Love the sinner, hate the sin?
The adage “love the sinner but hate the sin” is often used in discussions of Christianity and same-sex relationships, usually in a context where someone is saying “I love you, but I hate your sinful relationship”. This is problematic for two reasons, a secondary reason, and a fundamental reason.
The secondary reason is that it isn’t very loving, or if it is, it is using a definition of love that is so far removed from normal experience it is meaningless. My relationship with my husband is based on strong mutual love. If you are telling me that that love is something that should be hated, then that tells me your definition of love is nothing like my own.
You might say that you love your dog, even though it keeps you up all night with its barking. That might even be true. But when you say you ‘love’ me but you ‘hate’ my loving relationship, then you are saying that you love me despite the fact that I also love. That simply doesn’t make any sense. How is it that the love you express is Godly, but the love I express is sinful? The only way that you can do that is if you say the love I express is opposite to the love you express. The love my husband and I share is beautiful and enriching. The opposite of that sort of love is hate. If you ‘love’ me but ‘hate’ my loving relationship, then you are expressing a hateful form of love, which is no love at all.
Of course, that is only a secondary problem with loving the sinner but hating the sin. The fundamental problem for Christians is that Christ told us to do no such thing. He told us to do something quite different, and completely incompatible with loving the sinner but hating the sin.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:3-5, NIV
When you ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’ you are ignoring the plank in your own eye and, instead of hating it, you are (perhaps lovingly) trying to remove the mote from someone else’s eye. Loving the sinner and hating the sin is nothing more than finger pointing of the sort that Christ himself told us to avoid.