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

The bud

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 
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.

9 thoughts on “Love the Sinner

  1. Hi Candice, I started “following” you when you wrote the post about being LGBT & the church. I couldn’t agree with you more. As someone coming out Late in Life, I know I may never find my true mate or the love of my life and I am willing to accept that, though who knows what life will bring? I spent my entire 48 years (today is my birthday) denying who I was to everyone, including myself. “It’s wrong, it’s against God, the Bible says…” you know….I quit going to a church my son and I loved because they started down that bunny trail. Jesus commanded us to “Love one another” no qualifications, no stipulations, no anything. Love each other as He has Loved Us.
    It’s that simple. Or at least it should be.

  2. How lovely Candice. You reflect Jesus in your words and attitude. As I read your post I thought of the way that Jesus met people. He saw them. He really saw them into their eyes and heart and he loved them. The ones he called judgment on were the religious rulers who were judging others. Jesus showed us a better way, and it is the way you reflect here. You are a beloved and beautiful daughter of God.

  3. I must admit after reading your post, I looked up things like does God hate sin, does he hate sinners and found lots (LOTS!) of posts on both. Some yes to both, some say yes to the first and no to the second. And I was overwhelmed after 5 minutes from both sides. I think that’s where the confusion exists. We are overwhelmed with both sides and we don’t know who to turn to. Some of these were blogs by everyday people, some blogs were by “famous” or “infamous” people.
    This is the favorite sin – and I guess it’s the favorite sin because it’s the one we can’t “fix”. People can lose weight, they can stop smoking, and the list goes on. But, you “can’t fix gay” as I heard someone say.
    So, people fall back on scripture or what any think scripture says. Let’s face it, there are so many versions that there must be one that actually says what they want it to say….yes what they want it to say. There’s an awful lot of verses in the Old Testament about hating sin and sinners (depending on your version of course).
    And then Jesus steps in and says something profound “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 NIV
    And that’s why I enjoyed your post.

  4. Hi Candice, thank you for your courage in writing this post and your last post. It’s resonated with me deeply. Having grown up in the church and even pastored for more than a decade this phrase has been something I’ve heard so often. It’s such a common thing to say among Christians. And it’s quite a self-serving thing to say, as Christians identify that it’s not so PC to come off as judgmental. I find that Christians feel better about themselves when they make these kinds of statements. It’s kind of like saying, “See! I’m not judgmental– I love you… I don’t hate YOU! I just hate what you are doing… See I’m not one of those Westboro kind of haters. You definitely can’t put me in that category”. And then when the LGBTQ community say it’s still hurtful and judgmental people in this camp take the passive aggressive defensive– act all confused and wounded. I’m not into labels but for the sake of making this post more clear I will come out and say that I identify as bisexual or at least on the more sexual fluid side of things… I am currently in a relationship with a woman and in the past several years of coming out to people I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this comment. It’s common among Christian church people and it’s really popular in Christian families to say such things. The insidiousness of it is this… Christian family members say this feeling all proud and good about themselves all the while slowly distancing their LGBTQ family members. It goes something like this: “Sister, brother, daughter I love you. I accept you. I just can’t accept your lifestyle. Your love is sin so I need to hate the sin, but don’t get me wrong I love you”. Shortly, thereafter, you start being removed from family invitations and get togethers and treated ever-so-subtly different, but this isn’t judgement… it’s just coincidence. This past weekend, my partner went to see a sister who had used these very words. Meanwhile, since coming out to her sister over 3+ years ago her sister slowly began removing her from family gatherings and so on… At this sit down with her sister, my partner pointed out the distancing and timeline and her sister held to her claims of not holding any judgement of her… loving her just not accepting her sin. My partner courageously said, “You see, that is judgement. You can’t say you love me and then tell me that who I love is an abomination– that is the definition of judgement”. I tell ya, we have a long way to go in this country and the church if people who are living authentically can’t do so within their families of origin or communities of origin without either being completely rejected and put out or slowly and subtly edged out of the family. Here’s how ya know if it’s love: Love doesn’t drive people away.

  5. Sins are mistakes or actions that cause oneself to grow distance from God. One example is selfishness. When we are only concerned about ourselves, then we will naturally move away from God.

    Being gay does not by itself cause a person to move away from God. Suppose a loving gay couple are serving in a gay friendly Church and leading their friends to believe in Christ, then that is the perfect demonstration that gay is not a sin.

    Some people say 1st John 3:6 is one of the clobbering verses, but it can work in reverse too. “So everyone who lives in union with Christ does not continue to sin; but whoever continues to sin has never seen him or known him.” (GNT) By this verse we just need one good gay Christian in close union with Christ to prove that being gay is not a sin. Surely this requirement has already been met many times!

  6. Hi Candice. Thank you for your thought provoking post.

    You have highlighted the importance, place and function of tenderness, and I don’t disagree at all with what you are saying. However, it seems to me that we have to recognise that churches are polarising into affirming, and non affirming positions regarding same sex or equal marriage. When I speak of non affirming churches, I am not thinking at this point of those who express their view in an angry and harsh manner, but those who genuinely and truly want to show love and acceptance to fellow Christians and others who are gay, but whilst still being true to their genuinely held convictions about marriage etc.

    So my question is, what would this look like to you? What would a non affirming church showing tenderness look like to you and your family, particularly regarding your involvement in the life of the church and in serving, and in the areas of membership and leadership? For me this is really where the rubber hits the road so to speak, and there is a need for dialogue so that we can understand each other better, and so hopefully move forward. So I would be very interested in your perspective. All the best. Bernard.

  7. You have once again taken a topic and left yourself vulnerable. I too was once angry at this statement, now I just realize that some of those who say it use it because they simply do not know what else to say. They have been taught that it is the right thing to say not allowing themselves to think too deeply about the line, just falling for a nice sounding way to combat what they do not know how to deal with. I too am hurt, I love God, I love my fellow Christian, I can just not seem to ever be good enough in their eyes to warrant the kind of love Christ calls for. Keep going I will keep listening. And please take a look at my book. Would love to talk if you would like.

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