Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

Based on a recent conversation with a friend, I've come to better understand why "love the sinner, hate the sin" is a phrase that is loathed by some. Personally, I hear the phrase 'love the sinner, hate the sin,' and I think exactly that: A) love the sinner, B) hate the sin. This doesn't seem problematic to me; simply two clauses that seem ideologically sound. Others hear this phrase and immediately think about how poorly this mantra has been executed by some of its advocates. "Has there ever been a phrase quite like 'Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin,' intended to express love, that falls so dramatically short of its goal?" The takeaway is that the phrase is essentially useless because good intentions have sometimes, or according to this author, has "uniformly" resulted in hurt and pain on the receiving end. Still, I wondered, what is wrong with the phrase itself? After all, it is really the poor application of the phrase that has caused pain. Could the simple phrase denote harm and pain all by itself? According to the same author, it does: "And uniformly, the people who have been on the receiving end of 'Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin' report it as hurtful. If you're using this language with people, it hurts them. Please stop." She also suggests that the problem with this phrase "is about our Christian lexicon and the ways we need to evaluate our words." I concur that communication is critical if we are to perform any type of outreach to others, thus, evaluation of our words, both in implication and inference, is an important step.

I've wondered why I, as a sinner, do not take any offense at this phrase and have not found myself victimized with hurt and pain as a result of this phrase, while others seem so revolted by this simple slogan and associate it with hurt and pain. Certainly individual experiences pave the way in forming emotional responses to such catchphrases. Nonetheless, considering that we are all sinners, I've tried to understand why two individuals could have such polarized responses to this mantra, and I've come to a few thoughts that I believe help explain these different inferences that are made. References to "I" and "others" below are intended to be representative of certain perspectives, and in both cases these representations are generalized.

I see this phrase as theoretical.
Others see this phrase as impractical. 
I see this phrase as something to aspire to.
Others see this phrase as a failed slogan.
I see this phrase as two components that are mutually compatible.
Others see this phrase as two components that are mutually exclusive. 
I see this phrase as inherently having ideological and theological merit in its assertions.
Others see this phrase as having much unwanted baggage associated with it.

What both camps could agree to, undoubtedly, is the failure in application that has resulted from presumably, well-meaning individuals. But in discussing this issue, the emphasis on either component of the phrase and the intended interpretations to be inferred from arguments on either side seem to result in some degree of talking past each other. I think that this is the result of interpreting each other's talking points as extreme scenarios as well as inferring theoretical vs. practical implications.

Undoubtedly, both camps could also agree that we are to love the sinner. Thus, the real disconnect comes from interpreting what it means to "hate the sin," and in doing so emphasis seems to fall on one side or the other (loving the sinner more, or hating the sin more), at the expense of the other. For example, practically speaking, individuals who have emphasized hating the sin at the expense of loving the sinner do cause hurt and pain to those whom they supposedly try to help. This emphasis, in its extreme, correlates with Satan's ploy to entice individuals to call out and condemn other's sins - remember, Satan is the great accuser (Revelation 12:10). These accusatory actions illustrate pride and self-righteousness, as well as despisement for others instead of love. What was supposed to be a positive outreach has turned into condemnation, and the result is the individual on the receiving end feels judged and condemned instead of loved. Conversely, on the other end are those individuals who 'love the sinner' at the expense of hating the sin. This extreme scenario results in loving the sinner and condoning the sin. This person becomes entirely apathetic or "tolerant" (in the frequently misdefined, popularized version of that word) towards the sin. This position reduces charity, the pure love of Christ, to a simple moral that any religion or even atheist could adopt. This so-called love isn't about Christ's love, it is about philia. It is about sympathy and maybe even empathy, but it isn't about charity, and there is an important difference between these types of 'love' that we'll return to momentarily. 

Practically speaking, I would concur that the application of the mantra 'love the sinner, hate the sin' can be problematic. Theoretically speaking, however, I cannot agree that the phrase, in itself is problematic. The previously referenced author asserts that "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" is not in the Bible. She is correct in that it is not literally in the Bible in this grammatical arrangement. Both clauses, however, are in the Bible in principle. Love the sinner correlates with John 13:34: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." The underlying assumption here is that "sinner" is synonymous with "one another." This assumption isn't going to pose a problem for any Christian who accepts that Christ was the only perfect person and that all of us are sinners (Romans 3:23; 5:12; 1 John 1:8). Hate the sin is all over the Bible, but not as perfectly succinct as love the sinner is. Hating the sin, as explicated in the Bible, requires some critical understanding of the correlation between scriptures. However, some of the more relevant passages within the Bible include abhorring evil (Romans 12:9)1, hating evil (Psalm 97:10), eschewing evil (1 Peter 3:11), God's wrath being against ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18; also see 1 John 5:17), iniquity separating mankind from God (Isaiah 59:2), etc. For Latter-day Saints, D&C 1:31 might be the most explicit: "For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance." 

For individuals who oppose the mantra 'love the sinner, hate the sin', the qualification could be argued that each of these verses should be interpreted to refer to our own sins, and that support for hating other's sins is not condoned. But these scriptures make no such qualification, and speak to the theoretical understanding rather than the best or worst methods of implementation. However, the message of Christ was about the combination of these two clauses; and this is the point that I want to focus upon. Charity, the pure love of Christ, is so much more than a moral. It is about loving others as Christ loved - bringing them the fullness of the gospel and building one another up, eschewing evil, helping one another overcome sin through the atonement and finding strength and faith in living righteous lives. It isn't merely sympathizing or empathizing, it is about becoming more Christlike in deed and in thought, personally and collectively. It isn't about just loving 'who we are' but seeing, encouraging, and fostering the potential for who the Lord desires us to become, individually and collectively. It is the very reason that He atoned for our sins - not so that we could just have mutual respect and ignore dissonance in order to form some sort of human bond with one another. That is selling 'love' far short of what charity is all about. Without charity, loving the sinner is a reduction to a secular moral that discards the exalting soteriology inherent in the theology and teachings of Christ.
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and wordly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee. (Titus 2:12-15; emphasis added).
In other words, the gospel of Jesus Christ is about teaching others and loving our brothers and sisters; it is about loving others as He loved us. He forgave the humble and penitent,2 and others He condemned because of their pride.3 In every situation, however, He taught the gospel whether it offended or not, or whether it hurt or not. He also showed mercy in every instance where there was humility or penitence. Of us, however, He has required that we forgive everybody, while He reserves authority to withhold forgiveness as applicable (D&C 64:10; Matthew 18:22). Greg Smith astutely pointed out that "the very idea of forgiveness, the whole doctrine itself, presupposes two things: 1. the existence and genuine reality of sin and evil; and 2. The recognition and identification of that sin and evil by the Christian, and the necessity to react to it in a way that will be spiritually helpful, rather than damaging."4  

I think the real difficulties, in terms of "hurt and pain", have three basic issues: 1) feeling unloved and/or feeling convicted of our sins, 2) pride vs. humility, and 3) moral confusion in disassociating identity from sin.

Regarding the first, certainly hatred (rather than love) causes hurt and pain. To those who lean heavily on 'hating the sin' at the expense of 'loving the sinner', the practical effects are real, and individuals will likely not be brought to Christ through this influence because it utterly lacks charity. For those that are guilty of sin (that is all of us), the extent to which the sin remains unrepented of will also cause hurt and pain, and the degree of severity of that sin will result in greater or lesser hurt and pain. Since we are all sinners this is where 2) and 3) come into play.

As sinners, we can be prideful, which can ultimately result in becoming dead to feeling and heeding the promptings of the Spirit that urges us to repent, or we can be humble which can result in repentance and receiving the enabling power of the atonement of Christ and forgiveness of our sins. We can be prideful and disregard our accuser (regardless of their charity on one hand or hatred on the other), which results in our own hurt and pain because we remain unrepentant and potentially lack charity for them; or, we can be humble regardless of our informant's disposition, and repent and receive forgiveness as well as developing charity for those that potentially despise us.

Third, when a sin has been identified some individuals tend to internalize and distinguish whether the 'sin' is based on their nature vs. nurture (or both). The natural tendency is to identify only those choices made that our beyond our nature as being sinful. In other words, the expression "I was born this way" is somehow supposed to absolve the individual of any accountability. The reality is that the "natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father." (Mosiah 3:19). Thus, we are all born with natural inclinations and tendencies towards sin, and it is for this reason, as well as our deliberate choices, that all mankind has to be redeemed.

While much of the above discussion shifts the attention to the 'sinner', it should be noted that the accuser (also a sinner) will have to answer to a more severe judgment - the judgment with which they judged - as the Lord will hold them accountable, rather than our simple, imperfect brothers and sisters (see Matthew 7:2; Luke 18:10-14). For those that lean more towards hating the sin, it is critically important to truly love the sinner and help them out of the pit that they might be in. Conversely, for those that lean more towards loving the sinner, it is critically important to help them overcome their sin, and that doesn't happen by pretending it isn't there or by climbing into their pit to be with them. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about lifting others. But it is about lifting others with love and with knowledge.  
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: (Gen. 3:22).
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen. (Moroni 7:48).
Returning back to the ideological expression, 'love the sinner, hate the sin', I believe I understand why some people despise this assertion, and obviously it has a lot to do with personal interpretation and experience. Nonetheless, I maintain that there is nothing inherently wrong with the expression itself since both clauses are scripturally supported, and it is only in our poorly attempted efforts to put into practice this ideal in theory. We are all sinners. It isn't warranted to discontinue a phrase because some sinners oppose it based on one imposed interpretation, especially when in theory it is scripturally supported. Nonetheless, on the receiving end we could be more forgiving to our well-meaning brothers and sisters even if they communicate in a way that is displeasing. Is there merit in what is being communicated? If so, let's act on that. On the giving end, we could be more cognizant of our communication and our lack of love, or at least, the lack of its transparency and reception in communication. The objective is to bring others to Christ, not to pass final judgement.

Our goal should be to lift and to strengthen one another, not at the expense of cheap love that is void of theology, nor at the expense of charity stemming from pride and self-righteousness. We should always have charity, but we should also always stand up for the truth and what is right. Sometimes the truth and what is right may offend or hurt because of pride, and sometimes the hurt and pain can be good if it leads to Christ, but that generally doesn't happen when standing for what is true and what is right, is extended without charity. All of this is easier said than done, of course, but that doesn't mean it isn't an appropriate ideological objective.

1 The NRSV Bible translates this clause as "hate what is evil".
2 To the adulteress taken in adultery, He said, "go thy way and sin no more." He didn't just say go thy way, I forgive thee. To the two thieves on the cross, one railed on Christ telling Him to save them. The other thief rebuked the first, and asked for the Lord's mercy, in which the Lord responded that he would be with Him in paradise. No such forgiveness or mercy was extended to the former thief.
3 See John 8:33-59, for example. Beth Woolsey suggested that Christ "discarded rules in favor of mercy every time," which simply isn't true; however, he extended mercy in every instance of humility and penitence illustrated in the Gospels, whereas, he condemned pride and hard-heartedness (unrepentant).  
4 Greg Smith, "To judge or not to judge: not much of a question," Angels in the Architecture (WordPress Blog: https://seesangelsinthearchitecture.wordpress.com/, July 5, 2015), accessed July 7, 2015


  1. Excellent article. Thank you for posting this! I could not have said it better.

  2. This is a topic which is close to my heart... Thank you!
    Exactly where are your contact details though?

    1. I haven't posted my contact information, for better or for worse. However, you can write to me at tlobarker at gmail.com. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Im looking for a guest interview on my Tumblr blog, could
    you be interested?

    1. Thanks for the invite. I'd need to know more about you and your blog though before committing to anything. Feel free to email me at tlobarker at gmail.com.