In October 2013, I wrote an essay titled 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin. In it, I ask my fellow Christians to stop using that phrase. Because UGH. And ACK. And has there ever been a phrase less symbolic of a Jesus who welcomed outcasts to his table, and who discarded rules in favor of mercy every time? Has there ever been a phrase quite like ‘Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin,’ intended to express love, that falls so dramatically short of its goal?
Now, a year and a half later, 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin is seeing an online resurgence. Over 100,000 people have viewed it in the last two weeks. Granted, that’s not the 750,000 who’ve read The Day I Pooped My Closet, but there’s no accounting for taste, friends, and if you look at both posts together it becomes very clear, very quickly that we humans sure do like reading about THE MESS, don’t we? The mess in the closet. The mess in our hearts. The mess in our church. The mess in the ways we communicate.
It’s OK, though! This is a messy space. We welcome the mess here, always.
And a mess it has been. Very, VERY messy, in fact, because 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin has made some of my fellow Christians Very, VERY angry. And, while some have expressed their consternation kindly and rebuked me with obvious love, some have called me Heretic and False Teacher, A Disgrace to the Faith and a Liar.
Now, as this post has surged, I’ve left it alone, intentionally commenting very little because I think a) it’s important to have a healthy dialogue which only happens when we allow other people their say, and b) we welcome all comers to this space. That’s what we do here. It’s who we are. We welcome people.
There comes a point, though, if I continue not to comment, where I end up creating confusion or, at the very least, a one-sided conversation where I’ve lobbed the first ball, you hit it back, and then I refuse to continue… and, well, that’s not very helpful of me, is it? At the end of 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin, I asked for your agreements and disagreements, and then I zipped my lips.
Here I am, unzipping my lips. Because it’s time. And because it’s important to clarify a thing or two.
If you need to read 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin first, head on over. We’ll wait.
Ready? Here we go.
What 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin IS Saying and Also What It’s NOT:
To be crystal clear, 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin is talking about the PHRASE ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ and why we should discard it. It’s a post about our Christian lexicon and the ways we need to evaluate our words. That’s what the essay IS.
As far as what it ISN’T, you don’t need to scroll far through the comments on that original post to see that some of my fellow Christians are very dismayed by this essay. They think I’m saying a) that sin doesn’t exist and b) even if it does, we should ignore it and let everyone blithely go on sinning… like, WHEEEE!
To those people, I say, maturely, “Am not.” I am saying neither that sin doesn’t exist nor that we should ignore it, though I AM saying that it’s rarely our role to confront it, that we’ve grossly mistaken “confronting sin” for loving our neighbors — exactly the opposite of Jesus’ example and words — and, finally, that we ought to be EXTREMELY, EXTRAORDINARILY cautious about the whole “calling out sin” thing. We have, in other words, gotten the whole Jesus message dreadfully wrong, and we owe it to people to humbly apologize and ask their forgiveness. More about that in a minute.
Sin, Crime and Injustice
Another confusion I found in the comments is in our collective understanding of sin, crime and injustice, which became obvious in comments like “so you think what Hilter did was AWESOME” and “so when your kid is abused, you’ll just congratulate the abuser.” For the record, I’m going with no on both of those.
“Sin,” by definition, means “a transgression against divine law.” “Sin” should not be confused with “crime” which is “a transgression against the law of the land.” Crimes must be reported, friends. Nor should “sin” be confused with “injustice” which means “a lack of fairness or equity.” We — Christians and NonChristians alike — must report crimes and work toward fairness and equity for all people.
It’s not that sin, crime and injustice don’t overlap. They do. Often. Abuse, for example, is certainly a transgression against divine law. So it’s a sin, right? But it’s also crime and needs to be handled by the law, folks; the Church has gotten itself into a world of hurt by trying to “hate the sin” out of abusers, overstepping the bounds of what the Church is and is not equipped to handle.
Instead, the word sin refers in the context of this essay to immorality. A transgression against divine law. And this is exactly the connection I tried to make in 3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin. We Christians are eager to point out immorality. Spend any time at all on Facebook and that’s obvious. And this is the message we’re getting SO WRONG, folks. We decry sins like promiscuity, adultery, intoxication, and so many more, focusing in ways Jesus never did on others’ outward actions, all the while ignoring our own sins of the heart — the sins on which Jesus did focus — like pettiness, cruelty, harshness, rage, greed, and hatred.
Imagine this, though. Imagine a Church that LOVES OTHERS. A Church that welcomes the stranger. A Church that LETS EVERYONE IN, not to change them, but to ADORE them. A Church that seeks, not to reform others or call them to repentance, but seeks to reform ourselves. To repent for the ways we’ve lacked mercy. To ask for forgiveness for all the finger-pointing. To act like Jesus came to set us free, not trap or trick us. To humbly admit our fear and our pride and our anger. To work to grow and change.
Over and over, Jesus’ lessons to us were about the ways we are unkind, uncharitable, unmerciful, unloving. Those are what I see as our deep sin. As MY deep sin. And that’s what I wish we’d correct. Together.
We Really Do Need to Stop Using That Phrase, Friends
In the words of my brother Jeff, we can debate between the “Love/Don’t Judge” verses (Matt. 22:37-39, Matt. 7:1-5, Luke 6:37, John 8:7, 1 Cor. 4:5, etc.) and the “Accountability/Live Holy Lives” verses (James 5:20, Rev. 2:6, 1 Cor. 5, etc.) forever. FOREVER AND EVER. This is complex and takes the most learned theologians LIFETIMES to suss out and, even then, they don’t all agree with each other. I think, then, we can probably agree that a six-word phrase — ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ — does not do justice to that complexity. And in over-simplifying, it devalues and hurts people.
HOW we confront each other or hold people accountable MATTERS. And uniformly, the people who have been on the receiving end of ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ report it as hurtful. If you’re using this language with people, it hurts them. Please stop.
With love (and hatred for our sins)(ha!),
P.S. I don’t actually know if any of that makes sense, but it’s 10:30pm and I’m stuck sitting criss-cross with my laptop on a bed in between two sweet, smelly, sleeping 8-year-olds, so I’m hitting publish so I can try to extricate myself from this position before my legs crap up. I hope you understand.
P.P.S. I meant to write, “cramp” up in that first P.S., but I didn’t do it right. I’m leaving it because it’s symbolic. Sometimes when I try to write one thing, crap comes out, instead. I hope you understand.
P.P.P.S. Before you criticize my theology, I’d like to give you more to criticize. Not really; I’m actually not interested in more criticism, though I understand it’s part of the gig and likely to continue, so whatever. I do think it’s helpful, though, when you have a more complete picture. In addition to the “Faith and Doubt” section you can find at the top of this page on the left sidebar, I’d encourage you to read Sanctuary, The Real Reason I Still Go to Church, and especially On Parenting, Faith and Imperfection. I hope you understand.