Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What Shall We Hate?

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.


Unknown said...

Fr. Dan, Elizabeth Kaeton has posted her perspective on this issue on her blog, Telling Secrets, and so folks who want to get a taste of those whom you are responding to can go read her blog entry.

Chris Ashley said...

Funnily enough, a friend and I-- neither of us readers of the HOBD list-- were talking about that expression this afternoon.

He suggested that perhaps we don't have adequate models for what love looks like in practice. We feel we receive love when we get warm feelings; we think we give love when our intentions are good. But love is neither warm feelings nor good intentions.

I wish we could speak of love objectively, or practice it, so that we weren't forced into those traps. How can we show we love each other, objectively, in spite of our differences and our various sins? My friend suggested nonviolence as a practice of objective love. As I sit here, I wonder about the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist.

Unknown said...

"Love the sinner, hate the sin." Let's parse this out some.

1. "Love the sinner" Okay, no problem here. We're all sinners, and we're called to love all people, both friend and enemy.

2. "Hate the sin" Personally, I'm not sure if "hate" is the appropriate response despite its biblicity (is that a word?); however, that particular word seems to have a more actively negative connotation for me and lacks compassion. OCICBW

3. In the context of same-sex relationships, there does seem to be a real disagreement on exactly what the "sin" is. For some, any type of sexual relationship outside of a marriage between one man and one woman is a sin. Others of us question why a committed, monogamous relationship between two people of the same sex, analogous to an opposite-sex marriage, is to be considered sinful. (Nothing new in that point.)

4. Regarding hating particular behavior, this seems to be applied to certain "genital acts" (as they are often called). The problem, though, is that this appears to reduce the relationship between two persons to a series of sexual actions. I think we can mostly agree that a marriage between a man and a woman is much more than the sum of their sexual behaviors. Likewise, for those of us attracted to persons of the same sex, why should our relationships necessarily be reduced in such a way?


Unknown said...

(continued from above)

5. Following on the above point, I would argue that for two people in a committed partnership, it becomes less a question of what they do than who they are, just as it is for more than a few married couples that I've known. In this case, "hating the sin" (i.e. the relationship between two men or two women) seems to those involved to be directed more to who they are than what they do.

6. In a slightly different vein, one thing that makes many of us so uncomfortable with this particular saying is that we see plenty of the hate and very little of the love. That gets back to Christopher's post above. I for one don't object so much to someone believing that sex between two persons of the same gender is always and everywhere a sin. What I do object to is the rejection of the person that so very often occurs as well as the simplistic options often provided (marry someone of the opposite sex or remain celibate) without any recognition of the complexities that exist. (e.g. If someone is to remain celibate, what support is there to help in that?)

7. Finally, without naming anyone in particular, I think that the last couple of years have shown plenty of examples of the hypocrisy that often seems to accompany certain especially vocal proponents of the "love the sinner, hate the sin" slogan. What gets revealed in those cases is that the reality is closer to "hate the sinner, love the sin."

In concept, "love the sinner, hate the sin" doesn't have too much problem for me. The on-the-ground reality of it, though, raises a whole host of problems.

In Christ,

Daniel Martins said...

In broad strokes, and with a minor quibble or two, I can agree with your analysis.


Unknown said...

Fr. Dan,
Feel free to quibble. I have no pretensions to infallibility and always am in need of questioning and, at times, correction.

In Christ,

Anonymous said...


how can one claim to hate the sin, yet willfully participate in it? God claims to not only hate the sin, but also hate the sinner

Psalm 5:5, "The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity,"

Psalm 11:5, "The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates."

Lev. 20:23, "Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them."

Prov. 6:16-19, "There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil,
19 A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers."

Hosea 9:15, "All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels."

now the wrath or hatered of God was satisfied in Jesus for those who are cleansed threw his death... but if we continue in our sin, there is no sacrifice left, only a fearful expectation of the wrath of God...

so i would encourage anyone to be freed from any sin, this includeds all forms of sin (no matter what our natural inclination is) be it homosexuality, violence, adultury, gossip, rage, ect....

and the only way to be freed from that is by taking on a new nature in christ and putting to death the old man

in christ,