Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Love the sinner - hate the sin

We've all heard the phrase "love the sinner but hate the sin" (or some variation); in fact, I suspect many of us, in our darkest days of denial, probably uttered these words ourselves.  But, what does it really mean?  Or is it merely a clever sound bite devoid of any real meaning?  Not unlike "gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of marriage"

On the surface, it comes across as saying "I love you in spite of your faults".  But, saying you love the sinner but hate the sin puts the emphasis more on the sin rather on than the person committing the sin. It's like saying "I don't hate you - I just hate certain things about you" - can we honestly call that "love"?  Or does true, honest, and pure love mean that we try to overlook the faults in a person and focus on the good in them?

The word "hate" is such a strong word in the english language - which might explain why this particular phrase seems to be reserved for only the most egregious of sins; although,  it's not applied uniformly.  In fact - I dare say, it's applied to the 'sin' of homosexuality far more than any other sin - perhaps even more than all other sins combined.

Let's say, for sake of discussion, that homosexual acts are a sin (a premise certainly not shared by many who read this blog) - but, just for the sake of discussion, is there really any justification in the gospel to hate the act of loving someone of the same gender?

Jeremy gave his response to this phrase in a recent blog post of his by saying:
I would rather have them hate me then mock me with kindness.
Reading this gave me pause - I had never thought of it in that way before.  By saying "love the sinner but hate the sin" - are we mocking the concept of love?  In fact, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, has the Lord given us approval to "hate" anything? In the sermon on the mount, Jesus taught
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matt 5:44)
In modern day revelation, the Lord said
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:9)
Seems pretty clear that we, as mere mortals, are to focus on love and forgiveness and not so much on the misdeeds of others.  In fact, Jesus also taught
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? (Matt 7:3)
He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone ... (John 8:7)
I'm going to have to agree with Jeremy on this.  When we say "love the sinner but hate the sin" - we are in effect saying "I love you - but I hate certain things about you."  Implicitly, we are also inferring "and I don't want you to do or say anything in my presence that reminds me of that aspect of you."

This is, at best, conditional love; and, at worse it is, as Jeremy suggests, a mockery of love and kindness - neither of which are in harmony with the gospel of Jesus.

So, what should a person do when a friend or loved one is living a life they believe is out of harmony with the Lord?  Jesus answered this as well when he said
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise (Luke 6:31)
In other words, if you want people to respect your beliefs and lifestyle choices then you need to respect theirs. Seems pretty simple to me.

[sigh] If only more, so called, 'christians' would actually strive to follow the teachings of the God they claim to worship . . .


Jeremy said...

Wow! Good sir, you have so eloquently put to words what I feel! Thank you! Your quoting of scripture captures so perfectly the religious emphasis of this. Once more, thank you for your thoughtfulness and eloquence of words!

TGD said...

This is really great. I've been trying to wrap my head around that phrase for quite some time.

It always felt like a profound contraction to me. And sure enough it is, but what's still difficult for me to understand is how people don't see the sad irony of it all.

Max Power said...

I love the sinner and adore the sin. :D

Matt said...

I wonder if it's that simple.

To begin with, love needn't be perfect to be love. It's not a choice between perfect love, conditional love, and a mockery of love. For example, I love some people who are socially awkward. I love them as much and in most of the same ways as my not-awkward friends. But I hate it when they do or say things that remind me how socially awkward they are. I still love them when they're awkward, but I wish they weren't.

I'm not mocking love by saying I love them, but not that part of them, and neither am I only loving them when they're being debonair; I'm loving to my current capacity, which while not perfectly emulating Jesus is still a good thing.

The phrase is meaningless when people only do the second part, but many people mean parts one and two equally and sincerely. Hating my choice doesn't translate to hating my right to choose.

Also, Matthew 5:44 seems to be supporting the phrase in question; the scripture says to love and pray for "them"(the sinners), but not that the curses, the hate, and the using (the sins) are not to be hated.

The hypocrisy of saying "love the sinner, hate the sin" and then only hating gets to me too, but I think you're stretching with this post. Of course people aren't going to love something they consider unpleasant or even evil, regardless of whether it's actually evil or not. It's irrational to expect them to.

MoHoHawaii said...

What Max said. :-)

Especially with the sinner I love.

Gay Saint said...

A dear friend of mine once put it this way: " To 'love the sinner and hate the sin' is a clever use of misdirection. It allows the speaker to judge others while calling himself/herself virtuous."

TGD said...

It's hypocrisy.

To love the sinner one must judge that person a sinner first.

"Thou shalt not judge!"


Anonymous said...

Only one person told me that and I said "Yeah, that's why I love you."

Abelard Enigma said...

Jeremy - you're the one who inspired this post, thank you for making me think more deeply.

TGD - I'm still trying to wrap my head around it

Max & MoHoHawaii - {BLUSH} ... um [double BLUSH}

Matt - I understand, and don't disagree with, what you are saying; I just think there are better ways to express those thoughts and feelings. I still maintain that the "love the sinner hate the sin" attitude puts more emphasis on the sin than on the person. And that, I believe, is contrary to what the gospel teaches us.

Gay Saint - It's like here in Texas you can say just about anything you want about a person so long as you add "bless his heart" (or something similar) - as in "he is as dumb as a doorknob, bless his heart".

Anonymous - I've only heard it used in referring to someone else who was not present; so, in a way it's like talking behind their back

Anonymous said...

I think there are some potential problems with your interpretation. If you hate a real flesh-and-blood-honest-to-goodness-testified-in-print kind of sin, you are hating something that will cause harm or pain or heartache to the person you love. You hate a sin because it will, sooner or later, lead to misery. It is not that you hate certain parts of a person. You hate the things that will someday lead to pain or sorrow for your friend. In fact, hating the sin only shows that you love the person even more, because you actually care about their happiness. That takes effort. It is not a passive la-dee-dah-do-whatever kind of love. That kind of love is cheap. Being a parent has taught me that lesson.

Before everyone throws up their arms to disagree, I admit that one has to first judge what is a sin and what is not. This issue is sometimes sore for us gay Mormons because if you consider same-sex attraction to be the sin, and subsequently hate it, that obviously will have a negative impact on us, since being gay is usually an unchangeable part of who we are, and is not a sin. Hence, hating the "sin" in this case means hating the individual.

However if someone has a gay friend that is sleeping around with men willy-nilly, hooking up with men on the internet, addicted to porn, or whatever other irresponsible actions they are dabbling with, you hate the sin because his irresponsible actions will catch up with him sooner or later, and it will hurt. You love him enough to hate how much it will hurt him.

And yes, I do think we need to judge what is sin and what is not. And that's why we need revelation--both from prophets and from the Holy Ghost. We need all the revelation we can get in order to get it right.

Anonymous said...

I'd like some input. I firmly believe the opposite, that homosexuality is wrong by God's standards. But I also believe that we should not judge, exactly as you have posted. That saying "love the sinner hate the sin" has always seem wrong. I agree we should all respect each other and let God judge. It's not our place. I'm willing to do that. But I still believe that homosexuality is wrong. How do I allow treat a homosexual person with the respect they want, but at the same time pass on my convictions to my children? This question may come across badly. I want to allow everyone the freedome to live their lives the way they want, but I want my convictions, that I feel deeply about to be passed to my children. How would you suggest I do this?

Abelard Enigma said...

I want to allow everyone the freedome to live their lives the way they want, but I want my convictions, that I feel deeply about to be passed to my children. How would you suggest I do this?

Anonymous - that's a very good question. I think it is something that deserves more thought than a simple comment. Let me collect my thoughts for a new blog post.