“Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”?

by Canon Simon Butler, Vicar of St Mary’s Battersea, Prolocutor of Canterbury


My old friend and fellow Archbishops’ Council member Ian Paul and I engaged in a minor online debate this week about “Things Jesus Never Said”. In its course, I remarked that one of the things Jesus never said was that old Evangelical nostrum, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Ian felt it had what he calls “the warrant of Scripture”, while I felt it unhelpful. As a result of the exchange, I said I would write something for Via Media this week and Ian would respond soon on his own blog, Psephizo.

It’s a timely matter to reflect on. Some Evangelical commentators in Britain and the United States have recently distanced themselves from what was, for many years, almost an article of faith within that tradition. As we prepare in the Church of England for the General Synod’s engagement in the Shared Conversations, this phrase is bound to be used at some point by someone and it certainly shapes a lot of attitudes. As one former diocesan bishop said to me once (not realising that I was gay myself), “we must love the sinner but hate the sin, Simon. But never forget that these people (yes, he used those exact words) are sinners.”

The more time I spend in pastoral ministry, the more I realise that we humans are, as Psalm 139 puts it, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are all a mixture of saint and sinner, whether we are believers or not. I always remember a story of Gordon Oliver’s from my theological training about distributing Holy Communion to his congregation. As he gave the sacrament to each person, he found himself mentally acknowledging both the brokenness and sin he knew in the life of each person he pastored, and their belovedness in Christ. The doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the fall start by a commitment to human goodness and the complexity of real humanity that is both a gift in creation and a consequence of sin.

Because of this goodness and complexity, it seems to me almost impossible to separate a person’s identity from their actions. For readers who find it hard to accept those of us who are LGBT it is important that you recognise that this is something really important to us. But not just for us: it is an important truth for everyone. The older I get, the more I realise the depth of my own brokenness and the profound gift of the love of God in Christ. But my identity and my actions are so interwoven that any attempt to distinguish one from the other – which is what “love the sinner, hate the sin” rather simplistically tries to do – is doomed to failure. It may make sense as a theological cliché, albeit rather an unsophisticated one, but psychologically it is damaging and harmful. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to hate any person: I have never yet heard an adequate argument which convinces me that, at the level of pastoral psychology, hating sin doesn’t result in hating people.

But it also seems harmful to those who use it. Behind the phrase can easily lurk an air of spiritual superiority, the implication than one set of sins is more serious than another (LGBT Christians know this more than most: we have been the target of this phrase’s use more than any other group by those who like to use it). Like that diocesan bishop, what can easily be revealed is a sort of hierarchy of sinfulness, and therefore of human worth, and a qualification to the command to love that is at the heart of the radical teaching of Jesus. I have never yet met a Christian who doesn’t possess a sort of inner inventory like this. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a contributing factor in the subtle qualification of the absolute call to love.

I have recently been through the most testing experience of my parochial ministry. I am grateful to God for the support and prayer of many people. It was a truly testing time and one that required me to have a good look at myself, my attitudes and behaviour. Naturally, sinfulness played a part. But, now I am beyond that testing time, I find myself unable to say that it is possible to separate my sinfulness from my giftedness; indeed, the former is in some way a consequence of the latter or, as my work consultant put it, my gifts with the volume turned up too loud. Western, juridical models of atonement, based as they are binary views of sin and goodness, fail to acknowledge such a profound reality and, at some level, prevent us from overcoming (befriending?) the fallen, shadow, sinful aspects of ourselves. A more Eastern perspective – of sin as a disease or a divided heart – allows us to see ourselves not as victims of an angry God, but as the beloved of a worried Parent, who can be loved into befriending and finding wholeness in the parts of ourselves where sin can so easily master us.

Love the sinner, hate the sin? No thank you. I’ll just stick with “Love”. Love covers a multitude of sins.

Picture of “The Woman Caught in Adultery” available on Photobucket.
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63 Responses to “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”?

  1. atwilson says:

    It strikes me that the concept of loving the sinner and hating the sin is notionally an excellent ideal, but the problem is you have to be God to do it with any confidence. I am not God but prone to the idolatry of playing God. “Concepts create idols — only wonder understands” says Gregory of Nyssa. Therefore LTSHTS has a wondrous attraction for me when I live in my head, but inevitablly collapses into egotism, Pelagianism and blasphemy when I am foolish enough to think I could actually do it.

    • Ian says:

      What a very strange argument. We shouldn’t do something because only God can do it properly? Well, I had better give up on trying to ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ then!

      • James Byron says:

        I’ve no problem hating murder, rape, and other wrongdoing, while trying to empathize with the wrongdoers. Ethics requires judgment and condemnation as much as grave and forgiveness: indeed, without atonement, predicated on an admission of guilt, forgiveness is immoral.

        For me, the crux of this isn’t that “hate the sin, love the sinner” is a bad formulation, but that it shouldn’t apply to homosexuality, because there’s nothing immoral about consensual homosexual relationships. If the Bible says there is, then the Bible is simply wrong.

        That’s the most important thing to say. Everything else is collateral.

      • Ian says:

        Thanks James. So you do think Simon is mistaken in his core assertion…

      • atwilson says:

        No, Ian. Only God can do it at all.

      • Ian says:

        In that case, Alan, why is every indicative in Scripture (what God has done) followed by an imperative (in light of this, this is what you should now do)?

  2. PB says:

    Can you discuss a few more biblical examples on hate (such as hating mother, father, self in comparison to Jesus) rather than the one you used to support your argument of love? I’m genuinely interested in your opinion but feel as with the fallen human draw backs of the phrase you mention, your article may lean on the same things while coming from a different angle. I agree that an addiction to porn (my most entangling area of sin in my life) is as much a sin as homosexuality, theft or adultery, but how do we hold each other accountable in love without confronting those things as sin?

    • ckatsarelis says:

      PB, homosexuality isn’t a sin. Thus, it is not remotely related to theft, adultery, or the exploitation of women and children in the porn industry. So your underlying premise doesn’t work.

      God created male and female in her/his image. God created people of all races, creeds, sexual orientations and gender expression. Jesus did say “don’t judge.” That ought to be enough to give people pause.

      Jesus is Love. The minute we are off that agenda and excluding people and enabling bullies, we are creating God in our image rather than recognizing all as created in the image of God.

      People, you simply are not qualified to judge gay people, black people, people of other creeds, etc. We are not qualified. Sin is when we do damage to God’s people for whatever reason, but that reason is often difference, except when it’s greed.

      • HL says:

        Homosexuality is in fact a sin I’m afraid- many verses in the Bible back this up if you take a look. Here is one example:

        Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

      • jayneozanne says:

        Actually, just to correct you, that particular verse refers to sexual acts between two men (most likely straight men). It says nothing about homosexual orientation – indeed no verse in the Bible does. I would suggest if you want to quote relevant scripture I’d look at 1 John 4:7 and Matt 7:16 (which is what Jesus himself commands us to do).

      • Ian says:

        Jayne, your comments highlight the inconsistency in your position. You are quite right that the Bible shows no interest in ‘orientation’ since (expressed in this way) the notion is a social construct from the 19th Century. (Ancient texts do show awareness of people who appear to be exclusion same-sex attracted of course.)

        So I agree with you that the Bible does not say ‘homosexuality is a sin’. But the texts do prohibit same-sex sexual actions—and you cannot write those off by saying ‘(most likely between straight men)’ since Leviticus does not mention this category. The prohibition is on the action, not on action in the context of any particular orientation.

      • Andrew says:

        Leviticus prohibits a whole heap of things; it’s only this one I’ve ever heard conservatives insisting is binding on Christians. When I see someone quoting the Leviticus clobber text keeping the whole of the OT law, then I will take their argument seriously. Until then, please recognise the hypocritical homophobia of your position.

      • Ian says:

        Andrew that is not true. Conservatives also follow the prohibition on incest and on sexual relations between relations, and in fact this has influenced Western law. I’m sorry you haven’t noticed this.

        And the ‘conservative’ argument is not based on this as a proof text, but as part of a long and consistent trajectory within Scripture, from Genesis, through law and narrative, into the gospels and Acts and Paul.

        But it is strange that it seems acceptable for you to band around inaccurate insults, like ‘homophobic hypocrites’ and no-one will moderate that. If I used a similar insult in return, I have no doubt someone would come down on my like a ton of bricks.

      • ckatsarelis says:

        Ian, I am glad to see that you admit that conservatives are making choices about what to accept and what not to accept in Scripture. It proves the point that we are all cherry picking from our own lens. So choosing the anti-gay position is still a choice, just like choosing not to advocate to forgive the debts of the poor, or choosing not marginalize left handed people. Being anti-gay is a choice.

      • Ian says:

        No, ckat, I am not cherry picking. Of course I am trying to discern what is of lasting relevance, but you cannot read any text without doing that.

        If I am committed to obedience to Scripture, then it is not about fitting in with my own lenses, but reflecting carefully on how these texts fit into the bigger picture of Scripture. Are the prohibitions on same-sex relations rooted in the creation narrative? Are they enforced elsewhere? In particular, are they picked up in the NT in the teaching of Jesus and Paul? The answer is yes, yes, yes, and yes.

        On e.g. not eating shellfish the answer is no, no, definitely not and no. That is not cherry picking; it is responsible reading.

      • ckatsarelis says:

        I hear you, but I would say that the answers are no, yes, no, and no! 😉 Probably you know already the vast scholarship that backs both of our claims. There are only 7 “clobber” passages, and many of them have been utterly defanged. Clearly, Scripture is interested in much, much more.

        If you were so fundamentalist that you believed that the world was created in six days, five or six thousand years ago, we would not be able to reach much common ground. We’d just have to wish each other well, though I might tease you and inquire about the dimensions, in cubits, of your altar. But if the Creation Story is a myth that is a magnificent and beautiful condensation of the “real” story, as told by people from a pre-scientific age, that leaves a lot space for relationship with God that contains broad and loving aspects of Creation. Like diversity. It all comes down to whether or not you believe that Adam and Eve, Adam and Steve, Rachel and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Cynthia and Rebecca, et al., are all created in the Image of God, a loving God so vast that His/Her expression cannot be contained in any one being, except of course, the person of Jesus. If your Creation Story has room for me and Rebecca, then there’s no problem.

        If your Creation Story just can’t account for the diversity, well, Paul says we can only see in part. But it goes too far to impose your Creation Story on all others. You would say that you are maintaining integrity to Scripture, I’m saying that Scripture is magnificent but it calls us into personal relationship with a loving God who wishes us to love all our neighbors, as the context for that changes over the millennia (loving our island neighbors in a time of rising oceans, for example).

        And so it goes for what “sin” actually is, and why God calls us to reflect, and act.

        The most interesting point I can make about LGBTQI people and Creation is that we do tend to be the most creative sorts. Michelangelo, all those visual artists and musicians. It’s an irrefutable fact that gay friendly parishes sing much better than not-so-friendly parishes.

        From out here in the Rocky Mountains, I just can’t see what the fuss is all about, over loving people of God. It seems we ought to go about the simple, noble, and shockingly difficult business of actually loving our neighbors without judgement.

    • Andrew says:

      Well Ian, for someone who clearly pays great attention to the text, I would have thought that you would have noticed that I haven’t called anyone a ‘homophobic hypocrite’; I stated that a position was hypocritical homophobia. It’s sort of similar to ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ in this case ‘insult the position, don’t insult the poster.’

      And surely you don’t really want me to start listing all the Levitical laws routinely ignored by conservatives? I mean it’s such a chore having to trot out the dietary regulations, horoscopes, tattoos, mixed fibre clothing etc.etc. every time somebody decides to clobber me with a mediaeval version of an ancient Hebrew text.

      Ian, I’m sure your conservatism is more nuanced than many, but my response was to HL’s post, which looks pretty much like somebody brandishing a proof text to me.

      Here’s the rub. This is about people. Real people. People like me. It’s not about who’s got the best interpretation of ancient scriptures. Who is it who pays the price for this risible bibliolatry? LGBT people. Again and again and again. It’s time this stopped.

  3. What about ‘Love everyone, leave it to God to point out others’ sins’?

  4. PS If you think you can know what another’s sins are, you are no longer loving, you are judging.

    • PB says:

      And then we are supposed to confess to one another too, making our brothers and sisters aware of our sins.. And if you take in the plank/spec argument, it doesn’t say not to judge/hold accountable, but rather be very aware of your own sin first. Not saying I have THE answer, just asking what I feel are interesting and maybe important questions.

      • ckatsarelis says:

        That’s very interesting theology, PB. Alas, Jesus didn’t say it was OK to bash and bully people as long as you confessed your own sin first. He said “love your neighbor” without caveat. He also said “don’t judge.”

        I’m at the point of believing that we don’t do what Jesus says because it is too hard and costly, therefore we invent a theology that’s a lot easier, judging and bashing others. Jesus said to love our neighbor, feed the hungry, heal the sick, give water to the thirsty (think about the bottled water industry and its impacts on the world), love one another as He loves us. If we did that, we would fix the climate problems, we would pay reparations to those we’ve exploited to create wealth for ourselves, we would put a stop to the arms trade, our consumer society would be massively restructured.

        Loving our neighbor is way to hard, so let’s bash the gays with “interesting” theology.

      • PB says:

        Getting some extreme views being read into what I’ve said so far which I would certainly not do. Think in the interest of not inflaming anyone further I’ll bow out. Can’t get to know people on the other end of the convo online.
        Thanks for the article. I’ll read further with great interest.

  5. This is wonderful. Thank you for writing it.

  6. ckatsarelis says:

    I think that the people who are so sure that homosexuality is a sin are probably not plugged in to the damage that that rhetoric causes. Teen LGBTQI suicide is a deep concern, it’s driven by bullies (lots of cyber bullying amongst school children). Further, discrimination, hate crimes, the resulting depression and whatnot all flow from attitudes and beliefs that there’s something inherently “wrong” with gays, rather than accepting us as Children of God, created in the Image of God.

    Jesus tells us to look at the fruits of the labor. Who gets hurt by the “hate the sin” rhetoric? And the rhetoric that insists that gayness is sinful? What does it do for people who say these things? Why be so invested in this?

    This is a great article.

    • James Byron says:

      I’m sure many would say that their position isn’t inherently harmful, and can be advocated in a pastoral, loving way.

      Others would, I suspect, accept that it is harmful, but also argue that their hands are tied by the Bible, and that taking an affirming position would ultimately do more harm.

      I strongly disagree with both positions, but recognize that they can be held sincerely, in good conscience, and without a personal dislike of gay people. I simply view them as wrong.

      • ckatsarelis says:

        The data show that marginalizing any group leads to problems for those marginalized. So however justified people may feel in speaking for God via the Bible (which actually says very little about gay people, but overlooking that for a moment…), they are inflicting pain. How they can see that as following Jesus is beyond me.

  7. savih says:

    I do not believe that same-sex partnerships are sinful. But I think that, by getting rid of the very notion of declaring some things sinful (e.g. torture, terrorist attacks on non-combatants, racist violence), we may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    • ckatsarelis says:

      I’m not saying that there isn’t sin. Besides saying that being gay isn’t sinful, I would challenge the notion of sin as personal sin, where if one ticks off all the right boxes and none of the wrong boxes, they achieve salvation, and then claim the right to lord it over others who don’t agree on the boxes.

      So much of Scripture is about collective sin, the sin of Sodom, according to Ezekiel, was being harsh towards the poor while living in plenty, and being inhospitable to strangers. I suspect that when Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, etc., that he is speaking to a just society, not just individuals giving to the local food bank, important as that may be. I have a feeling that Jesus would have a lot to say about our consumer society that exploits the poor, and is responsible for the terrible impacts of climate change that already are impacting the most vulnerable (including Anglican sisters and brothers).

      I would never say that there isn’t sin. I would just say that real sin is so difficult to address and personally costly that we make convenient scapegoats out of the “other du jour” instead.

      There’s a role for personal sin. I would just say that the yard stick is whether or not our actions hurt others. No harm, no foul. (Basketball in the US).

      • savih says:

        I would agree that the key issue is harm to others – but that still means that sin does exist and the challenge of how to react to it without demonising perpetrators remains. This is especially acute when one is immediately affected: for instance simply telling a victim of crime that they should not hate the fact that they were just beaten up, shot or whatever seems pretty pointless. Moreover collective sin involves personal responsibility, often on a wide scale. Though the phrase is often misused, i think the underlying view that it can be all right to feel strongly that something is wrong without setting out to destroy those responsible.

      • ckatsarelis says:

        OK, I’m starting to follow you better. As an American, my context is that being gay is a state of being, and not defined by acts, per se. So now I get it, some people are thinking about the acts as being sinful, and thus comparable to acts like robbery or assault. Is that right?

        First off, I’ve never heard a religious figure use the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner” when talking about thieves, assailants, or murderers. Perhaps that’s different in the UK. It would be saintly to apply to murderers and whatnot, and probably we are called to do that. However, if used for criminals and LGBTQI people, that’s even more dreadful for the LGBTQI people, lumping us in with thieves and murderers.

        So yes, a victim of crime and/or sin might very well hate what happened. And it would likely be best if the call for justice was just that, justice and not demonization.

        Of course I agree that collective sin, like exploitation of vulnerable people via our consumerism, or institutional racism, involves a strong degree of personal responsibility. The problems are systematic and thus require a change of the system, a massive paradigm shift. Yes, it ought to be possible to do that without destroying people. Alas, what generally happens, over here anyway, is that when people try to change the system, those whose wealth depends on that system do a lot of destructive things. Sure, it’s all better to do without destroying or demonizing anyone. Power generally doesn’t change without struggle, though generational shifts can make a lot of headway.

      • Ian says:

        If the measure of what is sinful is what harms other humans, then you don’t believe in Christianity, you believe in humanism.

        The only plausible definition of ‘sin’ is that which causes offence to God. Things that are harmful to humans are called ‘harmful’. There might be an overlap between the two, but to reduce one to the other is to write God and revelation out of human life.

      • James Byron says:

        Ian, surely harm to people, and offense to God, aren’t mutually exclusive: indeed, many acts offend God precisely because they’re harmful to others.

      • Ian says:

        James, I entirely agree that they are not mutually exclusive. But that is not what is being proposed here. The proposal is that harm is *the* definition of sin. That is an entirely secular, humanist measure, and I think it is indicative of what happens when we try to accommodate same-sex sexual unions: it drives a cart and horses through our theology.

      • James Byron says:

        Ian, harm needn’t be an essential element of sin, but it’s certainly an important one. If an act isn’t inherently harmful, while opposition to it causes a great deal, then it’s reasonable to say that there ought to be a compelling reason to continue opposing it.

        For many, abstract arguments from authority about biblical trajectories and ideals don’t cut it, especially when the Bible nowhere gives a clear, compelling justification for banning all homosexual acts. Ethics need substantive justifications.

        You of course disagree, as do many others. The question now is whether both groups can continue to exist within the same organization. I’m no longer hopeful, but a way may yet be found.

    • ckatsarelis says:

      Ian said: “If the measure of what is sinful is what harms other humans, then you don’t believe in Christianity, you believe in humanism. The only plausible definition of ‘sin’ is that which causes offence to God.”

      Savi similarly said that the the claim of sinful = harmful is secular and not theological.

      ckatsarelis responds:
      Now we are at the heart of the matter. Because I vociferously claim that sin=harm is exactly what Jesus is saying when he summarized the law: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

      Further, when you unpack much of Jesus’ interactions, one can see that it is for reasons of justice and reducing suffering. When Jesus talked about divorce it was in the context of a culture where divorce meant casting out the women, who were then unprotected from poverty and abuse. Divorce, per se, is not an offense to God. Abusing God’s Children is an offense. When Jesus lambasted the Pharisees for misusing the Law to demean and exclude people, he was saying exactly that it isn’t the Law that makes one righteous, it’s how people are treated.

      No human can presume to know that being left handed or gay is offensive to God. What we know is that Jesus commanded us to “love our neighbor” and to “love one another as I have loved you.” So doing the extreme damage of spreading anti-gay rhetoric in passive-aggressive phrases is hardly loving.

      There may be a lot of complexity in what it means to “love your neighbor” in the 21st Century. But given all the data we have now, I’m pretty sure that loving one’s neighbor does not include attacking the state of being of people who are gay, minority, left handed, poor, etc.

      Harming people is completely out of the question and it is a matter of deepest belief in the Lord, Crucified and Risen for ALL of God’s Children. So that means “do no harm.” If your piety is satisfied by ticking the right personal piety boxes (not gay, not left handed, not slave…) that is your right in a free society. But I believe that theology to be highly questionable.

      God created us all and She/He said her creation is “good.” Anything other than that is creating God in our biased image rather than seeing the Image of God in all people.

      • ckatsarelis says:

        I’m still musing on Ian’s refuting that causing harm isn’t a large part of the definition of sin. We Anglicans value Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Why do any commandments exist? Is it our job to follow them blindly, even though some were very specific to a time and place, long, long ago in a culture far, far away? Our Jewish sisters and brothers tend to come to very, very different conclusions about Torah than the Christian fundamentalists. They tend to explore why the rules existed and see it as pointing to how to live in a moral society, a question that concerns us to this day, but the answers will look different in our time and place. How does one explain that? After all, as followers of Jesus, we have His summary of the Law and it points to how we treat one another, not following arbitrary Laws specific to millennia ago, created for reasons unknown. (The Ten Commandments seem to be very much about not harming one another, while worshiping a single God).

        Is sin about following abstract rules, ticking off the appropriate piety boxes, to appease a God who readily takes offense at trivialities…? Is it possible that those cleanliness codes had to do with identity and fear of disease (sometimes rightfully so, like trichinosis in pork) at a time when disease wasn’t well understood?

        Me thinks it is about relationship, how we treat one another, individually and communally. To me, and many theologians, that is the Way of Jesus. I’m a bit tired of the “conservatives” making the claim that loving, inclusive theology is “secular” or “humanist.” It is not. It is the result of serious study, Witness, and interaction with a loving God.

        I find the fundamentalist version of seeing sin as “something that offends God,” and using it to oppress others, is dangerously problematic. My God loves me and my wife, no offense there. Besides being dangerous in that it puts the power of deciding what offends god into the hands of fallible humans, given when and where the OT was written, it seems like buying into a primitive and practically superstitious religion. Bonhoeffer thought that humans had come of age and it was time for a more mature relationship with God. Yes.

      • Quinquagesima says:

        The reason why “causing harm to others” is not the only measure of sin, is that it is pretty clear in scripture, and in the Christian tradition, that God cares as much about the state of our hearts as about our outward actions. It’s possible, for example, to bear a grudge against someone in your heart, or to commit adultery in the heart, without ever doing anything about it physically, and that is still sin. Letting the mind wander during Holy Communion (and yes, we’ve all done it), without pulling back one’s thoughts, is sin. Our thoughts and the purity of our souls matter, as well as what we do.

      • ckatsarelis says:

        I would say that the “state of the heart” can cause self harm, and would come under the clause “love … as yourself.” So we’re called to love ourselves as well as our neighbors. In terms of worshiping the one God, even that can be about our health, to be in relationship with a loving God, and not false, prosperity oriented gods.

        This is not particularly radical theology. But it differs from a fundamentalist interpretation.

        I’m racking my brain to come up with a “sin” that doesn’t cause harm to self or others.

      • savih says:

        Where did I say that the claim of sinful = harmful is secular and not theological? On the contrary, this is surely the most obvious interpretation of Romans 13.8-10 and Galatians 5.14, which are compatible with Matthew 7.12. However, going back to the main point of the article, this would still indicate that it might be appropriate to view some things as sinful, though it is possible at the same time to seek to be loving towards those who are responsible.

      • ckatsarelis says:

        Savi, I may have misunderstood you about the sin=harm thing, or misremembered what you’d said. Sorry about that.

        I hear you trying to figure out when this phrase might be appropriate, but really, this phrase was coined to apply to LGBTQI people and has been used extensively and exclusively in that context. You don’t do us any favors by giving it more credence than it is due. It was designed to attack the activities (i.e. loving relationships) of “practicing homosexuals” while glossing it over with “but we love the person,” as if the person can be separated. In the USA, this phrase is used by people who used to call us “faggots” but know that’s not accepted anymore, so it’s only one step above that. That phrase belongs on the trash heap of history, along with the US Southern “bless their hearts,” which really means “I hate them and would murder them if I could get away with it” (not exclusively used for gay issues, kind of a catch all for anyone found to be annoying or too different).

        That phrase doesn’t do justice or respect the dignity of LGBTQI people and I can’t see it being redeemed with the nasty history it has.

  8. Quinquagesima says:

    “Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to hate any person: I have never yet heard an adequate argument which convinces me that, at the level of pastoral psychology, hating sin doesn’t result in hating people.”

    You seem to be arguing a general principle here, Simon, that we shouldn’t hate any kind of sin: is that correct? What about paedophilia? Genocide? If that is not what you meant, then where is the boundary between sins we should hate and those we shouldn’t hate?

  9. Anthony Archer says:

    Great article Simon, which I am coming late to. As an evangelical I have always felt deeply uncomfortable with the ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ mantra. It is so judgmental and smug. And in passing, I don’t think the definition of sin is that which causes offence to God. It may or may not. Sin is what separates us from God, and in the case of LGBT Christians why would God withhold His blessing from such a group of believers? It defies moral logic and merely satisfies the cultural and moral perspective of conservatives.

    • Quinquagesima says:

      Anthony, may I then rephrase to you my (so far unanswered) question?

      The question of whether homosexuality (or, more accurately, homosexual behaviour) is or is not a sin a separate question from that as to whether ‘loving the sinner and hating the sin’ is, as matter of general principle, an appropriate Christian attitude. Simon seems to be making the latter claim (as well as the former), so let’s examine it.

      Let’s leave homosexuality out of it for the moment, given that it is (as a matter of empirical fact) an issue of controversy within the Church. Let’s think about sins which pretty much everybody agrees are sins, whether that’s being mean-spirited to your neighbours, swearing at a homeless person or stealing money from your mother’s purse. Would you, in those cases, think it was inappropriate (a) to love the sinner or (b) to hate the sin?

  10. Anthony Archer says:

    I think it is graceless and judgmental as it depends on the view of the ‘Christian’ making the assertion. No doubt Ian Paul will argue that it is biblical. I look forward to reading Psephizo on the subject. Simon of course applied it more specifically to the same sex marriage debate and it is in that context that it comes really unstuck because, as you note, it depends on what is or is not a sin.

    • Quinqugesima says:

      On the contrary, it is the very essence of Christian charity to be able to love a person (including – perhaps especially – oneself) despite the things he does.

      If, on the other hand, this simply comes down to ‘You shouldn’t say “love the sinner and hate the sin in relation to homosexuality, because homosexual activity is not a sin, and it’s upsetting to gay people too be told that it is”, it really adds nothing at all to this debate because that argument neatly begs the question of whether homosexual activity is a sin.

      For a conservative who does believe that homosexual activity is sinful, ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ is a statement that, despite that view, there is no license to regard gay people with less worth or esteem. Is the argument being made that, even for those who hold that view, this is not an appropriate thing to say, as a matter of general principle? If so, on what basis?

    • Ian says:

      ‘Quinqugesima’ do we know each other? Can you contact me (through my blog)?

    • Ian says:

      Anthony you can read my full response on my blog here: http://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/should-we-hate-the-sin-and-love-the-sinner/

  11. tgflux says:

    Hate sins—but only one’s own (this may include one’s own church’s sins). Love everyone as if they were angels…but remembering how one’s own sins may have weakened them.

  12. A very useful book for any Christian who is Gay, or in fact any Christian who are not Gay but are wanting to understand what is going on for their brothers and sisters who are Gay, is a book by Anthony Venn Brown, formerly a ‘star’ in the Australian pentecostal world – he was a very well known and much loved Evangelist – speaking at places such as Hillsong and C3 (CCC as it was then known. The books title is A Life of Unlearning: a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith available on kindle and paperback – it is in its third edition and is well worth reading.

    Being Gay is not a sin. Having sex with someone of your own gender, when that act is mutual and based on a relationship of love and equal power – just as any other act of love making would be, is not sin. The sin of Sodom was not homosexuality – that was inhospitality – the bible is very clear on this matter. Kimberly Knight on her Blog Coming Out Christian writes:

    Ezekiel claims the real “guilt” of the Sodomites was the fact that, although they had “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease,” they “did not aid the poor and needy” and were “haughty” (Ezekiel 16:49-50). Even your main man Paul in a little note he scribbled out to the Hebrews warns Christians by alluding to the true sin of the Sodomites as inhospitality: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

    It really is time we put to bed that sayings Hate the sin and not the sinner and Hate the sin but love the sinner – no one can speak these phrases in love – it simply can’t be done.

    • Ian says:

      So in fact, Greg, you disagree with Simon and agree with James Byron. The problem is less with the phrase and more with whom it is applied to…?

  13. Some of the things on here defy belief.

    Of course the act of homosexuality is a sin. You’d be a fool to think otherwise. Even sexual acts between certain hetrosexuals are sinful.

    Stop making excuses or twisting scripture to suit your own agenda. If you want to have sexual relations with people of the same sex, go and do it – but don’t pretend it would be favourable to God.

    Now Jesus himself said this:

    Matthew 5:27
    “You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

    That there is a challenge for every hetrosexual married man. It is damn near impossible, especially in this day and age where almost everything is sexualised, to not look at another woman lustfully at some point. But if you do, it’s a sin. Why? The Lord said so.

    Now if you are going to tell me that Jesus would class that as a sin but completely ignore sexual acts between people of the same sex – i’d say you are really trying to convince yourself – or fool yourself would be more apt.


    1 Corinthians 6:9
    “Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God”

    Galatians 5:19
    The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery.

    What did Jesus forgive Mary Magdalene for?

    Is looking at porn a sin?

    Is sex outside marriage a sin?

    You know something, life is very hard even for hetrosexual people – and if looking at another woman is sin, then make no mistake – I am a sinner. The first rule here is to accept you have done wrong and try and make it right.

    But if I decided to make excuses or pretend it’s not really a sin at all, then I really am walking into dangerous territory. And I think some people on this page already are.

    You must remember this – the sexual act is not an act of love – it is first and foremost designed for procreation. Anything else deviates from it’s original purpose. If this were not so, then Paul has it wrong many times and Jesus himself has it wrong.

    • ckatsarelis says:

      Peter, what is “obvious” to you about committed gay relationships simply isn’t true. You are twisting Scripture to fit your bias. There is no mention of committed gay relationships anywhere in the NT and only in the OT (which comes with a wide range of guidelines we no longer follow). None of your Scripture quotes addresses committed gay couples. There is a long tradition of misusing Scripture for one’s own purposes, it’s been used to justify slavery (it’s endorsed in Leviticus), antisemitism, burning heretics, etc. That’s why Anglicans also apply reason. One could easily raise eyebrows at the relationships of David and Jonathon, Ruth and Naomi, and “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” though they aren’t conclusive.

      Jesus never talked about committed gay relationships.

      Is there sexual sin? Adultery for sure, it’s mentioned many times in the Bible. At this point in time, in the West, marriage is a covenant relationship and violating that is serious, it causes serious harm. Marriage in Biblical times was more of a business contract…

      These other ones are above my pay grade.
      Sex in common law marriages? I.e. not in covenant marriages?
      Sex amongst unmarried and uncommitted people? (doesn’t seem healthy to me, but..)
      What about a married person being tempted to adultery but refraining? Have they really committed a sin or have they been righteous by honoring their covenant?

      I chose covenant marriage as soon as it was available. I understand the church wanting clergy to be in a covenant relationship (or celibate), it mirrors our covenant with God.

      But calling bias the “obvious” word of God is questionable and has been unpacked by numerous scholars and people looking for the best translations and cultural understandings.

      Ultimately, however, there is one’s own personal Witness. God loves me and Rebecca. God put us together, God loves us together (for nearly 25 years now), God supports us in the face of difficult times and good. God was present at our sacramental marriage. You weren’t there, so how can you possibly make a statement like “don’t pretend it would be favourable to God?”

      Newsflash: Gay people can be Christians, even Anglicans, with amazing relationships with Jesus. This Witness flies in the face of the claims of bias. The “obvious” is the call to love one another and not judge. The hurtful rhetoric may well be sin, it does hurt, especially for those who hear it without having yet connected with their loving Creator.

  14. jayneozanne says:




  15. Anthony Archer says:

    Not sure whether this post offends your ruling of yesterday. I am coming back to this late, having been preoccupied this week, but I am grateful to both Simon Butler here and Ian Paul here and through Psephizo for their contributions. We have of course moved swiftly from the generalities of ‘hate the sin, love the sinner,’ to the particularities of the application of that mantra to same sex relationships. That is hardly surprising given the way Simon framed his post. I think it is an awful phrase, one that I came across as a baby Christian. It is almost as useless as ‘God helps those who help themselves!’ It had some use to me at that point in my very early Christian life, but I realised that is had no direct scriptural basis, although if you try to unpack it there is some scriptural warrant for it, but only if we consider it from the eyes of a loving, forgiving God. ‘I will forgive them their sins and remember them no more.’ No-one seems to know where it came from. Some have attributed it to Gandhi! St Augustine is of course more on message by ‘with love for mankind and hatred of sins’. Of course God hates sins; they separate us from Him. But the phrase as we have it, and as Simon has commented on it, is flawed. First it focuses on the ‘sinner’, a label that is in the eyes of the ‘accuser.’ By definition, labelling someone a sinner reveals an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Then there is the word ‘hate’. Well we might hate sin by recognising it for what it is and condemning it as contrary to God’s nature, and we are taught in Ephesians to speak the truth in love. But doing that without being judgemental is impossibly hard, and rarely righteous. It also depends on what you regard as being a sin (which leads us back to Simon’s original post). Furthermore, whenever a Christian uses the phrase today (evidenced strongly by this thread), it is never in the context of anything other than gender identity and sexuality, which may say something about its provenance and use in recent times. It’s basically homophobic. If those who use it truly loved those “sinners” and hated those “sins” enough to treat people as horribly as they treat the LGBT community for the sins they charge them with, there would be no-one left standing in their presence. Best to avoid it I think!

  16. kiwianglo says:

    Dame Julian of Norwich has something quite different to say, from Ian Paul – about sin.
    Something like: “Sin is inevitable, but all shall be well; all manner of things shall be well.
    But there again, she was only a Christian Mystic deeply aware of ther depths of God’s Love.

  17. John-Julian, OJN says:

    And Mother Julian said even MORE (in Chapter 27):

    “But I saw not sin;
    for I believe it has no manner of essence
    nor any portion of being,
    nor can it be known except by the pain that is caused by it.
    And this pain, it is something for a time, as I see it, because it
    purges and forces us to know ourselves and ask for mercy. But
    the Passion of our Lord is comfort for us against all this, and so
    is His blessed will.
    And because of the tender love that our good Lord has to all that
    shall be saved, He comforts quickly and sweetly, meaning thus:
    “It is true that sin is cause of all this pain,
    but all shall be well,
    and all shall be well,
    and all manner of thing shall be well.”

  18. kiwianglo says:

    Thank you, John Julian. And, thank God for Mother Julian!

  19. John Daniel Berry says:

    We’ve already killed enough people finghting about what biblical texts “actually” say. Imagine what’s likely to ensure if we start in on what has “warranty” in scripture. Yikes.

    I’m so totally done with this argument about Leviticus, a document loaded with Bronze-Age barbarisms, many or most of which civilized societies decided centuries ago that we could live without. One really has to wonder why this one provision about men lying with men sticks in the craw of so many, while they so easily ignore much or all the rest of that book.

    How about a discussion about, for example, the levitical ideas of forgiveness of debts and of Jubilee instead? Those are ideas that much better align with the Gospel, and, probably, with many ideas of justice held by non-churched as well? Certainly, such a discussion would be much more useful than harping on unintelligible ideas concerning sex relations (including those between opposite sex couples) that date from a culture that, thank God, has, in the main, been put to rest by intelligent people at least.

Any thoughts?