“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
As a Christian, I know what you mean. But I’m telling you – no non-Christian believes you. Their experience has taught them well.
Christians have spent so many years rallying against “sin” that most people who have been told they are “sinners” cannot fathom finding love or acceptance from the Christian community today. Who can blame them? It seems everywhere we turn Christian are fighting against this and complaining about that. Even though “those fanatical Christians” may only represent a small portion of Christendom, they’re voices are loud and the media eats it up. Unfortunately, they represent more than just themselves.
But while we cannot make EVERY Christian behave, you and I should stop using terms and phrases that accidentally communicate something we never intend.
Here are five reasons I wish we could just abolish “Love the sinner, hate the sin:”
1. People struggle to separate who they are from what they do.
People by default struggle to separate their actions from their person. When we say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” it causes people to wonder if they fall on the side of “love” or “hate.” Christian or not, this is a real struggle that we must recognize.
We are not what we do, but it is only through spiritual maturity that we can recognize this truth. Unfortunately, statements like this typically do not lead people closer to spiritual maturity, and therefore create more confusion and frustration than clarity.
2. It makes you appear to be without sin.
It doesn’t matter how much you say, “We are all sinners,” when you say “love the sinner, hate the sin,” all people hear is an arrogant statement separating two sides – you and them. It’s nearly impossible to draw people to yourself when you begin with a wall of separation.
3. Most people do not consider themselves “sinners.”
I know – we are all sinners. But non-believers do not walk around with a conscious understanding of their sin and sinfulness. They’ve done wrong. They’ve hurt others. They’ve hurt themselves. But sin has a weight and connotation that most non-believers resist.
What they do understand is falling short of a standard – even if it’s their own standard. So “love the sinner, hate the sin,” becomes a statement built on an incorrect assumption that we all acknowledge to be sinners.
4. We should hate what sin does to people more than the act of sin itself.
We really don’t hate “sin” as much as we hate the ramification of sin. Sin takes us away from God’s ideal, and God’s ideal is… well, ideal. God’s precepts and guidelines provide for the best life possible. Sin takes us further and further away from God’s ideal, and that is something worth hating. But “love the sinner, hate the sin” really doesn’t communicate this truth. Rather, it says, “I hate your behavior, but I’m trying to still like you.”
5. If you insist on saying this phrase, start saying it to everyone.
If you are going to continue with this type of rhetoric, then I suggest you become an equal opportunity offender. Follow me to lunch and rail against my gluttony – “Love the fat guy, hate the chicken fingers.” Better yet, just make the statement into a bumper sticker so people can be reminded to love you when you speed, cut them off, or refuse to use your blinker (to me, that’s an unforgivable sin!).
With a little less sarcasm: We are tempted to use this phrase with people struggling in an area with which we are not. It’s condescending. Worse, I don’t believe it helps people grow closer to their Heavenly Father. To me, that’s reason enough to stop saying it.
So should we just banish the statement? Or maybe just replace it with an alternative:
“I’m FOR you and I LOVE you.”
Let’s stop addressing their actions. They are not what they do. Just be FOR them, and let the Holy Spirit deal with the sin while we all deal with love and acceptance. My guess is the “sinners” will hear message loud and clear.