Where did that phrase come from? The Bible? Nope. Jesus? Nope. But many Christians sure do spout it like it is God-inspired scripture - especially concerning the LGBTQ issue. Usually to justify judgment, condemnation and rejection of gays... in Jesus name.
So here we are, a cultural crisis, a church crisis, a family crisis. Marriage equality gains support, churches empty, and churchgoers wonder where it will all end.
There is much truth to find, and personal experience to move our hearts, but the traditional church seems to ignore that. So, where does the non-affirming church go for guidance? Where do Christians get their byword?
Jesus! Oh wait… no, Jesus didn’t say anything about LGBTQ people. (Actually he did… and it was positive… He basically said, don’t worry about eunuchs – which is some kind of sexual minority that society rejected – and whoever is mature enough to hear this, go ahead and hear it… Yeah, so won’t use Jesus.)
So, who can we quote?
Gandhi! Yes! Makes perfect sense. We’ll take our catchphrase from Gandhi (who morphed it from Augustine's, "With love for mankind and hatred of sins"), instead of Jesus (since he didn’t denounce gay people) – not because Christians agree with Gandhi on anything at all, but because he conveniently said: “Hate the sin and not the sinner.”
Finally, a life motto we can internalize. Now we can hate the sin with a vengeance, which has been the desire all along, really. I mean, who wants to give up hatred for something if they can get God’s support to go ahead and hate it? Hate the sin, by all means! We’ll even bump the other part to “LOVE the sinner!” Because we are Christians, after all!
Yes. Now we’ve got it. Hate the sin, love the sinner. It makes perfect sense.
Except for a couple of little problems...
1. Jesus does not support “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” In fact, it flies in the face of everything Jesus said – like, love the sinner, period. Actually, he took away our permission to call people sinners and said, love your neighbor. Also, everyone is your neighbor. If we want to hate sin, it must be our own sin.
Well, that changes things.
2. Jesus said love is the primary commandment, that if we love God and love others, we’ll automatically keep the rest of the commandments! (Do you realize how much freedom that is?) Jesus tells us several times not to judge. And he says don’t even think about getting between God’s children and God. He’s really, really clear about this.
Want to know what’s even weirder?
3. Gandhi does not even support “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Here’s what he actually wrote (in his 1929 autobiography). “Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which though easy enough to understand is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.”
Ah. Gandhi is not endorsing this position but saying it’s impossible to do! And so it is.
Ask anyone on the receiving end of being loved while their sin is hated. They will tell you it’s the same as being hated – for the exact reasons Gandhi wrote: because it’s virtually impossible to love someone but hate their sin.
We get caught up in judging them, and we feel self-righteous compared to them, we won’t just let the issue be, leave the issue between them and God, but continue to bring it up and try to change it… and so the poison of hatred spreads in the world – just as Gandhi said.
Hate is a strong passion. It is hard for humans to keep under control. We think we got this, this little hate-fire, under control but it burns hotter and hotter and ends up burning the whole place down.
And we stand on the lawn and wonder what happened.
So I like to say, to those committed to taking Gandhi’s teaching to heart, take these words, often attributed to Gandhi, to heart: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
Take those words and chew on them, think on them, own them. Take all the time you need. Let God use them to make you more like Jesus.
When people look at you, do they see your Christ, or do they see your church? Do they see Jesus, or do they see the impact of people claiming to speak for Jesus?
As you ponder all of this in your spirit... you will (I hope) no longer want to hate the sinner. You will only want to love your neighbor. That’s a phrase worth quoting.
* “Hate the sin and not the sinner” is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world… Man and his deed are two distinct things. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking one-self. For we are all tarred with the same brush and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that being, but with him, the whole world.
** In reference to the Christian precept that God “hates sin but loves the sinner”. Part IV, Chapter 9, A Tussle with Power. pp. 230-231. Also quoted in The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas (2012), p. 83.