Love the sinner, hate the sin (?)

One of my favorite reads is the blog stuff Christians like.  The writer does this amazing job at taking a second look at what we’re doing.  He recently mentioned something in passing without exploring it, which is uncharaceristic. 

The concept that he just mentioned was the idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

This is sort of the equivalent, I think, of saying “You, you’re not like all those other” (fill in whatever opressed or minority group you’d like here.)  The person saying it feels like he’s all hip and on the cutting edge.  The person hearing it only hears what they percieve as ignorance.

If somebody said that they love me but that they hate something which I consider fundamental to my very identity, I would be– at best– annoyed.  If they said “I love you but hate the fact that your liberal leanings.” Or “I love you but hate the concept of fatherhood in general.”  Or “I love you but I hate all teachers” I would not express the appreciation this comment seems to want.

I know that we can argue all day that when we say these things, the things we hate is really sin, unlike fatherhood, teaching, etc.  But in a way that’s the whole point: the people who we say these things to, generally they don’t see the issue– whatever it is– as a sin.  It’s sensible for us to debate this point with them.

It’s even reasonable for us to do exactly what we say we’re doing: Love the person while hating that sin. 

What’s not reasonable is for us to use this statement as a tool of evangelism.  It’s unreasonable to expect that saying this is going to give a free pass to lecture and judge somebody.




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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “Love the sinner, hate the sin (?)”

  1. While this statement is absolutely ludicrous in the way that you’ve presented it Jeff (from one person who apparently does not sin, to one person who sins a lot), I think it has been a very effective marketing tool when said from one follower of Christ to another. I have actually never heard it said to someone who is not a follower of Christ, only an effective teaching tool to those who would probably go after people instead of the action. And while I’m not naive enough to believe that the way you’ve presented it does not happen, I have only heard it used in this way, in which case (to me anyway) it becomes simply a teaching idiom to get across a point.


  2. I think what you are saying and where I’ve also heard the statement is similar. The statement is used as a way to reinforce the idea that we should not be judgemental or lecturing, as Marty said of a teaching point to those who call ourselves Christ-followers on how to treat people. And I think you agreed that loving involves confronting and even debating about sin. Ultimately the statement should be more about God loves the sinner, but detests the sin. It’s really not up to us to hate the sin as though we’re the judge of the living and the dead on the day of judgment. Our role is to be an ambassador for the King and challenge people to restore relations with a Holy God who hates sin and with a Loving God who wants to spend eternity with them.


  3. Thanks for your thoughts guys.
    I particularly like the observations around how it’s useful from one Christian to another and how we ought to be talking about God loving the sinner and hating the sin, rather than us.


  4. Why anyone would care a lick what i think of them or their behavior is beyond me (unless i have relationship with them).

    i have this parable of a dog stuck in my head:

    i came across a dog who apparently had no master. He had a collar but no tags. His fur was matted and his skin was stretched taut over his ribs. He was eating rocks. i wanted to help him, to feed him, to free him from fear and uncertainty, to offer him a home.

    Dogs bite. He doesn’t care at all how cute i think he is or what my intentions are toward him or his territory, if he’s inclined to bite me he will. It’s part of being a dog; it’s what they do. i’m patient and careful with this dog.

    i suppose it would be different if he had a master. i should be safer if that were the case. If he bites me in the presence of his master without orders or provocation he’s a bad dog.


  5. I totally have to agree with Jeff on this one. Marty? “Ludacris”??? Dude… Most of the time, the actions which I do are a direct result of the person that I am. If I’m actually sinning, I would love to be held accountable for it by those who are closest to me (christian to christian!) but if it’s just a matter of opinon, then… whatever! Garrett, not many of us are quite as self confident as you. I firmly believe that it is very important what others think of me simply because I am a christian and I represent my church and my beliefs every where I go. My actions are part of who I am.


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