Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin: Five Things Every Christian and LGBTQ Person Should Know
Five things every Christian and LGBTQ person should know
Many LGBTQ-identifying people are familiar with these words — as with the Christians who use them.
Whether you use this statement, or you’re the sinner who’s being “loved” through it, there are a few important things to consider in getting the most out of “love the sinner, hate the sin” as it relates to LGBTQ folks. After all, how bad could it be, being “loved?”
The phrase is used as a reason a person can’t identify LGBTQ and be associated with many church congregations. It’s the reason many of my LGBTQ siblings can’t stand holidays with their families. It’s the thought behind many statements that begin with,
“I love you, but…”
With the belief that people who commit sins go to hell, many Christians decide the best way to “love” the sinner is to reprimand them until they repent. That makes sense to many — after all, saving a person from an eternity of suffering is worth a little awkward moment in the here and now, isn’t it?
It’s not in the Bible
There is no statement in the Bible saying anything like “love the sinner, hate the sin.” The phrase is best and most recently attributed to Mahatma Gandhi in his autobiography.
We aren’t commanded to label others as “sinners” and announce our love for them while calling them abominations. While we’re encouraged to confess our own sins, confessing the sins of others is to be avoided (see Matthew 7).
It’s not happening in churches
Many churches instruct their members to love the sinner and hate the sin. How do they practice it? How might a sinner feel loved in a church?
Focusing on the experience of LGBTQ people, there are some surprising voices illuminating the way conservative Christianity “loves” its sinners:
Wesley Hill, author of “Washed and Waiting,” an encouraging guide for “same-sex attracted” people who remain celibate, describes churches as “often hurtful.” While hurtful, Hill identifies the church as the primary vehicle for expressing interpersonal love, rather than marriage as we currently practice today. So, according to Hill, the LGBTQ… err, “same sex attracted” person must experience their interpersonal love in a place that is often hurtful.
Christopher Yuan is a leading conservative theologian who believes Christians with “same sex attractions” should find their intimacy and love in the church to address the inevitable loneliness a life of celibacy would cause. But about that church, Yuan says, “Are our church communities a vibrant place for these singles to grow and thrive in their Christian faith? Let’s be honest: not really.”
In her book, “Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church,” Bridgett Eileen Rivera says,
“For most people, religious involvement reduces the risk of suicide. But when gay and lesbian college students engage more heavily in their faith communities, their risk of suicide only goes up…. How can that be? How is it that going to church would be a factor in keeping straight people alive but pushing gay people toward death?”
Rivera describes the “love” these LGBTQ “sinners” report in Christian churches:
“Tragically, many LGBTQ Christians find their church to be the source of the storm when it ought to be the shelter. They first experience marginalization in the context of church, they find Christians to be the most common perpetrators of prejudice against them, and they learn to avoid everything to do with Christianity as a means of sheer survival.”
The type of love that would cause a person to flee for their well-being does not qualify as love!
“Love” doesn’t acknowledge LGBTQ people as people
“Have you told your father about your decision?”
My friend Warren asked me this at the end of our phone call.
Warren had led me to become a born-again Christian in my 20’s. We had that conversation about what it meant to follow Jesus in the front seat of his police car, some 30 years ago.
After losing touch for more than a decade, Warren and I had a three-hour phone call to catch up. I told him how I accepted my sexuality as part of a recovery program. The way I had been fighting my sexuality until then led me to a life of misery I couldn’t bear; I finally gave in and accepted the fact I was gay.
“Did you tell your father your decision?”
“What decision was that, Warren?”
“Your decision to be homosexual.”
A more ridiculous statement I haven’t heard, yet it was completely plausible to the avid church and Bible fan. Was Warren a better man because he “decided” to be straight? Was I gay because I chose poorly?
Here’s a newsflash: People choose their sexuality like they choose their eye color or their city of birth. In other words, they don’t choose! If they did, given the way society treats LGBTQ people, there would be a lot fewer of us!
The idea that my orientation is a choice shows a lack of willingness to see me in a way that acknowledges my personhood. If a Christian won’t even acknowledge my life experience, how can they claim to love me?
The Cure is Worse Than the Disease
In the early 1970s, the American Psychiatric Association removed “homosexuality” from its list of diagnoses. The move was the result of blind studies that couldn’t differentiate between straight and gay people when looking at mental health characteristics. Being gay didn’t make the cut as a mental illness.
In response, the conservative Christian community became desperate for a cure; no longer could they rely on secular psychologists to use chemical and shock torture therapy on institutionalized victims… err, homosexuals… err, human persons, against their will, to cure them.
They had to get a solution from God.
The first book written on the topic was deemed fraudulent and pulled from circulation shortly after its release. Things went downhill from there.
So desperate for a cure, Christians have endorsed programs that use rubber bands on people’s wrists to snap, teaching gay men how to throw a football, or naked cuddle time (yep, you read that right!). All examples of using the “power of Jesus” to turn the homosexual to not be homosexual.
Of course, less crazy methods exist, right down to talk therapy. They all have one thing in common:
They don’t work.
What these activities do instead of providing a cure is seen as hurtful in the following ways:
The participants believe they are broken, and subsequently unfixable.
The participants experience false hope based on their belief in God, only to need to reconcile their failure to change with the belief that God could have changed them, but for some reason didn’t. When they inevitably fail, they receive the blame: they weren’t trying hard enough, or didn’t really want this, or their faith wasn’t real.
The “ex-gay” movement’s track record is so embarrassing, most ex-gay ministries fight against being identified as such. In fact, former conversion therapy leader McCrae Game, who spent well over 20 years running ex-gay ministries, said “it’s funny how no one who practices conversion therapy will admit they’re practicing conversion therapy.”
The recent Netflix documentary “Pray Away” identified a movement of “ex-ex-gays” who organized to share the experiences of founders and former leaders of those movements. The common story behind hundreds of years of combined experience of these former pseudo-professionals is “it never worked with anyone, ever.”
Telling someone they’re not worthy of God’s standard unless they change, knowing the disastrous failures of others who have tried, isn’t love.
Love shouldn’t hurt this much
Is it possible to love a person whose actions you detest? If we despise terms like “gay,” how would we not despise the person who identifies as LGBTQ? And if we have warm, loving feelings toward the people we harm, do we get to call it love?
Here’s what we can learn from a thoughtful approach to “Love the sinner, hate the sin”:
- The Bible didn’t say “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Ghandi did. And he was out of line.
- Churches that are characterized by their own members as “often harmful” to LGBTQ people cannot truthfully claim to love them.
- If a person must avoid you or your church in order to survive, neither you nor your church love them.
- One can’t love someone and ignore their fundamental story.
- One can’t love someone by requiring them to change, knowing that change is impossible.
My challenge to the person who would use “love the sinner, hate the sin” to justify treating LGBTQ people any differently than anyone else is this: Instead of judging and fixing, get to know them well enough to see what God loves about them, rather than what you think God hates.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1Cor 13:4–8, NIV)
If you’re a Christian wondering what options an LGBTQ+ believer may have, you’re invited to check out Andy’s website, www.triedtobestraight.com.
Andy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org