Friday, May 30, 2008

Love the Sinner...

"Love the sinner hate the sin..."
I used to like that phrase, I even used to use it, but I now have trouble with it. It is not really very helpful.

Not only is it presumptuous to think that we can think of people apart from their history, apart from their "sin," but this little phrase is easy to abuse. We usually use it in order to justify ourselves in denying other people. It becomes an excuse for being disgusted by someone or even hating them with our actions. We say "I love them but I hate what they do... so turn off the TV if they come on," or "love them but don't associate with them," as though love is something we can do from the outside. Because we hate what they do, our acceptance of them is conditional. We know, in our bones, that what a person does and how they live is definitive of who they are, which is exactly why we push the person away when we hate the sin through our refusal to listen to them and refusal to be part of their lives or to allow them to be a part of ours.

When we finally accept the person, we accept them on the condition that their sin is behind them or that they agree with us that what they are doing actually is sin. Take the homosexuality discussion example. For those who assume homosexuality as sin, the acceptance of a homosexual into the community is based on weather they "practice" homosexuality and weather or not they believe that homosexuality is a sin. take alcoholism for another example. When we finally get around to accepting an alcoholic, it is based on weather or not they are "working on" their problem. Sin becomes suppressed, pushed into a dark corner where a piece of "the sinner" must be hidden from sight, rather than brought into light as a part of the person we love. Love keeps no record of wrongs. When we love someone, we accept them along with their sin. We say yes to them, even as they are saturated in sin and history. We dip bread with them just as Jesus did.

Yes, there are toxic problems and good reasons to stay away from people. If people are drawing you into destructive practices or if they are beating you, it is best to stay away. But learn to love the sinner with their sin. Learn to love them without ignoring anything, learn to love all of them. This means listening to homosexuals (I bet you'll discover that they're not evil) and opening your heart to the alcoholic. Love the sinner...

(P.S. if you're wondering what I think about homosexuality, it's too early for me to say... but it's a multifaceted conversation. I used it as an example because I know many of my readers probably think it's a sin.)

4 comments:

nate said...

Yeah, I used to use that one too, until I heard someone use it on me--I was pretty pissed.

But in reality, everyone is a sinner, so I appreciate the sentiment (love everyone objectively), just not the tone.

WES ELLIS said...

It was "used" on you? That's a sign that we probably should find a better way of looking at things. We should "use" our theology on people.

nate said...

Used, meaning I used to say it, until I got kicked out of Bible college...I was told by someone it was hard for them to be my friend...then they uttered the phrase, I love you, not your sin.
Maybe I should have been clearer in my first comment. Used=Speak.

WES ELLIS said...

No, I understood you. What I was saying is that people should not have used that on you. I meant to say "we should NOT 'use' our theology on people" as a sort of weapon.