“Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” – a Christian Myth in Perspective

I recently wrote my Christian Fundamentalist Homophobia series to point out how I and other fundamentalist children were taught to feel contempt and disgust for people who didn’t live up to our artificial standards. We were taught to separate people from their self-expression, as though they were somehow trapped in an impregnable cocoon and all we could actually see was the demon that controlled them. In other words, we hated everything about them but loved a vague idea in our minds of the “saved” person the sinner could become – you know, someone who didn’t actually exist. Someone we made up.

My conclusion to the series was this:

Unconditional love does not mean loving someone while disapproving of their actions. It means forsaking the right to disapprove. You cannot love who I am and hate what I do. What I do shows you who I am. If you choose to love a figment of your imagination, some idea of who I might become, then you love only your own mind, and what you hate is me.

Melissa at Permission to Live and Katy-Anne Wilson at American N Aussie have both written posts that address this, too. Each writes from a different perspective: one religious, one social. Excerpts below:

“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” by Katy-Anne

I also think that “love the sinner but hate the sin” is hypocrisy because often, we hate somebody else’s sin and yet we fail to hate our own. We would be better served hating our own sin and working on correcting our own sins than worrying about the sins of someone else. It is easy for me to judge someone for struggling with sins that I don’t struggle with, but I’m often far more sympathetic of those that struggle with the same sins I do than those that struggle with other sins, and that’s wrong.

Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner? by Melissa

I grew up with people who claimed they didn’t hate anyone (remember? They “love” sinners.) I even claimed to “love sinners while hating their sin” myself once upon a time. I understood tolerance to mean extreme distaste and dislike and disapproval, coupled with an ability to refrain oneself from violence towards the person you felt that way about. I felt that acceptance better expressed an ability to disagree, but be OK with that person living their own life. In reality, The definition for the term Tolerance is: “A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.”

This term encompasses perfectly what I am asking from people who do not agree with the reality of LGBTQ persons, and/or the exact ways they may choose to live their lives. Being willing to hear another person, seek to be fair and objective and impartial, is exactly what I meant to say by using the term “Acceptance”…. Many people who claim to be tolerant think that minorities should feel grateful that they are not being hung in the town square. They make no bones about the fact that they “Hate the sin.” And the “love the sinner” begins to sound more like “don’t kill the sinner”. This is not tolerance. 

  • http://contraryn.wordpress.com Contrarian

    If they truly love the sinner and hate the sin, then they surely won’t mind if you “love the Christian, hate Christianity.”

  • http://americannaussie.katyannewilson.com Katy-Anne

    You should have seen how that actually ended for me. :(

    • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

      I think I did see. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. :(

  • http://www.breathinggrace.com Raine

    Thanks for blogging about this and linking to those posts. I’m still trying to work this out myself. One one hand, I do think gay people can be saved and I know several people who are gay or bi and probably much better Christians than I am. On the other, I still have that nagging voice that’s all “what if you’re wrong, and what if you’re leading people into sin by telling them it’s OK”.

    I do think one thing that makes a lot of people stick so much to homophobia is that accepting the idea that God can and does bless same sex relationships effects other parts of their worldview. If you’re a complementarian, accepting that a couple doesn’t have to be male and female means there doesn’t have to be any sort of gender-based headship and submission. It can change your whole view of the family and, by extension, of the church and it can be pretty scary if you feel like you’re the only one in your local body of believers who’s beginning to see things that way.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      But you’re not leading anyone anywhere when you “tell them it’s ok.” Nobody stops being gay because other people disapprove, they just feel awful about themselves and are still as gay as ever. Nobody STARTS being gay because others approve either. The only choice WE have is to accept gay people for who they are, or to not accept them. We can be a source of support or a source of pain for them.

      I think a lot of parents of gay kids deal with something similar when their kids come out–I’ve seen it.* They think on some level that if they accept their child, they are not doing right by them as a parent because they are validating destructive path. They have a responsibility to NOT accept them because then maybe they’ll change.

      Most of the time–I’ve seen this too–those parents come to realize that their lack of acceptance won’t change anything and that, hey, being gay is really not any more destructive than being straight! (They can both be a headache sometimes, let’s face it.) But that’s after years of pain on both sides. When I see a parent like that now, I just want to say “How about you just skip all this stuff and move straight to the part where you and your kid love each other without it being fraught and miserable! Really! You’ll be so glad you did!”

      *My childhood bestie turned out to be gay and I also did a lot of musical theater in high school and made lots of friends through it, all in a heavily conservative Catholic area, so yeah…

  • Jenn Dyer

    I fell asleep thinking about unconditional love a few nights ago. It struck me that part of Christian theology is the promise of unconditional love from God. But if God loves us unconditionally why is he always trying to change us? And why are we condemned as sinners? If it really was unconditional love why would we need saving? Maybe because in actuality it’s filled with conditions.

  • Michelle

    RE: Unconditional love and God
    God loves us just as we are. My parents, I am fortunate to be able to say, have loved me just as I am.

    That does not conflict with them also wanting the best for me. If I have a habit that is self-destructive, they would hope that would change, and may talk with me about that. If seem callous toward others, they would want that to change, and might talk with me about that. However, even so, they would still love me now, love me if I changed, and love me if I didn’t change.

    I do not see a contradiction in wanting the best (not in terms of owning a Porche and having 3 mansions all over the world, but in a different way) for someone and loving that person unconditionally. In fact, they seem to me to go together.

    Some people believe that the christian God’s plan also offers universal salvation: one, Jesus, for all of humanity. I can’t speak about the theology there, because I have not studied it, but want to mention that the belief is out there.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    I always read but have never commented before. But you’ve pinpointed so perfectly why I can’t stand the “hate the sin, love the sinner” attitude. When you, as you say, make up a version of a person to “love” that lacks all of the characteristics that you hate, not only are you not really loving that person, in a way, you’re also professing to tell them who they really are. You are saying that parts of them that are intrinsic to who they are are not actually so, they’re just like warts that could be removed if they so chose. They don’t know who they REALLY are, only YOU can see that–and it’s really, really great and you only have remove about half of your identity to get there! No biggie.

    I remember when my childhood best friend came out as gay. I was thrilled! So many questions he had that seemed so troubling and unanswerable were suddenly answered. His problems with dating and relationships didn’t stem from “intimacy issues” or “commitment issues” that he got from his mom or his dad or whoever, they simply stemmed from the fact that he had not come to terms with who he wanted to be intimate with and committed to. Once he knew, things got so much better–he was happier, I worried less for him. He was finally living as himself. The fact that my friend lives as an openly gay man is not some unimportant part of him that, if you got rid of, would not change anything about him. I do not love my friend and “not care” that he lives as an openly gay man. I LOVE that about him. I love it because if he didn’t live that way, he would be less happy, less fulfilled, less who he really is. He often says that he can barely see the closeted kid he once was as himself, so presumably he feels the same way.

    So how is my friend supposed to hear someone compartmentalize this part of himself as “sin” and say “I hate that but I love you.” and not think “Then you don’t really love me.” How is he supposed to hear someone say “I don’t care that you date dudes, I love you anyway” and not think “Really? Because I DO care that I date dudes. It’s part of what makes me me.” How are gay people supposed to feel loved by people who think that they know who they really are better than they do, and who are willing to throw out parts of themselves that they worked so hard to own? (Even assuming that they really are wiling to do that…)

    It would be like if someone said to me “You know, you’re really not ugly. You could be very pretty actually, if only you made your hair a different color and your nose a different shape and your skin a different shade and your boobs a different size. You’re be very pretty if you fixed all that stuff, so I don’t think you’re ugly.”

    And I’d say “No, you DO think I’m ugly. Because all those things are part of what I, Petticoat Philosopher, look like. Maybe the body that would result from all those changes is one that you would like better, but it would not be MY body. And don’t try to tell me that it would be just to free yourself from the guilt of hating my ACTUAL body.”

    Who you are is what makes you recognize yourself as you. Nobody else gets to tell you what that is just so they can convince themselves how “loving” they are.