I recently read a book written from a conservative Christian perspective. The authors’ spend much of the book warning of their perceived dangers of liberal / progressive ideas. I admit I was surprised that their solution to all this was a call to love people. Though I don’t directly share their point of view, I do think what they said about love is essentially spot on. This, what appeared to me to be a dichotomy, caused me to have a significant realization.
A popular Christian phrase is “love the sinner, hate the sin”. Some people cringe at this phrase already, at least in part for the reason I’ll get to in just a moment. But it does try to capture the balance between “truth and grace”. In other words, we’re supposed to love not condemn on one hand, but not let evil off the hook either. This is captured well when Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11).
I could paraphrase “Love the sinner, hate the sinner” as “love individual people, condemn sin”. My realization was this: the former is generally done privately, while the latter is more often done publicly. Private love, public condemnation. While the original phrase tries to captures balance, I think the way it’s been worked out is often quite imbalanced.
A person can only really communicate love to a handful of people. However, a public message can easily reach millions. In addition to this, the fact that many conservative Christians focus on not sinning means that they also tend to distance themselves from those who don’t share their values. This of course means fewer chances for them to show love to others with different beliefs (sinners). Then add to this how some people claim Christianity but do hate others. All this adds up to a great imbalance. The message most of the world gets is “hate the sin”. And since this isn’t balanced with a public message of love nor a personal demonstration of love in many cases, people receive the message that Christians hate anyone who doesn’t believe what they do nor act just the way they think people should behave. I am a Christian myself yet I still feel like this is the message I often receive, even though I know many Christians. As another pastor put it, Christians are known more for who we hate than how we love.
I think beyond or along with what I’ve just shared, conservative evangelicals seem to have the “hate the sin” part down very well while being fuzzier on how to “love the sinner”. I believe that a majority of conservative evangelicals want to love and help others. However, for whatever reason, many seem to fear that it’s critically important to make sure people are fully aware of and not getting away with sin. On the other hand, they generally don’t seem to have the same urgency about loving others. Maybe this is because people of all beliefs tend to fall into religious thinking, where it becomes all about rules and doing the “right” things and not doing the “wrong” things (a.k.a. sin).
Do you think this is a problem? If so, what are possible solutions? Ceasing to publicly condemn sin and only condemning sin to people we also love? Or perhaps finding a way to love others more publicly? What is the reason or need to publicly condemn sin? Why do we feel it’s so important that people are aware of sin?