Over on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv there has been a recent thread that has made several of my hairs turn white. It has been an unrelenting diatribe from the port side of the vessel in criticism of the expression "Love the sinner but hate the sin." It has never struck me as a statement that could possibly arouse controversy and ire; yet, it has. The rules of the game prevent me from replicating the posts to which I eventually felt constrained to respond, but they do permit me to give myself permission to re-post my own words, which I do below.
I have been greatly perplexed by the posts on this thread, both by the content of the comments and by the intensity of the emotion behind them. Something is operating here that is more subtle (or more visceral?) than I can identify or articulate. Yet, I feel compelled to say something, because this is one of those instances when I feel like I’m in the same church with people who don’t simply disagree with me on points of theology, but who espouse a religious meta-view that I scarcely recognize as Christian, let alone Anglican (or let alone Episcopalian). I’m not trying to accuse anybody of heresy or anything; just giving voice to my own intuitive discomfort.
The expression “Love the sinner but hate the sin” is, as far as I can tell, simply trying to elucidate a distinction between a person’s core identity and that person’s behavior, and this seems an eminently healthy thing to do. Not everything I do is consistent with who I am. There’s a disconnect (to speak psychobabble—a disintegration) between the two, and this is evidence of (to speak theologese) both my particular sins (words and actions) and the generalized power (force?) of Sin to which I and every other human person is subject. If I behave like an ass—which I am most prone to do with those whom I love the most—I surely hope they will continue to love me even as they call me to account for (poetically speaking, “hating”) my asinine behavior. And when they do that, they are not “judging” me in some unrighteous way; they are, in fact, loving me. And is it not evident that God “hates” wickedness and injustice? I realize the loudest voices on this listserv don’t hold the Purity Code in very high regard, but what about the prophets? Amos and others certainly had something to say about what God “hates.”
Yes, the Genesis myth tells us that God created the world and humankind good—very good, even. But it also tells us about something about what is known in Christian theology as the Fall. This is entirely consistent with our liturgy (and, hence, the teaching of “this church”): “Holy and gracious Father, in your infinite love you made us for yourself, and when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death…”. The term Original Sin refers to our inherited fallenness (default propensity to turn away from God), and is not meant to impugn the goodness of our creation.
And for the record, I am a Jung fan also, and know all about the dark side etc, but I don’t think that conflicts with the orthodox (even the Augustinian) vision of sin and grace. And I’m not uncomfortable with the notion that my Shadow is the flip side of my conscious virtuous self, and that my strengths are my weaknesses and my weaknesses are my strengths. (In good Jungian fashion, I tend to have an MBTI hermeneutic!) And I see this all as completely compatible with traditional theological categories and language.
Expressions like “Love the sinner, forgive the sin” leave me scratching my head. Despite the way we talk, it is not “sins” that get forgiven, it is people that get forgiven—forgiven their sins. Certainly we are to love all people—which is to wish for them nothing but their greatest good, and behave sacrificially to help that good come to fruition—regardless of their sins. At least I hope that’s the way my Christian brothers and sisters behave toward me! But if I try to solve my financial problems by robbing a convenience store, the way to love me is to turn me in to the police—i.e. “hate the sin.”
Of course, if we were to be totally candid, this exchange would be about whether certain behavior constitutes sin or not, not whether sin is worthy of be hated. But that’s a road most of us have been down before, and it has never led anywhere productive.