Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin. Yes, But Who’s the Sinner?

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“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” -Genesis 1:27

This I believe, and it’s a hard thing to believe in a world where right can seem like wrong, and wrong has more say in the media that right can ever get. It’s an even harder stand to take in a world where the lines have been drawn, and the different sides are willing to die for their own dogma. And agendas.

 

Back in college, I was hanging out at a lobby somewhere waiting for my next class to start. A people-watcher, I sat quietly and watched all the other students around me. Nothing interesting happened until an obviously gay fellow student walked past a group of fraternity guys. Suddenly, taunts and jeers broke through the low murmur of conversation and bounced off the walls. Other students turned to look. The gay student’s face turned red but he continued walking, passing us all, into the same classroom I was about to enter. The insults stopped only when he walked out of view.

In class several minutes later, I noticed how my gay classmate kept his head bowed the whole time. I felt bad for him, so I tore off a page from my notebook and wrote him a note. I didn’t know him, the semester had just started and I never really noticed him before. But I felt led–somehow–to apologize for what just happened in the hallway.

The note was passed. He read it, then looked around to see who wrote it. I lifted a hand and smiled. He smiled back. We never got to talk, but I remember how he kept his head up for the rest of the class after that. The memory stayed with me, perhaps as something to be taken out and mused over for such a time as now.

 

In the years since, I’ve had some friends who decided to “come out of the closet.” It was always a struggle for me, wondering how each friendship would work after each revelation, trying to figure out how to be true to what I believed and yet love my friends at the same time. I remember a long conversation, on the phone, with one friend in particular. He told me about his journey and how he reached the conclusion that it was okay to be gay and Christian. I told him what I thought about what he shared. We didn’t argue or anything like that, and I’d like to think we ended our conversation as friends still. Yet, I am honest enough to admit that it’s easier for us because we live in different countries.

 

In the past few weeks, states have made decisions on same-sex marriage and the president of our country has come clean on where he stands on the issue. I’ve seen reactions from both sides of the deep canyon, and I’ve seen so much hate from either side. I have to admit I am most bothered by the hate that comes from the side that claims to be Jesus’ followers.

I am bothered because when I read the Bible, I am not at all convinced that hate is what we’re supposed to feel. It seems to me like Jesus, the One we claim to love and obey, preferred to walk with sinners. Not just the sinners who claimed to have changed, but the sinners who were still neck-deep in their sin. It seems to me like Jesus, the One who has every right to condemn, offered love and forgiveness instead.

 

At the well. He met the Samaritan woman right where she was and showed her another way.

Up the tree. He called down to Zacchaeus and invited himself to the man’s house.

With the sick. He touched lepers and called out to the dead.

With annoying people. He had patience with the disciples’ failure to believe, again and again.

With criminals. He forgave a thief just like that, and promised him paradise.

 

It seems to me like Jesus knew who needed Him most, and He went to them. And of those He reached out to, it seems to me like the ones who realized their need of Him were the ones who were transformed.

It seems to me like a lot of the more obvious sinners found forgiveness and reconciliation with him. And it seems to me like the more religious ones, like the pharisees or even Judas who was part of Jesus’ team, got even more lost in their lies.

 

Love the sinner, hate the sin. I feel like only Jesus has the right to say that.

The way I see it, we’re all sinners and when we say “Love the sinner…” it’s like we’re saying we’re not sinners. But they are.

 

The more I observe, the more I realize many of us from the church show more patience for our sins, the ones we try to keep from each other but know about anyway. It’s like we’ve made our churches safe places for our own preferences, and fashioned our activities after our own tastes and the stuff we like to do. And it seems to me like we’ve totally revamped the idea of loving others to mean loving others who are like us, who like what we like and who fit into our plans.

And the more I think about it, the more I have a feeling that on any given day, Jesus would rather be with those we have rejected. Because their need is always before them, while our self-righteousness parries His attempts to break through.

 

I could be wrong but in a world where the lines zigzag every which way, and bloodhounds are placed at every checkpoint to fight off anyone who would dare protest against the people living beside the safety of each drawn line, we Christians should make it a point to step past these lines and live the way Jesus did. But it seems to me like we are the ones who have drawn the thicker lines, and our bloodhounds are faster on the draw than the rest of the pack.

 

It seems to me like we have a lot to apologize for—mainly, we need to apologize for not loving the way Jesus did and continues to do.

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2 responses »

  1. Compelling. It reminds me of Philip Yancey’s book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” The church has ceased to be the sanctuary for the lost and broken, and instead become a symbol of chastisement and condemnation. We ask God for grace and celebrate it, yet fail to extend it to the hurting and the oppressed.

  2. OK. Deep breath. Let’s start with some basics.
    1 We are all sinners. (Romans 3:23)
    2 We therefore all need God’s grace and mercy. (John 3:16, Romans 6:23, etc.)

    Next::
    We are commanded to love one another. We are also told to chastise a brother or sister who has fallen into sin. This is sometimes translated debauchery. It is called abomination in other translations. Does God ignore this? Hardly. It is condemned in some very strong terms. The big problem in the Corinthian church was sexual sin of several different kinds. Did the apostle Paul’s writings say this should be accepted? Again. No.

    So where does this lead the response of the believer?

    Can we accept a (key word here) deliberately acted out lifestyle as normal, and ignore the clear text of scripture? Should we avoid any mention of what the Bible says because we may be condemned as “homophobes”? Should society’s norms be embraced because we are also supposed to be “all things to all people”? This series of questions show how quickly we can fall into the trap of prooftexting.

    Scripture makes it very clear that God hates sin. It is stated unambiguously in many places. Furthermore Christ’s atonement would be meaningless if He just said “oh THIS sin doesn’t really matter.” So accepting the sin cannot be the answer. Loving the sinner most certainly wold be the answer. And the would mean loving all sinners… all people.

    If you love someone, do you want the best for them? Sure. If you love them do you want to see them be the best they can be? Of course. So do the above include allowing them to stay in a sin drenched lifestyle saying nothing, watching the filth build up, and the morals sink lower and lower? Is that loving? Leaving them in the muck and mire that will surely lead to death?

    Those who call themselves “gay Christians” are severely deceived. There is no way around that. Does any other sinful lifestyle boast and brag about it? As in, “hi I’m a Christian thief” or “Hi I’m a Christian whore” or “I’m a Christian liar”? Sounds ludicrous because it is. Homosexuality properly used to be considered shameful. Every society that tolerated and celebrated homosexuality died from within. It is an historical fact.

    Loving them into the Kingdom of God does not include ignoring God’s clear teaching. It does mean that we should treat them with kindness and gentleness even when they despise and abuse us.

    So, Love the sinner, hate the sin. Yes. Makes sense to me. Just helps to define “love” and “hate” along with who is the sinner.

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