...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Thursday, October 30, 2014

'Hate Sin, Love Sinner' not about love

There so much NOT in the Bible. But that doesn't stop us from using certain phrases as if they were.   

I'm flushing another one: "love the sinner, hate the sin." Although I've seen this saying referenced by a good many biblical texts, not one can be cited with any proximity to those words. 

Where does it come from? My best answer is St. Augustine: "With love for mankind and hatred of sins." But the words "hate the sin, etc" is also attributed to Ghandi.  St. Augustine's words are more about loving humanity but hating our brokenness.

Our saying is more akin to hating what we don't like in others, even if we use "love" to make it sound better. But I don't remember this actually working to better any relationship in my life.

When it comes to using this apocryphal saying as a guide for love, we get to judge where our love stops. We love because God first loved us, and that love includes all of us if it is for any part of us. As far as we know, Jesus, never said to love a sinner but hate their sin. Nor did he ask us to decide for ourselves when to judge and when to love:
Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. Matthew 7: 1-5
Is hating the sin while claiming to love a mental construct, a fantasy of our minds? Attempting it, we may realize how blind we really are. Another gimmick is trying to make God's limitless love more palatable. The love Jesus told us to exercise isn't about setting limits:
As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. John 15: 9-12  Italics added
How do you separate your love for a person from your judgement of the person? You divide and dissect them, extracting their behavior from themselves.You choose what you hate most in them and judge them for it, calling it "sin."  But "love" here is not the love that Jesus commands, nor the all encompassing, life-giving love the Father has for the Son, nor is it anything like Christ's love for us. 

As often is the case, when we reduce God's love to something we can better handle, it becomes something else. But don't call it love.     


  1. I wonder if it is based on Jude 23, "save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh."

  2. I guess I am confused. If I were attempting to hate the sin while loving the sinner, I would be engaging in an activity that you have judged to be wrong, harmful, self-deluded and contrary to the spirit of Jesus. You would be publicly denouncing my behavior and calling me to change. Do you see the problem I'm having in following your argument?

  3. I know you don't like the method, but what about the substance of the argument? BTW, you're not the only one who doesn't like being judged. Would it make it all better to say you were judged out love? Is love sinner, hate sin something you have attempted? You say "If I were attempting" it.


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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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