The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 21, 2023 - 4:37:02

Beyond “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”

Devra Torres, May 11, 2014

I want to continue the conversation inspired by the video The Third Way: Homosexuality and the Catholic Church.  (It's mostly been transpiring on Facebook, but feel free to leave comments here, too.)

Joseph Prever in The Third Way

When he heard my title for this post, my husband asked jokingly if I thought it was time to start hating the sinner and loving the sin.

Well, no.  That’s not how I mean “beyond”: dumping a traditional idea and embracing its opposite.  Nor do I mean getting “beyond” the categories themselves, the concepts of “sin” and “sinner.”  

Friedrich Nietzsche  People have been laboring to get “beyond” good and evil, truth and falsehood, and male and female for a long time now. It’s getting clearer and clearer how very unlikely "beyondism" is to make things better for anybody, ever.

“Love the sin, hate the sinner” isn’t wrong—it’s just that we’ve been saying it so long that it’s time to step back and reexamine what it even means, and what it implies for our real-life dealings with other human beings.

LTSHTS is right in a couple crucial respects:

         and more recently by Phil Robertson

So what’s the problem?

One possible source of trouble is the part about “the sinner.”

For one thing, when we talk about “the sinner,” we can unconsciously start thinking that the world is divided up into sinners and non-sinners, In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's words,

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart If of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Also, in this case, there’s a danger of labeling people with same-sex attraction—those who act on it and those who don’t—as “the sinners,” in a way that singles them out and presumes to judge them as worse than, say, the proud or the self-righteous.  

Maybe it would be a step in the right direction to say, “Love the fellow sinner.”

So much for problems with understanding the “sinner” part.  There’s one more element that makes trouble: the “love” part.

Some of us have limited ourselves to saying, “Love the sinner?  Sure I do: I tell him he’s sinning.  That’s genuine love, much more so than coddling him or lying to him.”  “Love the sinner” gets reduced to “Tell him he’s a sinner.”

If Pope Francis has taught us anything, though, it’s that approving of good and disapproving of evil doesn't exhaust our mission.  We’re not supposed to be roving, self-appointed sinner-spotters, letting everybody know just how unsightly the splinters in their eyes are.  As the Pope puts it in Evangelii gaudium, we need to avoid 

a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.

Our first job is to at least acknowledge, and then to remove, the log in our own eye.  There's room for helping other people remove their own splinters, but only after we’ve regained our sight.  Removing a splinter, as any mother knows, is a delicate operation.

Many of us, on the other hand, don't need to be told to stop gratuitously proclaiming to people how sinful they are.  We don't want the social discomfort, much less conflict and persecution.  We limit ourselves to holding the right opinion about the morality of homosexual acts and steering clear of those who seem to be inclined that way.  

The trouble is, that's not loving the sinner either.  That's avoiding and ignoring the sinner.  

So what do we do instead?  I've run across two good articles, one by Jen Fulweiler ("A conversation with my gay friend") and one by Richard G. Evans ("Befriending Those with Same-Sex Attraction: One Celibate Man's View") that seem to point in the right direction.  One thing is clear: settling for a minimalist understanding of "love" won't cut it.

Maybe I don't really mean "beyond" but "deeper in."  We do need a "third way": neither hating the sinner nor loving the sin.  My husband was kidding, but too many people are under the impression that those are their only choices.  We need to articulate--and live by--something better.