I doubt there’s a Christian in America who hasn’t heard the almost credal phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” One can scarcely have a discussion regarding homosexuality with a non-affirming believer without hearing it. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was somewhere in the Bible.
Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the saying, it refers to people’s belief that God calls us to condemn (hate) the sin in people’s lives without hating those who are committing the sin. It attempts to make a distinction between sinners and the sins they commit, saying that one should be hated, while the other should be loved.
In theory, it certainly seems reasonable. A Christian should despise acts of disobedience to God’s word, while loving everyone. But, I want to pull the veil back on the rhetoric and examine the use of the phrase in real life. Beyond the cutesy assemblage of words, what does it really mean to “love the sinner, hate the sin?”
When people employ this phrase, it’s always in the context of their condemnation of someone’s “lifestyle”. In the vast majority of cases, it refers to people’s disdain for homosexuality, while supposedly affirming their love for homosexuals. But, is this really how this works in real life?
As Christians, we are all called to hate sin. Sin, by definition, is that which is contrary to God (1Jn. 3:4). We cannot, therefore, consider ourselves faithful children if we love that which is opposed to God (James 4:4). But, this relates to sin as a general concept. The problem with trying to narrow this generality to specific sins is that we have a penchant for perceiving sins differently. For example, why is it always necessary to “love the sinner, hate the sin” when it comes to homosexuality, but we rarely hear this phrase when it comes to the sin of greed or gluttony?
In fact, have you ever noticed how this phrase only applies to sins that the one saying it doesn’t commit? How convenient! While I’m busy hating your sin, I seem to have forgotten about my own! Jesus had a little something to say about that.
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Furthermore, at the heart of this saying is the idea that people can separate their disgust of a sin from the people who commit it. But how realistic is this? I submit that when we narrow our hatred of sin to a specific list (rather than just sin in general), we make it near impossible to draw this distinction. Something in us causes us to look more favorably upon those who don’t commit those particular sins, while harboring at least some degree of hostility and “righteous indignation” toward those who do.
Religious folk will have a hard time admitting this, but it’s the truth, regardless. I’ll prove it. If Christians loved people who committed “those sins” (you know, the ones that they hate) equally, there would be no need to use this statement in the first place. The fact that it exists at all actually proves it doesn’t work!
Think about it. The phrase calls attention to the “sinfulness” of the one being judged (and yes, it is a form of judgment). “Love the sinner” refuses to lift the person supposedly being loved from the identity of “sinner.” It reminds people that while they’re loving someone, they’re loving them “in their sin.” But, Scripture’s description of love says that we aren’t to keep a record of wrongs (1Co. 13:5). So, why does it suffice us to classify, relate to, and supposedly love people on the basis of their sinfulness? Why can we not love on the basis of a person’s basic humanity instead?
Let’s not even mention the fact that every Christian sins, which doubly makes this statement meaningless. I mean, it’s amazingly hypocritical for someone who sins to relate to someone else on the basis of their sinfulness. “I love you, despite your sin,” says the sinner… Do you see how ridiculous that is? It’s as though Jesus said, “Let he who has sin cast the first stone.”
So, when we distill this saying down to its core meaning, stripping away all the religious makeup that we pretty it up with, we’re left with a sad reality. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is nothing more than a self-righteous way to justify the negative feelings we have toward people who commit specific sins that we especially hate, namely homosexuality.
Consider something else. We say that there are two types of sin—of commission (things you do that you shouldn’t have done) and of omission (things you don’t do that you should have done). Homosexuality is a sexual orientation. Unlike every other thing we could possibly identify as sin, homosexuality is not something a person does or doesn’t do. It is a state of being. It is like race or sex (i.e. gender). A person doesn’t commit Black. He is Black. A person doesn’t commit female. She is female. Likewise, a person doesn’t commit homosexuality. The word only describes the innate sexual attractions that an individual experiences, irrespective of what they do or don’t do.
Understanding this is key to seeing why “love the sinner, hate the sin” is such an evil thing to say. By calling homosexuality a sin, and then saying that you hate that sin, what you’re saying to a gay person is, “I love you as a human being, but I hate you as a person.” This wins both the cruel and ridiculous awards. You can’t love the humanity of someone while hating them at the same time. For example, you can’t claim to love me, but hate the fact that I’m Black. You can’t claim to love me, but hate the fact that I’m 6’1″. There is no me without my Blackness. There is no me without my height. These are parts of who I am, and you either love me or you don’t.
But religious Christians feel obligated to love, in word alone if not in action. So, they can’t claim to hate a human being without feeling like they’re utterly failing as a Christian, even though they are! But when you strip away the religiosity from “love the homosexual, hate homosexuality,” what you’re really saying to the gay person is, “I hate you.”
I submit that Jesus didn’t love “the sinner”, while hating their sin. He simply loved people. He loved the adulterous woman, but not as an adulterous woman. He simply loved her. He loved the Gadarene demoniac, but not as a demoniac. He simply loved him. He even loved the self-righteous Pharisees who were so busy pointing out the sin in the lives of others that they neglected to deal with their own. But His love wasn’t extended to them as sinners. He didn’t love “the sinner.” He loved “the person“—for who they were, not for what they were.
So, I think that “love the sinner, hate the sin” needs to be completely retired from Christian vernacular. We all sin, yet we should all be loved. So why bother pointing out the sinfulness of others in conjunction with our love? Let’s not perceive or relate to people on the basis of their sin. Let’s love them the way Jesus loves us!