Hating Both the “Sin” and the “Sinner”

RainbowZine, a service of Rainbow Law: news for the LGBT community. www.rainbowlaw.com, www.rainbowzine.comOr, how to proof-text your perfect hatred.  As a Christian who happens to also be a lesbian, one of the phrases I hear a lot from those who believe homosexuality is a sin is that they don’t hate me as a person, but they hate my “behavior”—in short, they love the “sinner” but hate the “sin.” No matter what they say, however, hatred is hatred, and their hatred for my “sin” tends to overwhelm any manner of love they may feel for me. All I seem to feel is their hatred, rejection, and wrath over my “sin.”


At least one right-wing leader, Joel McDurman, who is director of research for American Vision, an ultra-fundamentalist "Christian Reconstructionist” group in Georgia, would say I’m right in that assessment, and anti-gay Christians should just give up the whole charade of “loving” gay people while hating their “sin,” and instead, hate both the sinner and their sin.

The evangelical mantra has always been “hate the sin but love the sinner,” which is good pastoral advice to a large degree, but even this piece of folk-wisdom falls short of the biblical standard. God and His spokesmen reveal a clear role for hate of both sin (Ps. 97:10; 101:3; 119:104, 113, 128, 163; 139:21, 22) and the sinners themselves (Ps. 5:5; 11:5; 26:5; 31:6; Mal. 1:1–3; Rom. 9:13) in some circumstances. Mind you, this is not hate in the sense of legitimizing interpersonal violence or anything like that: the Bible calls us specifically to avoid that perverted level of hate (Prov. 10:12; Matt. 5:43–44). But we are definitely called to revulsion of certain acts and of those that commit them in some instances; and this certainly legitimizes social ostracizing in some cases. This revulsion and separation the Bible commends as righteous “hate.”

Thumbing through McDurman’s examples of where we're told to hate the sinner themselves, I find his selections puzzling. First, the vast majority of them from the Old Testament, which contains laws Christians claim they are no longer obligated to observe. Second, the passages don't say what he says they say. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Psalm 26:5 reads: “I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.”

Psalm 5:5 reads: “The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.”

Even if we continuing to Psalm 5:6 we find: “You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.”

Psalm 31:6 declares: “You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.”

What I read in these passages is a condemnation of actions, not the people themselves. Hating someone's company doesn’t equal hating them as a person. The other verses speak of behaviors, being boastful, being a liar, bloodthirsty, deceitful, or worshiping idols. There’s nothing here that tells us to hate the “sinner” themselves.

The Romans 9:13 passage is even more puzzling, stating: “As it is written, ‘I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.’” In this passage, Paul is not urging people to hate sinners or applauding hatred in general. Instead, Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau to show how God upends the “expected” order of things—Esau, as the older brother should have been favored over his younger brother, but God “hated” Esau, and instead favored Jacob, the younger brother. Paul is not recommending “hating” anyone, but is using this historic example to underscore how God acts in the world—favoring the outcast, elevating those who are often scorned or forgotten by society. If anything, this verse proves that those “hated” by society (for their behavior or their mere existence) are exactly those who have a special place in God’s heart and God’s idea of a “perfect” society. This is actually good news for gays and lesbians who find themselves hated by society.

McDurman uses his essay to argue that the “kill the gays” bill currently being considered in Uganda is not “unChristian,” but is instead in keeping with biblical law.

God also reveals specific punishments for specific civil crimes. He revealed that some civil crimes require restitution, a few require the death penalty. […] Now, it just so happens that God revealed that the homosexual act is a civil crime, and it just so happens that He revealed that the homosexual act as a civil crime deserves the death penalty.

I’m sure McDurman delights in going down that logical road to advocate for the death penalty for gays and lesbians, but God also decreed the death penalty for those who disrespect their parents:

“If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.” – Leviticus 20:9 (NIV)

For those who commit adultery:

”If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” - Leviticus 20:10 (NIV)

And for anyone you may call on the psychic hotline:

”A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.” – Leviticus 20:26-27 (NIV)

I don't see McDurman rallying around those people being put to death, but he certainly has no problem with Uganda sending gays and lesbians to the death chambers.

In McDurman’s rush to defend hatred, he seems to have overlooked the very things God is said to hate in the verses he's already quoted. Psalms 5 and 26 use the word “evildoers”—which, in the King James Version is translated as “workers of iniquity.” Such people are basically, those who cause trouble. Who is causing trouble in Uganda? Gays and lesbians want to be left alone to live their lives without interference from anyone. It’s the government causing trouble in Uganda by singling out gays and lesbians for special persecution.

"The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty," we're told in Psalm 5:6. Is the Ugandan bill not bloodthirsty at its heart? Certainly one can hate something in this world without leading a bloodthirsty call to rid the world of it. The bloodthirstiness of this legislation ought to be hated by anyone, whether they claim to believe in God or not. The bloodthirsty are not interested in learning from those they hate – they only want destruction. The bloodthirsty are not interested in changing their minds about those they hate, or understanding those they declare to be evil or enemies of God. No, their bloodthirst gets in the way – their taste for vengeance overcomes them. This is why God abhors the bloodthirsty – they act out in anger and hatred with no thought of compassion and love.

It was Jesus who, like Paul, turned the law on its head. In Matthew 5:43-44, he takes the idea of hate being a good thing and puts that notion to rest once and for all:

“You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Loving our enemies doesn't mean destroying or killing them. It's not a liberal, pantywaist, bedwetting neutering of the Bible to urge people to love one another and treat one another with respect. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who pointed out that while we are commanded to love our enemies, we are not commanded to like them. I have no warm fuzzies for McDurman and his kind, but I am commanded to look upon them with good will and hope that their hearts would one day be softened toward their fellow human beings.

Finally, McDurman touches on the reason why the separation of church and state is such an important facet of our society:

What it comes down to is the question, “Who defines what hate is.” If we accept God’s standards of love and hate, we must follow what His word says about the hate of sin, some sinners, and God’s ways of handling that social doctrine. If, rather, we follow the liberals’ and humanists’ definitions of hate, then we must believe that Christianity spreads hate and that sodomites spread love. We will have no choice but to tolerate sodomy among us as socially acceptable, and teach our children that it’s socially acceptable. It really is as simple as deciding who is in charge of defining social values: God or the humanists.

In McDurman's Christian Reconstructionist world, we'd all be living under Old Testament law, whether we believed in his god or not. However, in a pluralistic society, where freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion, it is the society, not the divine deity of some people, that decides what hate is and what is acceptable behavior. McDurman is free to express his “perfect hatred” of that concept—and the rest of society is free to feel revulsion for his hatred, and thank God (or whomever) that he’s not in charge.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as associate pastor at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, S.C. Her new book is Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008).

Read the original article in Religion Dispatches


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