Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

posted by xscot mcknight

The problem with this as a moral strategy, which is a routine refrain for the traditionalist view of homosexuality, is that it is nearly indistinguishable from hate the sin and the sinner. If we have to reduce moral views into sound-bytes then we ought to prefer “welcoming but not affirming” or, as I will suggest below, something far more potent.
Someone wrote me this note:
Exactly what does it look like to, as they say, hate the sin and love the sinner on this issue? This problem obviously exists with other sins, but I think this particular situation causes me the most angst. How do I love my homosexual friends and neighbors without appearing to approve of their lifestyle?
Here’s my response.
First, I know very few — if any (and I can’t think of any) — who have meaningful relationships with gays and lesbians who would dare think of their “strategy” with such persons in such terms. Instead, those of us who have relationships with gays and lesbians use first and family names for such people. So, I call her “Michelle” or “friend” or him “Mike” or “friend.”
Second, it is nearly impossible — and I may be understating it — to use a sound-byte like this and not identify the gay or lesbian with the term “sinner.” Now, this cuts both ways: either you refer to everyone as “sinner,” which would not make for much meaningful conversation, or you refer to no one as “sinner,” unless your purpose is to single gays and lesbians out as singular sinners of our day. (I’m not speaking here theologically, as in “all have sinned” for I believe in that sense we are all sinners.)
Third, we have to ask about the intent of the strategy: Is it to single out homosexuality as the cardinal sin or is it — for those who believe homosexuality is not God’s will and design — to minister to and mentor and guide away from what one believes to be sinful? If the latter is the intent, I doubt very much that the sound-byte will be of any use whatsoever.
Fourth, I don’t believe there is a gay or lesbian in the world who doesn’t know what the Bible says in its traditional interpretation. And the Bible neither uses this sound-byte nor is it that un-nuanced in its statements. To be sure, ever since Boswell’s famous book that contended that homosexuality in the Bible was not addressing committed, faithful relationships of a same-sex type, there have been those who say, “I know what you think the Bible says, but the Bible really says this … and therefore you are wrong.” But, even those who have come to such conclusions know full well what the traditional interpretation is. (My favorite, readable book on this topic is by Chad Thompson.)
Fifth, I’m a Trinitarian — and for me that means I believe fully in the Holy Spirit. And while I firmly believe it is the Christian’s responsibility to teach orthodoxy and the Bible and what we believe the Bible teaches (with both firmness and sensitivity), I know that most people don’t change simply by arguments. People change behaviors as a result of a complex of factors: Bible, tradition, authorities, friends, time, counseling, loving relationships, experiments … and let’s not forget that we believe that humans are only made whole as a result of the Spirit of God’s refreshing re-creations. But it’s pretty obvious to most of us that gays and lesbians who follow Jesus don’t all of a sudden — and they too have the Spirit — find it easy to become heterosexual. Do we believe in the Holy Spirit? If so, let’s let the Holy Spirit transform people and let’s wait for the Holy Spirit to do Holy-Spirit work and let’s not try to do what is not ours to accomplish.
Sixth, a blog-friend of mine (Jamie Arpin-Ricci) reminds me that a fear of affirming homosexuality permeates the Christian community whenever one of us encounters a gay or lesbian. Trust me when I say this: the homosexual community isn’t worried about Christians affirming homosexuality. (I’m a bit back to the fourth point, but this point deserves to be addressed.) Jesus, after all, was not known for being soft on sin but he was known for being big on loving relationships. Jamie writes me this: “I don’t feel the need to make it clear to my gay friends that I don’t approve of their lifestyles anymore than I feel the need to make it clear to my Muslim friends that I disagree with their beliefs. When it comes up, each situation is unique, requiring sensitivity and grace.” I agree.
Well, these are my thoughts on the sound-byte strategy of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I prefer the Jesus Creed: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. You might be surprised how gospel-ish that moral strategy and sound-byte of Jesus can be.



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Mark Congdon

posted June 25, 2007 at 3:40 am


Great thoughts. Personally, I don’t have a problem with “hate the sin, love the sinner”… as long as people actually do it. But, the person who wrote the question wasn’t concerned about either hating the sin or loving the sinner. That person was concerned about “appearing to approve of their lifestyle”, and I think that worry about appearances is far too common in modern Christianity.
For most people, the maxim really means “love the sinner, but make sure everybody knows that you hate the sin”. That is most definitely not what Jesus tried to do in His time here. He had all kinds of people whispering about the disreputable people he associated with. The rumors were flying behind His back.
Jesus didn’t care whether or not he “appeared to approve” of the tax collectors and prostitutes he interacted with. He didn’t approve of their actions, and they knew it, and he didn’t care about appearances.
If only we as a church could learn that lesson from Jesus’ life, then the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing could start to work the way it should.
Mark



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Mariam

posted June 25, 2007 at 5:17 am


Thank you for your compassionate insight on this issue.
this cuts both ways: either you refer to everyone as ?sinner,? which would not make for much meaningful conversation, or you refer to no one as ?sinner,? unless your purpose is to single gays and lesbians out as singular sinners of our day.
Exactly! Even if you think homosexual sexual activity is a sin, how is it a worse sin that the ones that Jesus actually mentioned? Why aren’t we pointing fingers at divorced people, and lustful people, and liars and gluttons and people who cheat on their taxes and their spouses, and people who spend money selfishly and people who neglect those who need their help? Why aren’t we saying to them that we can’t in good conscious accept their marriages, their money, their participation in the leadership of the church because they have sinned and it looks as if they are going to keep on sinning. Holiness does not come from the outside in but from the inside out – from allowing God inside us to help us become the people He wants us to be. It is up to me to listen to God’ voice and to work on my own failings – not to tell others what God’s voice is telling them about their failings.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 25, 2007 at 6:02 am


Scot,
Great points all, especially sixth (wink). I think I have come to a place where the only version of this maxim I might be comfortable with would be “Love sinners, hate Sin”. This sound-byte has truth in its overall inclusion, rather than trying to define a specific relationship by it.
Then again, if we are after sound-bytes, Jesus had one that seems to me to be a better start anyway. I believe you call it the Jesus Creed…
Peace,
Jamie



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John Frye

posted June 25, 2007 at 6:05 am


(tongue-in-cheek) But, Scot, we need single issue sins like homosexuality to raise money for our Christian causes to save America! Just like we need single issues in politics to get the right-wing vote.
Seriously, your dismantling the “love the sinner, hate the sin” bumpersticker theology on such a complex topic as relating to our gay brothers and sisters in Christ is so needed. Thanks for expressing yourself in truly a Jesus Creed manner.



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Jeremy Bouma

posted June 25, 2007 at 7:46 am


Great stuff! My experience has been the expectation from homosexuals when they find out I am a Christian is an instant lecture and instant condemnation. Why do we have to be so predictable? Why can’t we just love people for pete’s sake? Why can’t we Jesus followers be known by our love, rather than our labels and lectures?
After leaving full-time ministry last year I spent 3 months working for an upscale department store and made some incredible relationships with “the Other” (as Mirslov Volf says). One of those relationships was a gay man. And after a month or so of interesting talks, he revealed he was bisexual and that I was one of 25 people he told. He knew I was a Christian and knew what I thought about feeling as though it was outside of God’s original design for humans and sexuality, but some how he felt safe enough to share this very, very secret piece of himself.
I was absolutely shocked that he would share something like that with me, and also overwhelmingly thankful that Jesus’ love is that much evident in my life to create safe enough space for someone who is a part of a community that has been so alienated from Jesus’ Community. I don’t say this to toot my horn, but out of thanks for the change that has occurred in my attitudes toward those who are broken, sinful people. Five years ago I would have thought it my DUTY to scold and scarlet-letter this guy!
Anyway, thanks for continuing the dialogue on this subject. We really do need a more thoughtful way of dealing with “the Other” than simply labeling people sinners, because I’m afraid THAT is what we are known for these days…
-jeremy



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Nace

posted June 25, 2007 at 8:20 am


Thanks Scot. I really like your points 5 and 6. Truth be known, I struggle more with making ANY friends outside the church (being a “pastor” at the present time) regardless of their sin. Thanks for the encouragement.



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Gordon Hackman

posted June 25, 2007 at 8:33 am


Scot,
Thanks for this thoughtful piece. The phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner,” puts me in mind of a job I had briefly about ten years ago. During one of my semester breaks as a undergrad, I worked stuffing envelopes for a direct mail marketing firm. A number of the jobs I stuffed were fund raising letters for conservative Christian political lobby groups. One such letter appealed to the threat posed by homosexuals as the reason to send your money to this particular group (I don’t remember the group). The whole letter had a shrill, fear-mongering, angry tone to it which was clearly meant to stir the readers emotions so they would feel the need to donate to the cause. Right in the middle of this letter was a sentence that I clearly remember to this very day. It said: “My Bible tells me to love the sinner, but my conscience tells me to hate the sin.” Within the context of the rest of the letter, it was clear that the emphasis was more on hate than it was on love. In fact, at the time, the statement came across to me as an attempt by the writer to excuse him/herself from the Biblical command to love homosexuals. I remember being somewhat vexed and perplexed at the way in which the writer made a distinction between “my Bible” and “my conscience,” appealing to the second in a way that sounded like he/she was trying to excuse him/herself from the command to love. The whole thing came off within an air of “I know the Bible teaches we should love sinners, but it’s really more important to win a political vicotry against these dangerous people” The shrill, strident tone of the letter made it seem that the author was not all that interested in loving homosexuals in any significant and meaningful way.



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Sarah

posted June 25, 2007 at 8:43 am


Agreed! As always, thanks for your insight.



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Andrew Arndt

posted June 25, 2007 at 8:53 am


Scot,
Great post … Are you aware of Daniel Batson’s 1999 study entitled, “And who is my neighbor?” for JSTOR which as I understand it makes much the same point as you do in this post–that is, that “love the sinner, hate the sin” almost never works in practice? If so, It’d be interesting to hear where you agree and/or disagree with Batson.



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Paul Johnston

posted June 25, 2007 at 9:41 am


God loves sinners and hates sin.
Let us discern then what that should look like, righteously and justly expressed. Rather than unwisely opine that such moral stratagies are errant.
The fullness of love’s expression commands us to confront sinfullness within ourselves and others, irrespective of sin’s form or person. My brothers and sisters who affirm and engage in homosexual behaviors and lifestyles are rebelling against the will and word of God. And I would compound the sinfullness if I did not say so.



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Matt

posted June 25, 2007 at 9:59 am


Scot,
Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve thought about this statement a lot more often in the past year or so, and what this really means, and I had been coming close to the conclusion that you laid out in point #5.
I had traveled to see my family with my mother a few years back, and her family is of a buhdist background. My mother, being the good Christian woman wanted to get them to go to church. But throughout the trip, all my mother would tell them is, “stop smoking, stop drinking”, etc etc etc. Things that she considers are sinful, bad. Halfway through the trip, I had a conversation with my mother, telling her that if this is all that they hear about Christianity. About going to church. To give up things that they enjoy…. they’re never going to go out to church. She agreed, and began to inject God into conversation in different ways.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that I absolutely hate this phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin”.
I think all we really need to think about and work on is “love the sinner”, and honestly, I think that’s all scripture really teaches us to do (maybe that political writer was onto something post #7). We’re instructed to love our neighbors as ourselves, and speak “truth in love”. I know I have a hard time loving folks, that I’m not in a place to speak that truth, because I know it’s not in love. I trust God is putting the right people in the “sinners” lives that I don’t have to be the “resounding gong or clashing cymbal” for them. And if I can be so priveledged to be that person in their lives, I pray that I do it prayerfully, and in love.



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Tom Hein

posted June 25, 2007 at 10:02 am


There are a few strident voices, a few fear mongerers a few angry Christians, but really, sometimes we bash our fellow Christian believers beyond what I find to be reality. Most Christians don’t have very deep relationships with people who are engaged in homosexual behavior and vice versa. My experience is that there is often just too large of a cultural divide between the two sub-cultures for people from each group to develop a relationship. But, when there are real relationships that develop I don’t see this tone of “hate” that is so often implied. Are there fears of Christians that need to be overcome to engage people (of all different backgrounds) authentically? Sure. Are there stark raving evanglical lunatics running around condemning people who engage in homosexual behavior? Rarely, and many, many less than is often suggested. It’s all a part of our culture to paint the world in black and white, extreme left and extreme right, when things are usually much more complex.



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eugene

posted June 25, 2007 at 10:03 am


scot: thanks for these thoughts. while i’m certain that for some, that sound-byte is simply that, i do think that for others, it’s a genuine attempt to make sense of issues that are difficult to comprehend or make sense of. i find that folks are that much more inclined to hold on to phrases like that in light of the publicity that related issues receive: gay marriage, ordination of gay clergy, etc.
what frustrates and pains me is that it has become a “black and white” issue. are you for IT or against IT? i get these sort of questions from both sides of the fence. we’re talking about human beings folks…human souls.



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MattR

posted June 25, 2007 at 10:23 am


Thanks Scot!
The only way I’m comfortable with this bumper sticker is ‘love sinners…’ if you include all of us. But really, it’s just ‘love.’ I don’t always get why people are afraid that if they don’t publically condem sin, especially the sin of homosexuality, they are promting it(#10 for example). Jesus (as you said Scot) was not soft on sin, but he also was very hard on those religious leaders who made others sins a public issue… Homosexuality is not an ‘issue,’ or merely a ‘behavior…’ we’re talking about people!



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Kate Johnson

posted June 25, 2007 at 10:25 am


Great post. A few thoughts.
When people say love the sinner hate the sin, what homosexuals hear is “you hate me” because they ARE their sin (in their view). So they do not hear anything about love at all. I have asked many friends who have come out of this lifestyle and they comfirm this is true. I wonder if they are the only “sinners” who hear this phrase this way?
I used to work with a women who is a lesbian. We had worked together for a few years and she was going through a particularly tough time. I asked her if she was ok, and she hesitantly told me that she was a lesbian and that her long time partner had broken up with her. I said “what a fool, who would break up with someone as nice as you?” She was astounded and stared at me a few minutes with her mouth open. She then said something like, “but you’re a Christian, aren’t you going to say something about my lifestyle? I was so afraid to tell you because I thought you would be disapproving.” How sad that she viewed Christians that way only. It also saddened me that my love did not come through as well as I thought if she was fearful. My answer to her was that I loved and cared about her and was sad she was hurt. I did not need to condemn her or her lifestyle. As Scot says, they already know what “we Christians” think.
I hate sound-bite theology!



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John Frye

posted June 25, 2007 at 10:30 am


Paul Johnston (#10),
Two gay brothers in Christ who are committed to each other are sitting across from you in the coffee shop. They felt safe in describing to you their spiritual journey and their relationship. You listened well. Then you expressed to them exactly what you wrote in comment 10: “My brothers and sisters who affirm and engage in homosexual behaviors and lifestyles are rebelling against the will and word of God. And I would compound the sinfullness if I did not say so.”
They say to you in all candor, “Rebels”? We’re rebels?” They go on to disagree with you about the few Scriptures you have used and interpreted against them. They disagree with your view of their lives.
What now? What will be your relationship to these two brothers in Christ?



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David Fitch

posted June 25, 2007 at 11:03 am


Scot,
One of the most discouraging aspects of this issue for me is that Christians (especially evangelical ones) have so little to offer to those struggling, victumized and truly hurt among the lesbian/gay community. We simply say we love you now “don’t do this,” or we love you “now you must change” …. Even those Christian orgnaizations that offer transformation have the back drop of a evangelical church which knows no way of sexual sanctification except via legalism, and this is eqaully in regard to heterosexual sin, abuse etc. Even the ways we (evangelicals) teach about marriage are fraught so much with the fulfiment of sexual desire that to ask any gay/lesbian to somehow disavow/deny sexual desire is an act of hypocrisy. I am one who seeks to welcome but not affirm gay/lesbian persons. But it is almost impossible to welcome in this way (and not affirm) when we affirm so much else inside our congregations (in relation to heterosexual attraction-desire etc.) that we are asking gay/lesbian folk to deny.
peace



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Chad Sylvester

posted June 25, 2007 at 11:08 am


Can’t we hate the sin and the sinner sometimes? Isn’t that what God does? I’m not sure I completely affirm my own question because of the montra “Hate the sin, love the sinner” embedded in my head. How does that flesh out? I’m not sure. I’m still working on it.



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Paul Johnston

posted June 25, 2007 at 11:35 am


Hi John,
These are not imaginary people to me. They are my dearest Aunt and her partner. He is a deceased and loving uncle…
The relationships strain. No one seems to be quite sure where behavior ends and personhood begins. Intentions are good but anxiety levels are high as previously understood roles are obliterated. After some time I’m more comfortable and at ease. I’m able to better seperate the person from the behavior. I have my sin too. After a while all I see is a loving Aunt and a loving Uncle. They are imperfect in their ways as I am in mine….
My Aunt and I no longer have a relationship anything like what we once had. I offend her, she confuses me. Her sexual orientation seems to be her defining characteristic. Mine is a lot less important to me. We don’t speak the same language on this issue and dialogue has only made the relationship worse. It is sad for both of us.
My Uncle and I, like men are prone to do, didn’t talk about it much. Sometimes that is a good thing. We stuck to the things we loved together, hockey, baseball, cottaging, fishing…. we stuck to the stories and memories that united us, not to the ones that devided.
I was priviledged to be with him when he passed away. I was honored to be asked by him to be a pallbearer at his funeral…
In the end the judgements are Jesus’ not mine. All I can say for sure is that my Aunt Nan and my Uncle Jock are/were loving and caring people. They showed me the face of our Lord. They loved me as God called them to love and I will always testify that fact to Him and too all others.



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lacey

posted June 25, 2007 at 11:46 am


interesting dialogue. this is an issue that is so gray for me.
so as christians we may not affirm homosexuality as a lifestyle God intended by design… but i was fascinated to read a blog by Al Mohler, saying that one day it looks as if it could be proven that homosexuality is indeed a pre-determined part of someone’s genetics… and that he would be in favor of altering sexual orientation if possible before birth (any thoughts on this?) all this said, what if a person genuinely is seeking to love God and his or her neighbor, yet believes God has created them in this way… and the science is there to back it up?
i have so many questions regarding this topic, but i will keep it at these for now.



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lacey

posted June 25, 2007 at 11:46 am


oh, and here is the blog i referenced:
http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=891



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Gordon Hackman

posted June 25, 2007 at 11:47 am


Amen Dave! (#17)
Laura Smit makes exactly the same observation about sexual desire, celibacy, and hypocrisy in her book “Loves Me, Loves Me Not.” She points out that conservative Protestants have done a lousy job of promoting celibacy as an honorable and possible state. In many quarters, we continue to act as if singleness and celibacy are some kind of diseased or pitiable condition that must be cured as quickly as possible. Therefore, it looks like pure hypocrisy when we tell those who struggle with gay and lesbian attractions that they must practice celibacy.



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Scott Watson

posted June 25, 2007 at 12:07 pm


Very good thread!There’s something else to consider:in conservative Christian circles,black and white,you may be dealing with believers and others who are struggling with homosexuality and same sex affectional orientation but they are afraid to open up for fear of being ostracized or rejected.Some of these same people may be trumpeting anti-Gay rhetoric but struggling mightily within.In this forum,most of us probably aren’t gay but we have and do struggle with various sins;this should make us merciful and gracious in the way we deal with gay persons.The Golden Rule applies here,too!There is a biblical fact with theological implications which aren’t oftem considered:Jesus was baptized with John’s baptism,the baptism for the forgiveness of sins,like everyone else.(Presumably,Matthew finds this troubling and thus frames it in a different way than the other Synoptics.)What he did and said he did and said as one with us and for us.Jesus seemingly focused his condemnatory speech and actions on religious or would-be religious leaders who wanted to condemn sinners and outcasts.His offer of the kingdom was not mixed with this fear and hatred of sinners.



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John Frye

posted June 25, 2007 at 12:11 pm


Paul Johnston (#19),
Thank you, especially for this comment, “In the end the judgements are Jesus’ not mine.”



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Heidi Renee

posted June 25, 2007 at 12:30 pm


Woo hoo! As always your coherent, compassionate, considerate thoughts touch me deeply Scot. Thank you!



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ChrisB

posted June 25, 2007 at 12:43 pm


welcoming but not affirming
I like that. But I’m still not entirely sure how it’s lived out.
Is it to single out homosexuality as the cardinal sin or is it … to minister to and mentor and guide away from what one believes to be sinful?
Um…is there a middle option? What if I just want to get along well with the people around me? What if I just want to be a good friend without enabling or encouraging sinful, harmful behavior?
A little background: I work in a department with a few hundred people, a few dozen of which I know fairly well and work with fairly closely. Despite our size, there really are no secrets; we know who has a drinking problem, who is in bed with someone different every night, who’s committing adultery, who’s got an abusive boyfriend, who’s what religion, who’s a chronic liar, and whose boyfriend isn’t a boy.
I don’t have any problem figuring out how to deal with most of my coworkers (all of whom are, oddly enough, sinners, some of whom are Christians). What I have trouble with is figuring out how to “welcome” these homosexual coworkers (some I’d even call friends) without inadvertently telling them that their lifestyle is ok.
Perhaps you’ll say that it is not my job to tell them whether or not their lifestyle is ok. Well, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that “go and sin no more” thing Jesus used to do.
I’m pretty sure it’s okay to ask how an ailing “partner” is doing. I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t set them up on dates. Between those two extremes, I wonder what to do sometimes.
Perhaps the only answer is “I don’t feel the need to make it clear to my gay friends that I don’t approve of their lifestyles…. When it comes up, each situation is unique, requiring sensitivity and grace.”
In other words, there is no easy answer, there is no rule of thumb, and we’re stuck trying to work it out as best we can. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’d hoped someone might have some suggestions.



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Lewis

posted June 25, 2007 at 12:47 pm


It seems to me that “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is really kind of anti-Biblical. I’m pretty sure that God hates sin and sinners.
We are what we do, therefore, if we sin, we are sinners, taking on the mantle of sin. That’s what God hates. We are then what God hates.
When the Spirit comes into us and our lives, we shrug off the mantle of sin and have the blood of Christ put in its place. Now when God sees us, He sees Christ and is pleased.
This is hard to think about, I think, because it raises questions on how we should “deal” with unbelievers. What do we do with people that are sinners and that we know God hates and unless Christ be with them in a salvific sense are going to Hell?
In this sense, it all comes back to what Scot very rightly and poetically refers to as the Jesus Creed: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself (I believe that a proper Christian understanding of the word neighbor refers to all people, regardless of race, creed, or sin).
We love those people who God puts in our life by showing them mercy because we love God. I love my gay friends. They bring a great deal of joy to my life, as do all my friends. But, I never, ever condone their sinful actions, nor do I for any of my friends or myself, and I always work to show Christ to them in my actions.
Just as God desires all people to be saved, He also realizes many make the choice not to be. But, He doesn’t force Himself on us because He values us as people. He desires relationship. But, He also is a just God and has and is and will send people to Hell. All we can do on His behalf is to live His purpose in our lives which is to show God to all.
I feel like I talked in circles there, but that’s what I’m currently thinking. Let me know if there are questions.



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Rick

posted June 25, 2007 at 12:50 pm


Lacey #20, #21: Scot did an interesting and helpful series of posts on that topic in Feb. 2006.



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Anonymous

posted June 25, 2007 at 1:01 pm


Random Links | iamjoshbrown.com

[...] On why “Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin” is faulty [...]



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Scott Watson

posted June 25, 2007 at 1:02 pm


I was just think thinking this thought. “Hate the sin and love the sinner” is a great concept. Truly, the only one who can actually embody this is God,who is unalloyed with sinful motivations (such as fear,shame and hatred)which distort even our good intentions as believers.God is love,and as such only God is worthy to be the Judge.There are people whom we accord the status of saints that have attained a level of self-death to the ego and been filled with the love of God that this strategy can be embodied in their lives.But the character of a “saint” is that they are overwhelmed by their own sinfulness and the love of God so that they even pray for demons as suffering creatures of God.



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JACK

posted June 25, 2007 at 1:07 pm


I can relate to Paul’s posts a great deal. What I hate about the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner” isn’t the phrase, but the fact that most don’t really mean it. In other words, it’s a schema/shorthand that so many use as a way to avoid facing the tough challenge of an authentic relationship across these types of divides.
I live in a very gay neighborhood. I can count the number of straight neighbors on my block on my hand. Routinely, I find myself in a crowd of six or so gay couples sitting on my back porch talking and sharing the day. On top of that, two people that I would consider among my best and closest friends (one from undergrad and one from law school) came out to me. The second was one of the people I was closest to spiritually, too. So this question is very much in front of me, always.
It’s been tough to maintain the friendship with those two friends I mentioned, honestly. The relationship is strained. I desire tremendously that it weren’t but it’s hard for it not to be, having seen so much change in them for the worse since them coming out.
Anyone who tells me that they don’t concern themselves about approving of homosexual activity as a Christian, I’m sorry, but to be frank I have to guess either you don’t really think its immoral or you haven’t had a relationship that puts that to the test. I am not thinking of the “scandal” to other Christians or the general public. On that front, I agree, I have a tough time seeing how the risk of scandal there can’t be mitigated easily. But I am talking about with the other person, the one with whom you are in a relationship with. A true friend helps me to my Destiny, which includes helping me see where I’ve gotten off track in my life. I cannot be a friend to these men and say that my friendship will just not extend to their homosexuality, that we’ll just conveniently ignore that. For example, I know that some day my one friend is going to marry his partner. And I know he’s going to ask me to stand up in his wedding. I don’t know what my answer will be. I desparately want my friend’s happiness (but his ultimate happiness), so I of course want to share in his joy, etc. On the other hand, I’d be one lousy friend if I didn’t help him look at things as they are, including his homosexual activity. And I’d be pretty callous if I thought my standing up in his wedding was a neutral act.
My own thought is that the reason why we struggle with this is that too few of us have heard the Church articulate why homosexuality is a sin in a way other than reducing it to “mores”. The Catholic Church, in my view, gives the most defensible understanding of homosexuality, but even that I find challenging. And it is from this basis, our lack of a personal understanding that the traditional teaching of the Church is true on this, that is as much the problem to how we live this out than anything else.



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Lucas K.

posted June 25, 2007 at 1:31 pm


Mariam #2-
Very well said. It seems that most of the meaningless rambling about homosexuality is worthless until someone can explain why homosexuality is a worse sin than lying, stealing, cursing, pride, lust, and so on and so on. When we elevate certain sins we make ourselves judge over and above God and we are NOT here to pass God’s judgment.
Read Greg Boyd’s “Repenting of Religion” for more on that.



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Josh

posted June 25, 2007 at 1:34 pm


I don’t have any problem with the phrase but the part “hate the sin” is a defintely a joke in our hyper-grace church culture. And I mean that on a personal level. There is little talk about striving to obtain perfection in Christ like Paul wanted so desperately to obtain. If we get burnt by legalists (like many of us have), we are fools if we let the pendulum swing us to antinomianism (no law). Both were dangers in the early church and they still are.
I think it is interesting that the early church ministered in a world context close to ours and changed it so drastically. The same issues were prevalent then: abortion, homosexual behavior, sexual promiscuity, political corruption, etc. Did they sit on the sidelines and point out certain sins? No. Paul told the Corinthian Church that they needed to judge themselves rather than the world. Did they enjoy a vague morality and tell each other that it was all about grace. No. When converts were baptized into the church they knew that they were entering the camp of God’s holy people, whose King is Jesus, who did not come to annul the Law but rather to fulfill it, namely in creating a holy people that possessed the Law in their hearts. Jesus’ ministry, death, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was God’s eschatological act in the world to bring about the rebirth of God’s original creation, an earth filled with God’s images, made male and female, who were to fill all of his good creation with eikons of himself. That may seem arrogant but it is the ultimate act of love. The early church knew this story and lived it. It was made up of people who had all kinds of sexual desires but there was one clear vision. They did not have any counseling or support groups (I in now way think those are bad things) but people were transformed and the world was transformed. What is our problem. Is our God too small?
But on the other hand, it is difficult to balance mercy and law. I remember counseling a brother who believed he had done too much to be forgiven. I had to hammer in his head that God is abundantly merciful. I have had other friends who think “its all about grace” and acted flippantly about sin (I get it too way too often). I had to remind him of Jesus’ parables about the sower and the seeds and the vineyard that would not produce. But there is a clear vision. Let’s not be vague about that.



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NewTrollObserver

posted June 25, 2007 at 2:16 pm


The problem with ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’, is that, for many Protestants, simply having same-sex attraction is a sin in itself. So, two lesbians in a loving, but celibate, relationship, would come under just as fervent a condemnation as the bath-house brujo.



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Rick L in Tx

posted June 25, 2007 at 2:37 pm


Great thoughts Scot.
Kate #15 – how about “Love the theology, hate the sound-byte”? ; )



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Jennifer

posted June 25, 2007 at 2:46 pm


Paul #19,
You said : Her sexual orientation seems to be her defining characteristic. Mine is a lot less important to me.
I’ve heard this said before (and, heck, I may have even said it before), but it doesnt really seem to be a fair comparison. I mean, you live in a world where your sexuality is supported in many ways. You dont have to spend much time or energy making it a defining characteristic because its already assumed and supported in so many ways. But I imagine if you woke up in a world where homosexuality was the norm, and you were still heterosexual, you would feel the need to fight to protect the way you want to live.
I’m not trying to say this makes homosexuality right. What I am saying is that I think any reasonable person would behave just like your aunt in similar circumstances. If society were set up against something you felt deeply about as part of your identity, you’d do the same things.



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barb hungerford

posted June 25, 2007 at 2:59 pm


I appreciate Jack’s comments (#31). Many people who wax philosophic on this issue do not have a close relationship with a gay/lesbian person. It’s one thing to take a loud stance on the issue when you don’t have to deal with it face to face. I had a cousin die from AIDS and watched how he was treated by our “loving family.” My best male friend came out to me after many years of a close relationship. I realize that nothing I say is going to change them — only God can do that. If I’m asked my opinion, I share it. Otherwise, I do my best to enjoy and love my friends and family members and take every opportunity to try and understand their situation. It is a constant tightrope act of balancing between tolerance and condoning sin. Isn’t rejection of others a sin as well?



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Anonymous

posted June 25, 2007 at 3:06 pm


Monday meanderings. « the view from the juniper tree

[...] Item five.? If you have made it this far, on a more serious note: Several years ago, a friend of mine, who is gay, told me he found the evangelical? phrase “hate the sin and love the sinner” to be condescending.? His felt,? since being homosexual was an integral part of who he was, hating the sin was the same as hating him.? We who claim to be followers of Jesus are not as good at demonstrating our love for the “sinner” as we are our hatred of the sin? so since that conversation I have tried to not even use or think the phrase.? All of that to say, another of my favorite blogs has the best writing on this subject I have ever read, and it? would be? very much worth your time to read it.? You can check it out here. [...]



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David

posted June 25, 2007 at 3:48 pm


OK how about this for a sound bite…? Just because I love you doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you… Now substitute the word “sex” with “sin”… Just a thought …



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john page

posted June 25, 2007 at 3:50 pm


If we “love the sinner,” then I guess we need to love all. Hmmm…what was that second greatest commandment again?…
Do people condemn other people’s sins, especially if they are more “public” sins, because it makes them feel more righteous and therefore they don’t need to pay attention to their own “secret” sins of lust in the mind, gossip in the heart, and judgmentalness in the soul? Just curious.



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David

posted June 25, 2007 at 4:44 pm


Excellent question John… But if we did, wouldn’t that make us hypocrites…? Hmm…



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Heather

posted June 25, 2007 at 5:01 pm


My best friend since middle school, Ashley, came out to me our freshman year of high school. We’ve stayed best friends, and now she is engaged to her partner of two years. I just love her and answer her questions as best I can. I am honest with her and take it one conversation at a time. God is the ultimate judge, and I can share my thoughts, but I know that we’re not going to get anywhere if I am condescending. If you think about it, pray for me that I will continue to treat her with the respect and love she deserves as a beloved of God, and that she will see His love through me.



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Anonymous

posted June 25, 2007 at 6:33 pm


Monday reading catch-up at Hoystory

[...] Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed has an excellent post on the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy vis a vis homosexuality. [...]



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Anonymous

posted June 25, 2007 at 8:21 pm


Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin « Mere Humanity

[...] Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin [...]



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Matthew

posted June 25, 2007 at 9:17 pm


I have been thinking about this all day. This discussion can raise questions about Church disipline, which has been discussed here in the past.
If one takes the Jesus Creed to be the guiding light in one’s treament of those he or she believes is in sin (and this could apply to gossip or abuse of power just as well as homosexuality), then how does the JC apply to church discipline, a la 1 Corinthians? I see how 2 Cor. naturally follows: the man has repented, restoration was the whole goal anyway, in your love for God and the man, run, don’t walk, to receive him back. But I don’t see how 1 Cor. and casting him out in the first place easily follows from the Jesus Creed.
If we take the JC to be our guiding light, would we likely consider church discipline to be an expression of love for God, or of tough love for the person, or would we simply find other ways of approaching sin(gossip, abuse of power, homosexuality, etc.)? Honest question, not trying to raise a debate.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 25, 2007 at 9:24 pm


Matthew,
I’d like to say “that’s an easy one” but can’t. I do think we can reduce all of morals to love God and love others, and Paul and James both thought loving your neighbor as yourself was the whole Law.
So, the challenge is to see how local church discipline, which most churches have given up on in the USA because of litigation, can be loving. I don’t like the word “tough” with love but many do. I prefer “sacred” love. If love is to learn to face God with ourselves and that facing of God leads to our capacity to face others in love and grace, as sacred love and grace, then I see no reason why a local church cannot exercise sacred love as discipline.
Which of course raises the question of “which sins” do we think create disciplinary situations? I prefer to say that this has to be determined by denominations and local churches.



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Phil Monroe

posted June 25, 2007 at 9:27 pm


Scot thanks for bringing this area to our conversation/attention. I just finished teaching on the topic to my students at Biblical Seminary. Folks here might be interested in the work of Mark Yarhouse of Regent University. He is an eminent scholar and has done some fine work in the area of sexual identity–how it is formed and how people of faith deal with same sex attraction without buying into the all/nothing mentality of either the larger culture or the church. His home page and links to his work in sexual identity can be found here:http://home.regent.edu/markyar/



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Scot McKnight

posted June 25, 2007 at 9:33 pm


Thanks Phil. Kris knows of his work.



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Lewis

posted June 25, 2007 at 9:37 pm


Matthew, that’s a great question!
Church discipline, including excommunication, is not an act of condemnation, but rather an act of love, just as how God’s damning some souls to Hell is an act of love in that He is living out His justice! But to do this, one must indeed recognize that there is such a thing as sin and what the sin is.
I think that the majority of Christians and theologians of Christianity would agree that giving into homosexual desires, just as giving into heterosexual desires before marriage, is a sin and condemned by the Bible. But moreover, we should start with the idea that all are sinful and fall short of the glory of God. Therefore, we must all repent of our sins before our God and actively seek to rid those sins from our lives.
So when looking at repentance, we must consider the heart of the person who sins, as to whether they are repentant or not (and trust their word when they say they are, and take action when by their actions we see they are not). The Church then has the power, authority, and the necessity to take action for believers. (This does not necessarily apply to unbelievers, as Church discipline can only be carried out to one who is in the Church.)
I think that Luther’s Explanation to the Small Catechism explains the process of discipline very well. The passages that follow are from there:
279. What great care must be taken in dealing with an openly unrepentant sinner?
The Christian congregation must carry out church discipline in love and patience. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. ‘If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector ” (Matt. 8:15-17).

283. What is the purpose of excommunication?
Excommunication is not intended to punish the sinner, but to
A. lead him or her to repentance and faith; (Matt. 12:20: A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.; Acts 3:19: Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.)
B. prevent him or her from leading others into sin. (Matt. 18:6: If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.; 1 Cor. 5:6: Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?)
284. What is the duty of a congregation toward an excommunicated sinner
who repents?
The congregation must forgive any excommunicated person who repents and receive him or her back into full fellowship. (2 Cor. 2:7-8: Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.)



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Sam Carr

posted June 25, 2007 at 9:52 pm


I was wondering whether I really have anything to add as the issues on all sides seem to have been aired. Thanks Scot for another thoughtful and thought-provoking post.
I had a roomate for three years in Cincinnati who after a year got up the courage to tell me he was gay but struggling with that reality. I watched and tried to help as he got into a church programme to help gays become heterosexual again. I’m sorry to say that it was quite traumatic and we observed as this program ‘failed’ for one after another of that group.
Eventually my friend decided to be celibate and left that program behind and I think found some measure of peace, but I wonder and have ever since, whether we know what we are talking about and whether we have any right to make what works out to be ‘false promises’ in this area? if the promises are false, are the premises any better?



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Halpinator

posted June 25, 2007 at 11:54 pm


this is one of the best pieces I’ve read on this issue. Well said. Thank you!



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Anonymous

posted June 26, 2007 at 1:22 am


homoxchrist.de » Blog Archive » Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

[...] (Englisch): http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2507 [...]



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Ted Gossard

posted June 26, 2007 at 3:32 am


I just wanted to say that I deeply appreciate this post, Scot, and I appreciate comments I was able to read.
I think it’s so important to see us all on the same level, completely in need of God’s grace in Christ at all times.
This gives the lie to Christians (mis)treatment of gays or anyone else, in the supposed name of truth and righteousness.



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Kyle

posted June 26, 2007 at 7:01 am


I want to see a church really struggle with the question – and this in a country in which 1/3 of the citizens are obese – how they can love the sinner but hate the sin when it comes to fat people. Should we stop having potlucks? Should we continue to have potlucks, but lovingly inform our fat parishioners they may not attend?
When you’re friends with a glutton, how do you let them know that you don’t approve of their lifestyle?
If you see them order cake with their coffee, do you remind them that gluttony is a sin, so that you’re not guilty of compounding it?



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 26, 2007 at 9:11 am


Paul #19,
I know this comment was a ways back, but I feel the need to respond to this one. First, as a married Christian man who has lived with a homosexual orientation for most of my life, I have given this issue serious thought. Perhaps this makes me less objective as a result, but I’ll leave that up to others to decide.
In your comment about your Aunt, you said:
“Her sexual orientation seems to be her defining characteristic. Mine is a lot less important to me”.
I have little doubt that you genuinely believe this to be true, so I am not suggesting you are being dishonest. However, I will say that it probably isn’t true. Thousands of choices, ideas, emotions, etc. you experience everyday stem from you sexual orientation. We do not see them as clearly because they are so commonly accepted in our dominant culture. Should you find yourself living in a world that was predominantly homosexual with deeply ingrained biases against heterosexuals, I think you would probably see things quite differently.
The sad reality of this assumption is that it comes up in other places too. For example, in my work with racial reconciliation, I have heard (white) people genuinely make the same comment you did, exchanging “sexual orientation” for “race”. Now, I am not equating sexual orientation and race in a moral context, but rather demonstrating that when we live as part of a dominant culture, we are often blind the reasons why things are so important to those outside these insular, privileged circles.
So why is it important to address? Because until we understand this- until we begin understand how deeply integrated sexual orientation is with the persons identity, emotions, etc. we will continue to treat this issue as primarily a moral one. While it is an important moral issue, when we are living the love of Christ to the world, it must first be a pastoral one, inspiring compassion, not moralizing.
Peace,
Jamie



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john page

posted June 26, 2007 at 10:14 am


Scot,
On comment #46 you mention that local churches and denominations should decide what constitute disciplinary situations. Isn’t that already occuring in several of the mainline denominations (UMC, Presb, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, etc.)? And it would appear, given the splits and contentiousness surrounding their discussions, that there is a tremendous disconnect between the local church bodies and the denominational leadership. Aren’t many churches already simply deciding what “type” of church they will be? welcoming and affirming, welcoming but not affirming, closed or open in all ways, etc.? Am loving this discussion and it has been most helpful to see the breadth of opinion and experiences…it has really opened up new perspectives. Thanks.



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Robin

posted June 27, 2007 at 12:31 am


Scot,
Thanks for the great blog. While I agree with the vast majority of what you said I am still having struggles understanding what this means to church discipline (I know you mentioned that already, but I would think that there would be some universal truths that Scripture shows us to provide guidance for individual congregations–which you provide little) and church leadership. Within most churches there are processes to determine who may or may not wear some mantle of leadership and moral behaviors play a role in this.
How does this relate to homosexuality, if you view it as a sin (just like any other persistent un-repented sin)?



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Paul Johnston

posted June 27, 2007 at 8:40 am


I don’t agree with your assessment Jamie.For future reference and without going into particulars it would be unwise of you to assume that I have not experienced the compulsion of behavior, or that I have not been in situations where my person was treated with great prejudice, as a consequence…
Seeing oneself first, as an object of sexual function is a tragedy. If you can’t tell me ten more meaningful things to you, about yourself, than your sexual orientation, (or for that matter the color of your skin) you’re missing out on some amazing potentials.
You’re missing out on knowing who you really are.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 27, 2007 at 10:38 pm


Paul,
You are right. I should not have made assumptions, so I apologize. I do want to clarify, though, as I may not have been clear on some of my meaning.
I agree that one should not see oneself first as a product of ones sexual orientation (though, neither should it be under estimated). My point was that it impacts many aspects of our lives, more than most of us realize.
My assumption, wrong though it was, resulted in my experience that most people who have experienced the kind of alienation resulting in being a minority in a culture have a greater understanding of the significance of those aspects that differentiate them than those who have not experienced it.
My ultimate point was that the emphasis on sexual orientation in identity if reflective of that sense of alienation, thus primarily more of a pastoral issue requiring compassion than a moral issue requiring correction. Not one against the other, but rather about how we first and best respond.
Peace,
Jamie



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Paul Johnston

posted June 28, 2007 at 1:26 am


Hey Jamie,
Thanks for a very generous response. Likewise, I apologise for “cherry picking”. I could have focussed on your sharing wisdom with regard to the pastoral priority but instead chose to focus on the misassumption. I guess I’m a little frustrated with perspectives that assume that most if not all, orthodox/religously conservative perspectives speak from the experience of advantage. Certainly not true in my case, nor I suspect with many others….
I do agree with what you say about pastoral responses being the priority. Love relationships, move people towards righteousness in a way that abstract understandings of morality never can.
Teach me morals first and I will understand the value of an idea. Pastor me first and I will understand the value of myself.



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Anonymous

posted June 28, 2007 at 7:03 pm


eugene, dan savage, and the gay conversation « Beauty and Depravity | eugene cho’s blog

[...] I am first posting my latest email to Dan, and then posting my first email and then his response…I share this here [with some trepidation] knowing that anything can be said.? I guess that’s the beauty and beastly nature of blogs.? It’s my hope that my email to Dan will answer some of the numerous responses? from his readers and because I know my email will be posted anyways on his blog.? Last week, I very much enjoyed reading the thread of comments from Scot McKnight’s [jesus creed] post about the church’s lack of compassion with the gay community.? I had no idea that I’d be smack in the middle of this conversation as the culprit of that bigotry… [...]



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Anonymous

posted June 30, 2007 at 12:01 am


Is Welcoming but not Affirming Possible? « Take up and Read

[...] Saturday, June 30th, 2007 in Sexuality & Faith One of the best discussions over the topic of Christianity and homosexuality can be found at Eugene Cho’s blog as he responds to Dan Savage of the Stranger.? Unfortunately the discussion on Savage’s blog (Slog) is not as insightful as the conversation on Eugene’s blog.? Too bad.? Scot McKnight also deals with the question, “Can we love the sinner but hate the sin?” [...]



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Paul

posted July 2, 2007 at 8:50 pm


I heard someone say something really great about this just this Sunday. What would an incarnational response of “love the sinner, forgive the sin” look like?



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Paul Johnston

posted July 3, 2007 at 12:23 pm


Hi Paul (#63)
Specifics vary from case to case and person to person. That being said though surely some universal principals ought to inform our responses.
1. Humility, expressed implicitly through an open
acknowledgement that all fall short…all need help…
all need correction.
2. Compassion, expressed as discernment, in order to help
correct and re-integrate replaces judgement, meant to
condemn and isolate.
3. Love. Without vesting in a relationship in others for
their benifit before ours, nothing we say or do will
have Godly influence.
4. Discipline. Consistency in our behaviors and responses
to the behaviors of others is crucial. Do as I say not
as I do isn’t a creed of God
5. Prayer and fast. To be informed spiritually, one must
be engaged spiritually. Any response that does not
converse with the spirit through prayer and fast is at
best, incomplete….
In conclusion then, be humble, compassionate, loving, disciplined, pray and fast and our responses will be those that God wills and not those that we would will for ourselves based solely on our human perogatives and experiences.



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