’ve been communicating the wrong message through hypocritical ways.

  3. Thank you Shawn–the Chik-Fil-A thing caused me, as an LGBT/same-sex attracted Christian, to re-examine why so many powerful conservative Christians could ever see it as their “duty” to help make the rich richer as some form of macabre protest, and in the process to further isolate men and women from my background, sexually active or not, from the Church. I was “unfriended” on Face Book for asking a very respected Catholic priest’s followers to simply take it easy on the LGBT people they encountered during the event. I did not even suggest they did not do the protest, just to do so with genuine prayer and love, and instead a high level representative of the Church I also loved just blocked me without a word.

    It made me re-think what really was going on, which I was already beginning to do anyway, and eventually to re-join a Christian community where I knew I was safe and welcome. I do have a certain anger and disappointment towards this particular man of God, but tried very, very hard to not make my decision on that basis. It was what I saw this whole thing doing to precious LGBT brothers and sisters that caused me to move onward. We can have different views on this topic–but never can we, even subtly, hate or berate those who are actively homosexual. Or any other area of struggle for that matter. The more marriage and other controversies are discussed, the more even the FBI statistics indicate that crimes against such people–my people–are being committed.

    I am sure the Cathys will all live and die comfortable lives, with their “first wives” as they bragged. I am sure Huckabee will too. Good for them and I wish them well. I mean that, and not sarcastically. But unfortunately not so for many of my HIV+ and otherwise afflicted folks who are victims of this supposedly “Christian” strategy we now tend to use in a number of selected areas of the “really bad” sins. This thing is personal to me now.

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  6. Thanks for the great article Shawn. The “love the sinner, hate the sin” phrase is thrown around in Christian circles and it really bothers me. I think it is high time I stand up and start challenging that statement when I hear it (in a loving manner, of course). May God continue to bless you and this great ministry!

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  9. I’ve followed Jesus as best as I can for over 30 years. I raised my son to love God and he was baptised when he was 16. Now 10 years later, he has a boyfriend.

    You say as Christians we need to choose to fight to help those in the midst of evil, like homelessness and broken families. My heart breaks that my son’s unrepentant sin will cause him to go to hell. How can I ignore that?

    • Hi Hurting Mom – thank you so much for sharing this important comment. I am in no way suggesting that parents, or loved ones, should ignore the issue of homosexuality within their family. Keep praying for them. Keep assuring them of your love and God’s presence. Keep being Jesus to their friends.

      As parents, and as Christians, we are called to not only show love towards others, but to BE love to others as well. Sometimes this is hindered, though, by our actions and our words. This post tried to address this, and ask Christians to see those with same-sex attractions beyond their sexuality (and whatever sin). As a whole, Christians tend to pick fights that are worth fighting, while ignoring other things that need to be fought. Instead of seeing the gay community as our enemy, we need to see them and respond to them as people whom God loves and died for – just as He did for us.

      This doesn’t mean we ignore personal situations (as with family members), but that we see beyond the issues of sin and into the eyes of the person. Make sense?

      • It makes sense if I ignore what the Bible says. I don’t know how to resolve the conflict of homomsexual behavior being “detestable/abomination” in God’s eyes (Leviticus 18:22), that God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6), and “such persons must be cut off from their people” (Leviticus 18:29). How can we show love to those who participate in detestable sins, if we are to cut them off? And this guidance from God should stand if God doesn’t change, shouldn’t it?

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