love the sinner; hate the sin?

I have started blog posts–in my head and on paper–about homosexuality and the church more times than I can count. and they’ve never made it to the published post stage.

Why not?

Oh, plenty of reasons. Fear of the response. Being overwhelmed by the complexity of it all. Wanting to be sure I have all the right answers before I put myself out there. My unwillingness to debate it until kingdom come. Being passionate about too many other issues in the world to get stuck on this topic. (And since I’m not gay, dismissing it for another day is a luxury I have.)

Why is this time different?

I don’t know. Except that it’s burning a hole in my head, my heart, my stomach. I’m dreaming about it, can’t stop thinking about it, praying about it, scrawling notes about it.

(Here’s my friend Jolie’s post that started it all this go-round. I linked to her post on Facebook and a big ol’ comment thread ensued.)

So here we go.

I won’t even try to address every aspect of it in this post (and there may/may not be follow-up posts). I’m going to focus on one thing: love the sinner, hate the sin.

That tired phrase we Christians toss out anytime homosexuality comes up. Because, honestly, we don’t use it for any other sin (“I love you, but I hate your obesity that has resulted from your gluttony.”). And I’m going to make a bold assertion here: most people who use the “love the sinner, hate the sin” line aren’t really loving the sinner like they claim.

Because here’s the thing: love isn’t something you say. Love is something you do.

If I ever tell you, “I love this gay person, but I hate his sin,” I want you to ask me something. “How have you shown him you love him?”

And if I say, “By pointing out his sin. Duh,” I want you to say to me, “That’s not love. Love isn’t pointing out sin. Maybe in the context of an already loving, trusting relationship, but other things have to come first. Like listening. A lunch invitation. An offer to help with something and following through. Love is playing disc golf for an afternoon. And finding out more about the person’s childhood. And smiling and laughing together. So, do you love this person? Or is that just a Christian cliche you’re throwing out?”

You don’t have to agree with me. But I hope you realize that condemning someone’s sin (especially if you do it on Facebook) is super easy. Loving is super hard. It takes time. It takes sacrifice. It’s messy. And Jesus rarely gives us the easy-peasy assignments. He asks us to do the hard stuff.

We have to earn the right to speak into someone’s life. Jesus didn’t have to earn that right. He already loved people, and he already knew everything about them. He could take the shortcut right to speaking to their sin. We can’t.

Speaking of Jesus, this spring (starting tomorrow), I’m committing to read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) slowly, carefully, prayerfully, and in several different versions, because I’m desperate to know how Jesus himself would’ve handled this whole homosexuality and the church thing.

And if I could ask him one thing, it would be, “Why on earth did you not mention homosexuality with your own mouth, in those bright red letters?? Why did you leave us in the dark about this??”

Sometimes I just want to shake him. How hard would it have been to give us a Jesus-response for this? Did he really want us to figure it out on our own? And is “love the sinner; hate the sin” the best we can come up with?? (and no, Jesus isn’t the one who coined that phrase)

The Jesus I know from reading the New Testament (and, like I said, I want to soak it all in some more) is the kind of guy who gave responses (some verbal, some not) that no one expected.

And I feel like our pat little answer has missed the mark.

Jesus did tell us what the greatest commandments were. Love God. Love our neighbor. And I know “Love Wins” has become synonymous with Rob Bell and what have you, but Love Does Win. It’s the greatest, highest thing.

It’s also the hardest. The Pharisees, for example, had a wicked hard time with it. They were awesome at pointing out people’s sins, not so great at showing love.

If we’re going to do one thing right as Christians, it needs to be showing love. Jesus says that’s how people will know us: by our love.

This is not how people know us. They know us by our mouths.

“But what about truth??” you ask.

What about it?

“We can’t sacrifice truth on the altar of love!”

But we can sacrifice love on the altar of truth? Love is the greatest.

“But I do love gays! I love them enough to tell them the truth! That they need to repent of their sin so they can go to heaven!”

And how is that working out for you? How many gays have you won to Christ by condemning their sin? How many gays have ANY Christians won to Christ by attacking them instead of loving them?

Is it just the slightest bit possible that we could try a different route? Loving someone first, leaving the homosexuality rhetoric off Facebook, showing them Jesus, THEN discussing what the Bible says and what that means for a gay person who wants to follow Jesus?

Here’s the question many of you have right now: does Marla believe that homosexuality is not a sin?

No. (deep sigh of relief, anyone?) The Bible does say it’s a sin. (We can discuss cultural context and the inerrancy of Scripture and can women talk in church and wear their hair short some other fun day.)

But love comes first. And we are focusing our time and energy and exegetical knowledge of Scripture on the wrong stuff. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. And he called us to LOVE.

Is loving people so small of a job that we’ve all finished it up early and have moved on to condemning gays? There’s a reason we got two basic commands (Love God. Love others.). Because Jesus knew that was enough to keep us busy until he came back.

Let’s take a little side trail for a sec. Our family lives in an apartment complex where most of our neighbors are devout adherents to a religion that is not Christianity. If I used the tired “love the sinner; hate the sin” line on them, it would be, “I love you, but I hate your religion.”

How many of them am I going to win to Christ that way?

Um, negative 12.

What should I do instead? Invite them over for dinner? Go to their place for tea? Help tutor their kiddos in math? Drive them to school when they miss the bus? Invite kiddos in to make crafts? Give them drinks when they’re tired and thirsty from playing soccer with my girls? Pray for them? Get to know them? Ask them questions about their faith when it comes up in natural conversation? Answer their questions about why I do the things I do?

That sounds like a good plan. A loving plan.

I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal. I’m sure many of you have had similar opportunities to love poor people or people from another faith or your neighbors or whoever. And you’ve probably done the same things. Shown love first.

So why is it different with gays??

Why do we make the biggest, hugest deal about how we feel about their homosexuality right off the bat instead of just loving them?? Why can’t we eat with them, talk to them, get to know them, encourage them, LOVE THEM?

I read another Facebook thread today (oh, Facebook) where someone said, “As Christians, we need to step on some toes. God will heal their toes, and they’ll have heaven to gain.”

I can see the logic in this. But that’s not how I want to live. Hurting people, shrugging my shoulders, and saying, “Aw, God will heal them.”

People are already hurt. Especially gays. What they need is love. The world doesn’t love them. Oftentimes, their own families don’t even love them. And the church sure doesn’t love them. Jesus DOES love them, but how do they know that? There’s only one way for them to know.

When a Jesus-follower loves them in Jesus’ name.

When I get to heaven, I don’t really think Jesus is going to tell me I should have condemned more gays for their lifestyle choices (and if I wasn’t over 1400 words already, we could get into the debate: is being gay a choice? Because if you know any gay people personally, you’ll probably hear them say: I didn’t choose this. But, as Christians, how do we explain a loving God allowing someone to be born gay and then condemning homosexuality? It’s much easier to say it’s a choice, no?)

I think Jesus might be more apt to say, “Did you love people?” (We already know from Matthew 25 that he’s going to ask us if we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and those in prison.)

Can we do that? Can we do the hard work of loving people right where they are? All the while realizing we’ve got planks in our own eyes and we desperately need a Savior?

Do I have all the answers? No. Are people going to be happy about this post? Probably not. It’s either going to be “too this” or “not enough that.” And I don’t really care.

I want to be known for my love, not my brain or my mouth. And not just any ol’ love. I want to love in a way that points people to Jesus.

Thanks for your patience as I figure out what that looks like in real life.

23 thoughts on “love the sinner; hate the sin?

  1. Pingback: gotta fight for our rights. right? | Marla Taviano

  2. Sarah

    This is great, Marla. Really spot on. I have unfortunately used that cliche and I know my ignorance has had eternal consequences. I pray the person hears the truth, God is love and God is just, but He loves you. I know someone else, a believer, that struggles in this area, and it’s so hard to know what to say. But pointing folks to Jesus is always the best place to start. Thanks for a good honest and biblical perspective on this.

  3. Darius T

    Jolie, we are told throughout Scripture to keep the Body holy. Jesus is redeeming His Bride, and purifying Her. We have a responsibility in that. No one is claiming that believers in a church are without sin, but if they are in sin and people know about it, they are to be encouraged to stop sinning or face church discipline of some sort or another (everyone involved in that discipline must do so with humility). Anyone living in open rebellion toward Christ has no part in the Body of Christ. http://www.openbible.info/topics/church_discipline

    Particularly look at 1 Cor. 5:11.

  4. Rosanne

    The sad thing to me is that the majority of homosexual people believe Christians hate them – not their sin but them. That is incredibly sad to me. I am not questioning that homosexuality is a sin, and I am a firm believer that truth without love is harsh and alienating but love without truth really isn’t love at all. But is someone is a homosexual and not a believer, I’m not sure why we would expect them to have the same moral convictions as a believer. It’s kind of like if a car ran off a bridge and into a river, but they also had a flat tire. Focusing on the tire is the wrong priority. First, you have to get the people out of the sinking car because they are going to DIE. Changing their tire isn’t the problem at the moment. Sure, once they get hauled out of the river, then you can worry about that tire.

    The bottom line is that unless someone believes you care about and love them as a person, they will not listen to what you have to say – this includes people with every flavor of sin. It’s a tough topic – sometimes I want to just act like it doesn’t exist. But the church as a whole is NOT getting this right, and as a result a whole group of people are dying and going to hell. THAT should be our concern – not the flat tire!

  5. Megan Tietz

    I’m proud of you, dear friend. So very proud. This is courage and love and hope in action.

    As a footnote, I would love to add that there are some of us Christ followers who have read enough earnest study from Bible-believing people to arrive at the conclusion that being gay isn’t a sin. For anyone interested in pursuing that, or anyone willing to at least admit it’s a question mark, I would recommend starting here: http://austinroberts13.blogspot.com/2009/11/gays-and-church-pt1-arsenokoites-and.html (you can follow links in the sidebar for the rest of the series)

    No interest in arguing theology, just wanted to offer that to anyone reading who has, as I did, an unshakeable feeling there is more to the original Scripture than what we have been taught.

  6. Matt

    I love that you mentioned we have to earn the right to speak into someone’s life. When I was a youth pastor this drove me nuts that my pastor was so quick to correct or give his opinion when he had never earned the right to speak into my life. He felt his position of authority gave him this right. I have to wonder how much damage has been done by similar attitudes from those in leadership positions to those seeking help in their sin or understanding of the gospel. Even so, it makes me wonder if because we as Christians have the answers for living and eternity we automatically assume we’ve been given this authority to speak truth into people’s lives without first getting to know them as people, and understanding where they are coming from. The greatest thing about Christ as our advocate is that he knows us intimately, understands us, and can relate to our temptations.

  7. Bethany

    Here is an example of how Jesus dealt with one kind of sexual sin:

    John 8: 1-11
    “but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
    But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
    At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
    “No one, sir,” she said.
    “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

  8. Claudia

    For as long as the church has existed we have chosen to pick certain sins out and make them almost unforgivable. In doing this we have hurt the cause of Christ and been a stumbling block to other believers and those outside of the church. I have been accused of being tolerant of sin because I do not reject people for the way they live but I do not believe my Jesus rejects them. He is patiently waiting for them to call out to Him. Thank you for being willing to write from your heart! Love you!

  9. Hannah

    I love the gift God has given you to write your thoughts so clearly. This is one of the best pieces on this topic I have read yet. Thank you for being really brave and putting it out there. You sure do have an anointing from God, I believe. Keep being brave!

    xx Hannah

  10. Crisco

    We have an openly gay individual in our small group. Has attended our church for years. I love this individual and they know it. We each know where the other stands. No more needs to be said.
    Not bragging, just saying, it can be done. It IS being done all over the United States.

  11. Marcy Hanson

    Love, love, love this. Abortion is the topic rolling around my heart lately. Ufda, these big issues-you hit on the head girl, Jesus doesn’t give us the easy-peasy. Prayers for you as this spreads far an wide. And lots of love to go around.

  12. Dawn

    Sigh. You spoke my heart. We have been in a situation with one of our “extra kids” for several years now. She basically grew up at our house, and at 18 came out to us and then moved in with a woman. We love her but a certain member of my family can’t get past “the gay thing”. It breaks my heart. It broke her heart. She doesn’t feel she can come over anymore and I only hear from her via text message a few times a year. Why oh why do we declare someone unclean or unfit just because they sin differently than we do?! I miss her and so do my kids. Your post brought me to tears because it is the TRUTH.

  13. Jen Hanson

    Oh, I am so glad you wrote this response. After cringing at the facebook thread that spawned over the article you shared yesterday, I got that same old feeling of “sick to my stomach by the responses from both sides, but I have no idea what to say or do” that I get any time this subject comes up. Especially over facebook between complete strangers- VOMIT.

    I resonate so much with what you wrote here – THANK YOU for your words, your bravery, and the way you articulated the challenge that love DOES, without the “hate the sin” cop out.

    This is such a messy, awful topic and I hate how much hurt and hate it causes on both sides, but your suggestions on what LOVE would actually look like in this circumstance was a really helpful starting point.

  14. Julie Sibert

    Hi Marla… thanks for the post. Well written, as always! I commented on Jolie’s post too, and really appreciate the dialogue all the way around.

    I agree with you completely that the church — the body of Christ — collectively has not demonstrated love very well to homosexuals (for the record, the church collectively has not done it very well with a lot of sins. For example, when someone has committed adultery or child sexual abuse, they too are often ostracized, and we could argue that their sin is no greater or less than any other sin. Same with pastors who are alcoholics or someone who has stolen from the church treasury, etc). So, I agree… there is room for growth for how Christians exhibit love, yet at the same time try to interpret what is sin and how to share God’s Word with others.

    While the Christians who speak with hatred and cliches seem to get the most attention in the press or in our communities, the reality is that there are countless Christians who are authentically kind and engaging and loving with homosexuals. It is possible to do, even if a Christian thinks that homosexual behavior is a sin. Those Christians… the ones like me… are never going to make the headlines, though.

    As I said on Jolie’s post, the other aspect that is sometimes downplayed is the amount of hatred that comes from homosexuals toward Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin. Hatred is often a two-way street in this difficult and heart-wrenching debate, but why is it that no one courageously, yet calmly, points out to the homosexuals who are hateful toward Christians that they should stop being so judgmental of the Christians….stop being so hateful…why not try to engage the Christian in a conversation? Nope. Never hear that. Seems there is a double-standard at work and our society has become completely fine with that. That is sad too, isn’t it?

    We hunger for dialogue, yet it seems most of the burden of initiating that dialogue is put on Christians, rather than a shared responsibility in both sides initiating the dialogue.

    Anyway, thank you for your post. You speak from your heart and it clearly comes through. You bring good stuff to the conversation and shed light on trying to get people to think through why they believe what they believe, as well as how they demonstrate that belief to others.

    Blessings to you, always.

    1. Dave

      the Bible states that homosexuality is sin(Rom 1, 1 Cor 6, 1 Tim 1) and that all Scripture is from God(2 Tim 3:16-17)

  15. Kandalyn

    Jolie,
    I like your question, as it is something that SO MANY people wonder about. It is not a matter of if someone has struggled with homosexuality in the past (doesn’t matter to what degree) or if someone has struggled with lying, cheating, stealing etc–we are ALL sinners. That is until we get saved. God says that when we ask for his forgiveness, he will wipes away our sins as far as the east is from the west. We are NEW creations. God also says that we are to leave our lives of sin and sin no more. The reason that we can’t have people who are actively struggling with sin leading anyone in our church is the same reason we can’t have anyone who is looking at porn, getting drunk, lying, swearing etc leading our church. Yes, people make mistake sometimes; however, we are called to live a pure lifestyle–and if someone is actively pursueing Jesus Christ, they will not want to live in sin because the conviction is too strong. In the same way, I know I don’t want anyone leading my children who are actively living in sin, but I know that everyone who is leading my child has sinned before. (notice past tense). I pray every day that the leadership and volunteers in our church are seeking Christ every day and fleeing from the devil.

  16. Cheryl Pickett

    You did a great job with this Marla. At our church, we’re currently doing a series on making disciples. But it’s not about creating more programs to invite people to, or to be in more programs to learn stuff ourselves. It’s about doing life with people first. As you said, no one likes a relationship to start off with being told how bad their sin is (occasionally for safety reasons you may jump right in to that, but that’s pretty rare.). You get to know them, help them out if needed, let your life be an example, have God conversations naturally. For someone who is not a Christian, things of God will make no sense to them anyway no matter how loudly you proclaim it/get in their face about it.

    I think this idea of discipleship is hard for many U.S. Christians to grasp because we come from and have often been raised with ideas that come from Puritanism-very strict, judgement, fire and brimstone etc. In many cases, it’s generations of that kind of idea/teaching.
    However, that’s not really the example Jesus gives for making disciples-thump endlessly over the head them with the biggest Bible you can… There is time for righteous anger, there is time to speak truth into the lives of others, but doing it in the right order is what a lot of us mess up a lot, myself included.
    There is right and wrong, there is heaven and hell. As Christians we often have hearts in the right place about our desire for people to go to heaven, but the methodology needs some fixing.

  17. Corrin

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. And for honestly examining what it means to reflect Jesus in our interactions with all people. I recently put my own thoughts down, for the first time ever, in response to an article about a new group launched as an alternative to Boys Scouts, specifically because Scouts no longer bans openly gay youth. The following is what I said.

    Jesus didn’t come to earth to exclude, discriminate, and alienate. He had a habit of hanging out with people that the religious folks wouldn’t accept or tolerate. He also said the two most important things for a person to do are to 1) love God and 2) love people. Excluding, discriminating, and alienating are about as far from love as people can get.

    Homosexuality is not more wrong than lying, stealing, adultery, etc. Every single child has sinned, every single human has sinned, which is why we need Jesus. And He came for everyone. He didn’t have any exclusions or caveats on who could spend time with Him. His love written in His blood is for every single person.

    Excluding children based on only one sin is discriminatory and exclusionary. Humans put different weight on different sins and decide which is more important and who should be excluded – that wasn’t Jesus’ style. “For all have sinned”, “that whosoever believes in Him”, the Bible is pretty clear Jesus loves everyone, came for everyone, and everyone needs Him.

    I don’t know how people who love Jesus miss the whole love your neighbor part, and miss the fact that the people He chose to hang out with – and love, include, accept, pour into – were often those discriminated against by the religious folks. They were real people, making mistakes and wanting to do better after an encounter with Him.

    How cool would it be if our actions as Christians had a similar effect, and that after any interaction with us people would want to do a bit better and know more about Him because they felt His love through us?

    We as humans blow it, and we sometimes fail miserably at representing who Jesus really is. He loves – and died for – absolutely everyone. It isn’t our place to judge, that is God’s job. We should only live lives that reflect Him. How do we share His love when we are so busy making an entire group feel unloved by the church?

    Gandi said it best – “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Not true every time, but entirely too true way too often.

    (sorry for the long response, this has just been eating at my heart lately too!)

  18. Jolie

    Love this. I think what Christians that I talk to seem to be struggling with is, “Why does loving gays mean I have to desert my doctrine/theology?” While I’ll leave the topic of homosexuality = sin for another day (or, you can just read my blog post that Marla linked) I don’t think allowing a gay to function in a church just like anyone else means you’re deserting your theology. Everyone running a church is a sinner, through and through. Why not let a different kind of sinner help out? That’s the part I don’t understand. We don’t take everyone else’s sin issues (that they struggle with daily) up as an obstacle to allowing them in our church or in our circles. Why is homosexuality any different? They know how we feel already. We don’t need to tell them anymore. Let’s go with the love part.

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