Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?

whichgod2I’m still reading Unchristian: what a new generation really thinks about Christianity…and why it matters.  It’s not that I’m such a slow reader; it’s that I have other things to do.  Today, for instance, I have to write a sermon about Jesus taking on the scribes and Pharisees over the issue of ritual handwashing (Mark 7:1-23), a topic not completely unrelated to the way many outsiders view the religious traditions of Christians. 

Anyway, I thought I would give you a brief excerpt from Unchristian to keep the conversation going, because it’s a good one, and the comments I have received have been both thoughtful and provocative.  I hope you will add to the conversation by clicking the word comments at the bottom of this post and telling me what you think.

In the chapter on Christians being “too judgmental” David Kinnaman writes: “Have you ever heard the Christian mantra, ‘Hate the sin, but love the sinner’?  It is not a direct quote from the Bible, but it reflects the ideal most Christ followers embrace.  They would like to extend grace and love toward others (the sinner), while firmly rejecting those attitudes and behaviors that contradict God’s standards (the sin).  The problem is outsiders don’t think we are honest with ourselves.  One of our interviews was with Jeff, a twenty-five-year-old agnostic from Oklahoma.  He actually mentioned the catchphrase in the conversation: ‘Christians talk about hating sin and loving sinners, but the way they go about things, they might as well call it what it is.  They hate the sin and the sinner.'” 

Kinnaman goes on to say, “If our primary fixation is on the sin, it is virtually impossible to demonstrate love to an individual.  Think of it: many outsiders, the broken people who need Jesus most, picture Christians as haters.”


What do you think?  Is Kinnaman right?  Do people outside the faith really think of us that way?

18 thoughts on “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?

  1. There is danger in navigating this issue on the basis of religion and right-thinking philosophy. I can get trapped into working so hard on critiquing the proper Christian way and ensuring my head is in the right place (handwashing). But Christ hasn’t called me to be a great thinker but a doer. It’s like talking about the proper form for ballet moves and never taking the floor yourself. If non-Christians just saw us in earnest action for Jesus our determination, effort and humility would more than make up for the many mistakes we make along the way. Of course we would still be criticized .. but for our actions.. not our dogma.

    Kinnaman is right and we have earned it.

  2. Again, it’s about encountering God and not a long checklist of rules. We all sin and fall short of grace. No? So, why are all we sinners so desperately pointing out the sins of others?

    Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

  3. I think it has been well earned. Christians and followers of God in Old Testament times, have always focused on the rules. Therefore, we focus on the sin. I don’t do this … or, in the case of the rich young ruler, I have kept the commandments … I think often we miss what Jesus said to him. He looked at him with compassion and told him that he was CLOSE to the Kingdom of Heaven. If you want to put it a bit more obvious … when close isn’t good enough.
    Why is it, as followers of Christ, we fail to see the most basic of teachings? We always think it has to be more difficult. Jesus came and fulfilled the law. All of the law. Jesus only gave us two commands … Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Second, to love your neighbor as yourself. Christ said that all of the law and the prophets depend on these commandments.
    Wow. So short. Yet, we just do not get it. After nearly 2000 years, we think there is something more … that your sin is worse than my sin … that there is more than what Jesus said.
    I think I would rather be judged on having loved my neighbor, rather than judging their sin. God is the judge. I don’t have the qualifications.

  4. Language is so important here. Kinnaman writes: “They would like to extend grace and love toward others (the sinner)…” Others! Not us! This can be subtle, but the impression is certainly out there. In the small excerpts here he also uses the word “outsider” twice. Surely there’s a better word.

    I also know some very devout Christians who seem to pick and choose which “sinners” are worthy of compassion. The most recent example would be in the story of the woman who was just found after being kidnapped 19 years ago. I have heard some “insiders” comment on the kidnapper in ways that do not follow the “love the sinner” mode. Certainly this is an extreme case, but the rule still applies, does it not?

  5. Kinnaman is right and it has been that way for a long time. Mark Twain wrote, “If Christ were here now, there is one thing he would not be – a Christian.” Ghandi said, and I paraphrase, I would have considered becoming a Christian had it not been for the Christians. Christianity has been associated with political and personal agendas much too often. As Scott said, we should be about doing things in the name of Christ, showing love to others. Only then can we have real dialogue about sin. Criticism of sin in the absense of relationship can often be viewed as hating both the sin and the sinner. Jesus was with the outcast and the fringes of society establishing relationship first and confronting sin in the context of that love.

  6. I hate to be the one to bring this up, but until we as Christians hate our own sin as much as we hate others’ sins, we can’t expect to be viewed as anything but hypocritical. I recently read “Go Home and Tell,” the tales of missionary to China, Bertha Smith, in the early- to mid- 20th century. The great revival in China came about when the missionaries first, then the Chinese Christians, came clean and confessed their sins. Miraculous events took place when those praying were actually on praying ground–sins forgiven up to date. What power those believers had because they hated their own sin enough to humble themselves before the Lord and their fellow believers! What power we are missing because we gloss over our own sins! What a testimony we are wasting!

  7. Clearly, Christians give Christians a bad name, and not non-Christians. Loving the sinner is easy to say, but it seems most do not know “how” to do it.

    We are good at identifying the sin, but not great at identifying how to embrace the sinner… Christians most likely fear the repercussion for loving the sinner. Jesus got a bad rap for hanging out with drunks and prostitutes.

    How many pastors have that rap?

  8. I think that often we Christians think there are degrees of sin. “Well, he was a good man; I just don’t know whay he embezzled that money”. Then there is the pastor who becomes involved with a church member in an adultery. During this year so far, we have learned of more people in “High Places’ who have been caught committing major crimes. Some professed to be Christians, no doubt, but also believed they would never be caught! So, does the “What If” factor keep many Christians from misbehaving..the fear of being caught? Or does being a Christian, alone, prevent the sinning action? Ponder this; what motivates the sinner?

  9. I think we are better at hating than at loving. Jesus’ command is to love neighbor as self. Until we truly love neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves we aren’t getting it. Loving neighbor as self doesn’t stop at not wishing ill on our neighbor; it extends to wanting exactly the same things for our neighbor that we want for ourselves — health, happiness, prosperity, comfort, the joy of our salvation. God forgives sins, ours and our neighbor’s. Jesus died for our sins and asks, in return, that we LOVE! And who is our neighbor? EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.

  10. I used to work with a young woman in an afterschool program who was a lesbian. She was capable, funny, creative, loving, and patient with the kids. We were very close and open with each other, and one day, while taking a walk together, I was trying to explain the notion of loving the sinner but hating the sin. She looked at me and explained that being gay was a part of who she was, and that if I couldn’t accept her sexual orientation, then I wasn’t really loving her wholeheartedly. I was judging her based on my own experience and limited understanding, and that was unfair. Many years have passed since then, and now I believe that I don’t have all the answers, nor do I know what factors make people behave in certain ways, much less myself. Therefore, my job is to accept and love people God puts in my path, and to leave the discerning of sin in His hands as He draws closer to those He brings into my life.

  11. Many people are unaware that they are in evils since they do not do them outwardly, fearing the civil law and the loss of reputation. But if they do not shun evils on religious principle, because they are sins and against God, the lust of evil with their enjoyments remain in them like impure waters stopped up or stagnant. What is sin but when love to the Lord ceased, and consequently love toward the neighbor, when it is banished and extinguished, the bond which connects the Lord with man is severed, since love is what conjoin us with him, he separates himself from the Lord so man is left to himself or to his own, and then whatever he thinks is false, and whatever he wills is evil. These are things that slay man, or cause him to have nothing of life remaining.

  12. Yes, Kinnaman is right. We should hate the sin, but love the sinner. God does that exactly. If we want to be like God, than we must behave in the same way as he does toward sin. Man’s human nature is sinful, so they will be sin. God gives us a means for forgiveness of sin, but not condoning that sin. We should also if we want to be more like God. It’s moving toward Heaven on Earth. Isn’t that one of our goals here?

  13. “She looked at me and explained that being gay was a part of who she was, and that if I couldn’t accept her sexual orientation, then I wasn’t really loving her wholeheartedly.”

    Are we falling into the trap of having persons who are not Christian set the Christian agenda? If we have a husband who is capable of stealing, and we love him, do we have to love the fact that he is a thief?

    If so, what use then all our laws regarding human behavior?

    If we consider homosexual relationships sinful, but love the homosexual, do we have to give up our belief in its sinfulness in order to love that person? So, in order to love a murderer, or a thief, or a child molester, we would then give up our belief that these actions are sinful?

    I am sorry, I don’t buy that argument. Sin is sin, and we can love people whether or not they sin. But religion is supposed to be drawing us closer to GOD, not man only. And there are STANDARDS set by GOD, extremely difficult to attain, to love, to refrain from prohibited sexual behavior, to be honest, to be loyal and faithful….but nevertheless these are the standards.

  14. Jim wrote: “Man’s human nature is sinful, so they will be sin. God gives us a means for forgiveness of sin, but not condoning that sin. We should also if we want to be more like God. It’s moving toward Heaven on Earth. Isn’t that one of our goals here?”

    How to live in order to enable the Creator in His loving kindness to provide His kipur –atonement- is outlined in Tan’’kh ; and was also taught by Ribi Yehoshua. The first century Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth (the Mashiakh; the Messiah) taught in accordance with Tan’’kh the only way to get connection with the Creator. Read more here: http://www.netzarim.co.il

  15. “Sin is sin.” Indeed it is. I don’t see non Christians setting the agenda. Jesus took care of that position. His position was to love others, period. If we use our “worthiness filter” based on our own experience, political agenda, or accrued prejudice(s) based on how we grew up, then love will be apportioned out according to our own level of personal disgust or compatibility. There are standards, but there is also “the standard,” Jesus’ kind of love—the kind of love he lavished on prodigals, prostitutes, drunks, and those whose birth certificates did not indicate that they were Jewish. Sin is sin. But people are people. Let’s get busy loving them and maybe the distinction between “the sin” and “the sinner” will fade as irrelevant.

  16. Interesting post. I long ago grew tired of the whole “Hate the Sin Love the Sinner” thing because, in a very real sense, it doesn’t mean anything. That statement has no substance to it; it gives no guidance on how to conduct one’s life or relationship with others. It simply gives Carte Blanche to point fingers and judge others.

    Didn’t Jesus say that his followers should first remove the log from their own eye before pulling out the splinter in another’s?

  17. I don’t know if most people feel that way but if they do it is my opinion that they are greatly mislead and confused. As far as Jeff’s comment I got the impression he is looking for a way to bash christianity.

  18. “Do people outside the faith really think of us that way?”

    Yes, we really do, and here’s why.

    You are telling gays that even in the context of a loving committed relationship they must deny an essential element of their being, they must deprive themselves of the perfectly natural intimacy and joy that married couples take as their right, and they must twist their minds into knots to make themselves believe that their normal, natural, healthy, life-affirming sex.ual urges are evil and shameful. Not only that, but they must do all that FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES with no possibility of change.

    That’s not love. That’s psychological torture.

    Don’t kid yourself. That whole “love the sinner hate the sin” thing is NOT love. The people on the receiving end of it do NOT feel loved. The effect on their lives is hateful, damaging and destructive and YOU need to take responsibility for the harm you are inflicting. The fact that your Christian conscience seems content with that, is one key reason why I (and millions like me) have abandoned your hateful religion.

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