Responding to a critic of “Love the sinner, hate the sin”
Since I seem to be having trouble getting my comments past the moderator, I’ll try posting them here instead.
The following is a reply to this post by Ken Jansen:
“Love the Sinner”…um…Yeah, Don’t Give Me That Crap
I appreciate that this phrase is seen as an annoying cliche (though any suggestion that homosexuality is not to be celebrated turns out to be a source of annoyance), but it actually does express something rational and meaningful to those who use it.
Your illustration of the color red fails to capture something very important to this discussion. Red is not a thing that has properties; red *is* a property. So, if you hate red, then that’s it, there’s nothing else about it to love. A somewhat better analogy would be a red shirt. One might say they love the shirt (its fabric, pattern, quality, etc.) but hate its red color — they like the thing, but dislike something about it.
Now, I say a “somewhat” better analogy, because it fails in yet another important way. Color is a tangible, self-evident, constant, measurable property of the shirt, whereas homosexuality is only manifest by virtue of certain behaviors, which may or may not be exercised (and believe it or not, some choose not to). Homosexuality is, at best, a property of a person. Those who use this cliche believe that we are, first and foremost, precious human beings, which have intrinsic value endowed by our creator (as quaint as that idea may seem these days). But humans can have bad desires and engage in bad behaviors. We can be alcoholics, smokers, over-eaters, prostitutes, and pedophiles, but we are still human beings who have rights and value on that account. So, we may say things like, “I hate alcoholism, but I love my uncle Richard, who suffers from it.”
Many homosexuals insist that their core identity is their homosexuality. This leaves the category of humanness to be a mere property, as though they could just as easily be a poodle and still be themselves because it is their gayness that really defines them. But why should we accept such identity politics? Why not have skin color be our identity (which some indeed do), or our careers, or hobbies, or IQs? It seems reasonable that it be our humanity that is preeminent, and which is the only thing that offers us hope of unity, since it is the only thing we share in common and upon which we might ground any kind of “equal” rights. It is that humanity which may be loved above and apart from any sin in which humans engage.
Regarding the use of a “Hindu” quote: first, long before Gandhi came St. Augustine, who wrote: Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” Second, it is no more ironic to use pearls of wisdom expressed by non-Christians (who are also made in the image of God and invested with the same moral intuition) than it is for non-Christians to quote from the Bible, which they do regularly. And that leads to the next point.
“Judge not” has become the favorite memory verse of this age. The ironic thing, though, is that it’s usually trotted out by people in order to scold someone for judging some particular thing, and who themselves can usually be found judging various other things. Are we to presume that this author finds nothing wrong in the behaviors and beliefs of the people in his world, or at least keeps his mouth shut about it (given that he elsewhere describes himself as an “advocate,” I think not)? Must we really forfeit our rights to call things like rape, theft, and child abuse wrong, too, simply because we ought not judge? Certainly not!
I think the real issue here is not so much that judgment is happening, but that homosexuality is being considered as worthy of judgment, since nobody ever says “judge not” when we’re talking about murder, terrorism, or any liberal grievances. It seems to me that the very appeal to “judge not” as a defense smacks of a concession that there is actually something to judge. When I hear this phrase I get a sense of a defeatist subtext. It’s like they are saying “so, okay, homosexuality is a problem, but leave it alone, because you’re not supposed to be judging anyway.” It sounds like a boxer who gets a pacifist streak after a sound thrashing.
Here’s another thing: how do we know that Jesus said “judge not?” Don’t we first have to appeal to the Bible and presume its accuracy and authority in this matter? But this same book says very many other things that tend to reflect poorly on the beliefs and behaviors of those whose favorite verse (segment) is “judge not.” I’ll not go down that unflattering road, but I will point out that Jesus told us to do other things, like fight injustice. Mustn’t we first judge something as wrong (unjust) in order to seek to address it? It would seem that we are at something of a stalemate.
It is noteworthy that Jesus went on in His sermonizing about judgment to say that we may indeed be involved in removing the “speck” from our brother’s eye, assuming we first remove any “planks” that may be in our own. The problem is that there are some who never admit or address their own problems, but are content to find problems in others. Sure we have sin, and always will have some, but this doesn’t mean we are forever prohibited from being salt and light in the world. As an analogy, should we have stayed out of WWII because our own country still had flaws?
Now, making a stink over all the sins of fellow Christians and unbelievers isn’t (supposed to be) standard operating procedure, since the point is to make believers out of people (or make them more mature believers), and the rest begins to work itself out on its own. Many have, understandably, wondered why homosexuality gets special attention by Christians. The problem with this particular sin is that it’s different than most. You see, people are generally agreed that things like alcoholism, adultery, and bad parenting are not good things, so no one really has to argue against them. We may need to look toward prevention, or call someone out who’s engaged in them, but we seldom need to make the case that they are bad in general. There’s a reason you’ve never seen an Adultery Pride march.
The difference with homosexuality is that the behavior/lifestyle is being promoted as normative. Indeed, it is being celebrated and taught to our children as a good and acceptable thing, and perhaps they may even like to try it out for themselves to see if they are one. Imagine for a moment a representative from the “It’s All Good Association” coming to your child’s school to teach them that sex is wonderful, natural, and boundless. He then encourages them to go home and try it out with their friends, sibling, pets, and parents – whatever turns you on. Perhaps this may offer a sense of why some would choose to pay particular attention to the issue of homosexuality, which is seeing advocacy in every layer of our culture.
As Inigo Montoya, from Princess Bride, might say, “you keep using that word “unconditional” (love). I do not think it means what you think it means.” Loving unconditionally does not mean that we see or care about no fault in a person. A good parent certainly loves their child unconditionally, but they still guide, correct, and discipline; and if the child grows up to be a little monster, they may have to take severe measures. The unconditional part means that through it all they still care about their fate, hope for the best, do all that they are able, forgive them every time they seek it, and visit the little monsters in prison if it comes to that.
Jesus likewise does not overlook the sins of his companions. It’s true that he hung out with sinners, but the rest of the story is being overlooked here. The tax collector didn’t just go back to cheating the citizens after his visit from Jesus, and the adulteress was told to “go and sin no more.” Jesus loved them in spite of their sin, but He also wanted them free from it. While He loves the people, He clearly thinks that sin is a big problem. In fact, He often claims that people are a “slave” to sin or “dead” in sin, and He regularly ups the ante on what sin actually is. For instance, He takes the commandment against adultery and adds lust into the mix.
But another thing. How do we love “unconditionally” unless there are actual “conditions” to be suffered? No one has to love a perfect person “unconditionally”; you simply bask in their glory (assuming one such can be found, apart from Jesus). Saying “we’re supposed to love unconditionally” is similar to the “judge not” defense, in that it seems to imply a surrender in the debate over homosexuality and merely appeals to the injunction that we should love them anyway. Why not just stick with arguing that homosexuality is a morally good (or at least neutral) thing, which isn’t a condition that must be loved, or an issue that must be tolerated, or a fault for which we should suspend judgment? Doing otherwise simply looks like a diversion from the real discussion. But in my experience, having that real and pointed discussion is a hard thing to achieve.