Love the Sinner
“I can love you while still hating your sin” is what the email said. As you can imagine after my last blog, I’ve gotten lots of different kinds of responses from all kinds of people. I have to be honest; I’ve been super surprised to find that most of the messages I’ve received have been filled with encouraging messages of support. I was a bit scared posting something with such a strong message as “I hold the church personally responsible for any LGBTQ person who walks away from God and Christianity”. I was scared that I’d start getting death threats. This might sound a bit dramatic, but I have friends who get threats after posting blogs with similar and even at times less potent messages than mine. While I didn’t get death threats, I got lots of messages filled with the age old saying we’ve all heard a million times, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”This saying seems to be especially popular when it comes to Christians addressing the LGBTQ community.
Christians know outright hate is wrong, so this statement seems to provide a loophole of sorts. It is a loophole that lets Christians feel as if they are loving those they actually judge. I think that’s one reason this statement makes me angry; it leaves me the gay person hearing this message feeling a lot like the prostitute brought before Jesus. Those who drug her to Jesus’ feet thought they were doing the loving, “right” thing also, but boy did Jesus throw that on it’s head! Here’s the thing, if I’m being honest, each time I received this statement last week, and even I’ve heard it directed towards me over the years, it makes me less angry and more hurt. Revealing my hurt is way more vulnerable because it’s the soft place of my heart. Even though I try to fight the feelings, when I hear someone say they love me, but hate my sin, I immediately feel as though I’m having to fight my way to a place of equality. That expression automatically puts me in a position lower than the person saying it – I’m the sinner, they are my judge. I feel isolated and on my own in the world. The last thing I feel is loved, close to God, hopeful about life or filled with a desire to somehow repent of my sins.
So I decided to do some research. I found myself wondering when Jesus had said this, or where Christians began to use this saying, because even though I’ve read the Bible a handful of times, I was totally drawling a blank on the exact scripture of where I could find a quote remotely resembling it.
Thank goodness there’s Google. You are never gonna believe what I found and I have to say I’m a bit embarrassed to expose my own ignorance. The statement, “love the sinner, hate the sin” is NOT IN THE BIBLE! Whoa, wait, what??! I was in shock! It actually comes from a letter that Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.), an early Christian theologian and philosopher wrote to some nuns. Cum dilection hominum et odio vitiorum. It translates, “with love of persons and hatred of sins.” Holy crap, it not only isn’t a saying from Jesus. It wasn’t even a disciple who uttered these words. It’s freakin’ Augustine of Hippo.
This new information has me thinking and wondering, what are we supposed to do with those we believe are sinning? If Jesus didn’t instruct us to hate their sin while still somehow trying to love them, then as Christians what are we supposed to do? I began to wonder, what if these email messages I’ve gotten are actually these people trying to genuinely love me, even though it doesn’t feel that way. What if these people just don’t know what else to do? Maybe they’ve not been able to find another way to truly love in situations like this. You see, I don’t need you to agree that me being a gay Christian is okay, or right. But I also don’t need you to judge, hate or condemn me while calling it love. So what are we to do?
Brennan Manning an author and priest who had a unique and deeply profound understanding of Abba Father has got me thinking about this in a new way. Manning calls us to tenderness. He writes,
“Biblically, tenderness is what follows when someone reveals to you your own inner beauty, when you discover your belovedness, when you experience that you are deeply and sincerely liked by someone. If you communicate to me that you really like me, not just love me as a brother in Christ, that you take delight in me, then you open up to me the possibility of loving myself.”
This might sound like some kind of pop psychology, self-love psycho-babble, but I’m telling you, it’s actually incredibly powerful. What if instead of keeping those we think are sinning at an arms distance, we overwhelmed them with tenderness? Giving tenderness not in a manipulative way of hoping they’ll eventually see their sin, but as a genuine way of saying, “Even though I feel that you are wrong, I see Christ in you and I’m going to help you see that goodness more than the bad parts. You are beautiful and good because of Christ.”
I can’t help but think that would be a deeply transformative experience for all of us. Essentially this kind of tenderness and revealing of the beauty that is within us is what makes us better people, more Godly Christians and more able to change the world for good.
The poet Galway Kinnell speaks to the need to help us remember our loveliness in this way;
Saint Francis And The Sow
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them: the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
Here’s how I hope and pray I find the strength, (yes strength because it’s not easy to do) to give to those who have sent me hurtful messages since my last blog. I want to send them messages that are filled with tenderness that remind them that they are lovely. And I hope as I give this, they will be able to pass that same life changing love to those in their lives. Ultimately I believe as I give this, I receive as well. I mean isn’t that good news and isn’t that what we call the gospel – good news? To me, I want to be the kind of Christian who loves people in a way that doesn’t highlight their “sin” but that highlights their loveliness and Christlikeness.