Is it time to move on?
We live in a time where social media is a platform to share our thoughts, photos, memories, tutorials, experiences and opinions for the world to see. When a strong opinion is formed that many people agree on, it tends to get repeatedly shared by others, and sometimes these posts go viral. As I was scrolling on social media, I encountered one such post that made me think twice before continuing to scroll. It read, “Whenever you hear the phrase ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ in your church, run away!”. I could recount several moments in my life where I heard someone using that saying. As I was reading the post, I wondered why this familiar Christian saying was being considered a warning sign to others. How is this statement experienced by people outside the church?
Let’s break down this sentence and understand what is actually being said. The first part reads “hate the sin”. A synonymous sentence might read “hate the act” or or “hate the decision”. This focuses on hating the action only and not the person doing the action. The second part, “love the sinner”, could also mean “despite your actions, I will love you” or “love the person despite their habits”. This means that you can love a person regardless of any actions or decisions they might make that are fundamentally wrong. Why then do these two sentences together stir up warning signs for people outside of church?
Some things to consider. First, we are all sinners according to the Bible (1 John 1:8). We all have varying degrees of moral failure in our lives. Just as God has shown us grace, we too can demonstrate grace to others who have sinned. Secondly, one of the biblical authors, James (tradition holds he was the brother of Jesus), explains that individual sins cannot be isolated from one another, because the Bible’s commandments reflect the whole of God’s character. When we stumble on just one point, we are guilty of breaking all of God’s law (James 2:10).
Fundamentally, there is nothing incorrect about “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner”. However, what happens when people use this statement, is that it places the “lover” in a position of moral superiority over the “sinner”. Essentially, it means that you think you are morally better than the one who is doing something wrong. Consider this. Would it be easier for you to say this about someone else, or to hear it said about you? We can be right in the wrong way.
Joe Forrest, who writes on the intersection of faith, culture, secularism, and politics, wrote the following, which is so true today:
“‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’ sabotages grace because it trains you to see people who live and think differently than you as sinners, rather than neighbours. Instead of seeking out sinners to love, we gradually become predisposed to be on the lookout for sin to hate”.1
While we can perhaps agree that the phrase is biblical in nature at its core, I think we should be mindful that this phrase can inhibit progress to true relationship and love for others. As Dallas Willard, who is known for his writings on Christian spiritual formation, reminds us, “the Gospel is not the Gospel of sin management”.2 Maybe it is about time we start loving our neighbour, and forgiving the sin.