Is it possible to love the sinner while hating the sin?
I think that I can understand the reason for your question. Homosexuality (or bisexuality or transgenderdness) goes beyond something that you do. It is a part of your makeup. It is not like my teenage son’s blue hair, or his dog collar with the exaggerated spikes, both of which can be removed at a moment’s notice. So, when someone tells you that they can love you as a homosexual while they hate your homosexuality, it is a contradiction. It is like a woman telling me that she can love me, a male, while hating masculinity. It is impossible, and that is all there is to it!
Yet, I do believe that it is possible to love the sinner while hating the sin…when we are talking an about actual sin.
Last month, a local news program reported about Bill Douglass, county prosecutor for Kootney County in the state of Idaho, just across the state line from my home town of Spokane, Washington. His son was arrested for dealing meth. Mr. Douglass didn’t allow his name or his office to influence the treatment of his son. He also appointed a special prosecutor from outside of his office to handle the case, to ensure that his relationship to the accused would not affect the way the case was handled. While this doesn’t prove a true hatred for the sin, pushing meth, it does show a willingness to ensure that the law runs it’s proper course.
At the same time, Bill has shown a real love for his son. He has promised to stand by his son while the boy faces prosecution. He has promised to stand by his son when the boy enters incarceration, to visit his son as often as possible during that incarceration, and to be there for his son when the boy is finally released at the end of his term. He has promised to support his son during all this, to do all that he can for his son, to help him survive this process. Is there anyone who can question Bill Douglass’ love for his son?
Another example is Hillary Clinton. We all know the sins her husband committed against her. She has been accused of being weak-willed in spite of the fact that she has said she is not Tammy Wynette singing, “Stand By Your Man.” She has also been accused of staying with Bill for the sake of her political agenda. However, now that her seat in the Senate is secure, Hillary still continues to maintain housekeeping with Bill. Is it possible that she actually loves the man and that this love is what allows her to be the exception to the standard response of a spouse who has been cheated on? I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton has any great love for infidelity, but I do believe that she has a great love for one particular person who has been an infidel.
This kind of love is the love described by Paul if 1 Corinthians 13. It is the kind of love that allows the lover to look beyond the sin that stands between that lover and the person loved. It is the kind of love that allows the lover to see this person as lovable, in spite of the sin, and not as deplorable because of the sin. It can only exist when there is real intimacy involved, and that intimacy, to use the old cliché, must be vertical as well as horizontal.
The ability to love the sinner only happens when the lover is comfortable with God. A person reaches this special condition when that person truly feels that his or her relationship with God is secure. When a person begins to realize, as Paul put it, that nothing can separate us from the love of God, (Romans 8:38-39), not even our own sin, then this person can extend such unconditional love to another.
Associating with sinners
The other special condition that allows for the ability to love the sinner while hating the sin is an intimate relationship with the sinner. True love cannot exist without the kind of intimacy that Bill Douglass has with his son, that Hillary Clinton has with her husband, or that close personal friends have with each other. While the ability, the willingness and even the desire to love may be there, that love is not and cannot be actualized without the kind of intimacy we have already described.
I once knew a man who came close to this goal. Frank came from a conservative (spelled fundamentalist) Christian family and married a woman who had a similar background. His wife’s sister was a lesbian. When their families got together, of course the lesbian sister, a part of the family, was invited. The other relatives would use this as an opportunity to browbeat the lesbian sister, to attempt to convert her and bring her into compliance with their anti-gay moral code. Frank would defend his sister-in-law by informing the relatives that she already knew what they had to say and didn’t need continued harassment. Then, he would tell his relatives, “She’s made her choice. If you cannot accept this, just leave her alone and let her live her life in peace.” In this manner, he demonstrated a compassion for his sister-in-law that went beyond what any other member of the family could manifest.
Yet, this was not love. True agape love, the kind of love Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13, would have required Frank to become intimately involved in his sister-in-law’s life. If he had taken this extra step, he would have realized that her sexual orientation was not a threat to either himself or those he loved. He would have realized how uncomfortable this sexual orientation made her feel, especially with the background of religious fundamentalism she came from. Frank might have even grown to realize the nature of sexual orientation and how it cannot be a sin. While Frank was able to show a true compassion for his sister-in-law, he was not able to go the next step and risk the intimacy that would have made agape/love possible. He was not able to truly love his sister-in-law.
Dealing with heathens
At this point, the religious right will try to remind me that Paul gave instructions, in the very same letter I have already cited, on how to deal with a member of the faith community who persists in sin, in spite of loving attempts to correct. I cannot argue that point. Paul did indeed say to treat such a person as you would a heathen. However, I will ask you to consider how Jesus treated Paul, a member of the Pharisitical party, which Jesus had admonished several times. But, let’s not just stop with Paul. How did Jesus treat the Cananite woman who came to him because her daughter was possessed, (Matthew 15:22-28)? How did Jesus treat the Roman Centurion who came to him because his daughter was ill, (Matthew 8:5-7)? Both of these people were heathen. How did Jesus treat the heathen?
I challenge you to treat your detractors in the same manner.
They are sinners, even as we all are sinners, regardless of our status with God. Even more importantly, they have sinned against you by condemning you, for condemnation is a sin. They have also sinned against you by denying the reality of your sexual orientation, by limiting homosexuality (or bisexuality or transgenderness) to something you do instead of realizing how much a part it is of your make up, of who you are. Start by admitting not only your detractor’s sin, but also by admitting your hatred for this sin.
Now, open yourself up to the possibility of loving, of truly loving with agape styled love, your detractors. You might start by inviting them to prove their love for you and enter into that kind of relationship with you where such love can be truly manifested. This is fair, because your detractors, if they defend themselves by saying that they love the sinner while hating the sin, have already professed their love for you. If they balk, saying that they cannot associate with you, a sinner, remind them that Jesus associates with them, who are also sinners. Don’t deny that you are a sinner as well. Just don’t agree with them that your sexual orientation is a sin. In this manner, you can remain true to yourself. When you make that invitation, include your pledge of reciprocate, to love them with that same agape styled love you are asking of them. Then, if they accept this invitation, pray earnestly for God’s help so that you can live up to that pledge.
Bill Douglass and Hillary Clinton are indeed exceptions to the rule. They go beyond the norm and establish a higher standard, and this standard should be our goal as we continue to evolve in our faith. If you can accept my challenge, not only will you run the risk of proving that it is indeed possible to love the sinner while hating the sin, you might, along with Bill Douglass and Hillary Clinton and all other such rare lovers, show the world how it is done.
Writing as “Uthur, from the Town by the Sea,” the author contributed to Whosoever while attending church in a UCC congregation in the Pacific Northwest Conference.