This was originally written for an undergraduate religion course I took in 2005. It explores the validity of the often-repeated phrase, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” This abbreviated version reduces the Research section to a few passages, but the studies referred to remain in the References section.
Prospectus: Conservative Christians of every stripe seem to frequently use the phrase, “Love the Sinner, but hate the sin.” They use this cliché whenever they are accused of being uncharitable, prejudiced, or unloving toward a person who lives on the fringes of society, i.e. thieves, hobos (those who choose homelessness), prostitutes, homosexuals, addicts, etc.
Some Christians who use this phrase seem to be trying to encourage a more loving attitude in their fellows than the attitudes they possess. But, other self-styled Christians make no pretense. They simply know that by societal standards there is no other way to express their distaste, revulsion, and even hatred for these fringe people who have made “wrong choices” in their lives. By claiming to love the sinner but hating everything about them (the way they live and everything they do) they believe they can deflect a significant portion of the criticism because it sounds correct to most of their audience. But, does it effectively hide their animosity and prejudice? Can Christians truly separate the sin from the sinner in all cases? And, is it right or Godly to hate anything, even sin?
Research: The Bible has nothing to say about the phrase under consideration: “Love the Sinner, but hate the sin.” These two coupled phrases do not exist in the Bible, nor does any of the possible permutations. Several scriptures may be interpreted to include sinners among the people who Christians are commanded to love, but in no place does the Bible say a word about the faithful hating sin or hating anything or anyone else. The only place this phrase was found in any form was in the writings of Saint Augustine (354-430 C.E.), “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum.” or in English, “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.”
Three separate studies conducted by the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion were found on this topic:
The first study concluded that when there was a conflict between two people one being a clear victim and the other being a clear perpetrator, that undergraduate students with a higher religious orientation tended to side with the perpetrator when the victim revealed that she was a member of a despised fringe group. (Burris & Jackson, 1999)
The second study concluded that undergraduate students who scored higher for Fundamentalist attitudes had more antipathy for homosexuals than for other “condemned” groups. And, the anti-homosexual antipathy was in excess of what was required by their religious theology. (Fulton, Gorsuch, & Maynard, 1999)
The third study tested the claim that religion stimulates universal compassion and extends the idea of neighbor to anyone in need. Undergraduate students who identified as people of faith were given a situation where they could help three people of different backgrounds and they were given two different reasons for how the help would be used. It concluded that the claim was true except when the person to be helped was a member of a despised fringe group in society. (Batson, Floyd, Meyer, & Winner, 1999)
Reaction: Before I state my reactions, I would like to offer the following scriptural references:
- 1 John 4:7-11, states that because “God is Love” we ought to love each other.
- Leviticus 19:18 in the “Holiness Code,” the origin of the “love your neighbor” concept.
- Luke 6:27-33, extends the “love your neighbor” concept to the command to “love your enemies.”
- Matthew 22:37-39, is commonly referred to as “The Law of Love.”
If God is love and love is good, then it follows that hate is bad and originates with the evil one. It grossly confounds me that a Google search turned up so many people who espouse the belief that God hates sin and even sinners, and it is therefore alright or even required for us to hate them as well.
- M. Giannini stated “Hatred is the exact opposite of love. It is a reaction of repugnance… toward an object conceived as an evil.” Hatred is contrary to charity, and is voluntary and deliberate, a voluntary hostility to God and the children of God. (Giannini, 2003) So how can a Christian hate anything?
And how can any “Christian” hate with a clear conscience? Paul talks about conscience and said in Romans 2:15 that our conscience is a witness within all men, even pagans. And Paul further explains in Titus 1:15 that in evil people, conscience is corrupted. (Despland, 1946) This says to me that anybody, even people who calls themselves a Christian, who can hate with a clear conscience harbors the corrupting force of evil within them, because their hate has allowed the evil one a measure of control in their lives.
As one of the best sources of knowledge of how the evil one works in our lives, I offer wisdom from C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters. When the fledgling devil, Wormwood, failed to stop his assignment from falling in love with a devoutly Christian woman, his Uncle, Screwtape, an archangel in hell, wrote to him saying, “For a long time it will be quite impossible to remove spirituality from his life. Very well then, we must corrupt it.” (Lewis, 1942) And I believe that one of the ways evil corrupts our spirituality is by convincing us that it is okay to hate sin, evil, or even the devil itself which are all gateways to greater hate.
Another quote from C. S. Lewis’ book shows us the mechanism the evil one uses to inspire hate. “But hatred is best combined with Fear…. Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate.” (Lewis, 1942)
Conclusion: I can only hope that if the studies above had been conducted with more mature people than college age students, that the results would have been closer to the Christian Ideal. But my skepticism and experience tell me that the results wouldn’t have been substantially different. In either case, we would be testing fallible humans, and that no matter how it might be misinterpreted, the Christian Ideal as exemplified by the life of Christ remains.
The well-worn cliché considered here, “Love the Sinner but hate the sin” is, to my way of thinking and to the best of my ability to find out, wrong for several reasons:
- It passes initial scrutiny as religious dogma, but it simply is not Biblical.
- It is used by too many people as a way to deceive themselves and others, and to justify their own hateful actions toward people who live on the fringes of society.
- Hate in any context is wrong for a Christian.
- Humans have a very hard time separating the sin from the sinner so that they can be considered separately, and far too often end up hating the sinner along with the sin.
- Hate and fear are the tools of the evil one, to the extent we are fearful, and hold hate in our hearts, is the extent to which we allow the evil one dominion in our lives.
- And the best reason that “love the sinner but hate the sin” is wrong is that the Bible does not command us to hate sin, but to “forgive” sin, as God has forgiven our sins. In Matthew 18:23-35 a man was enslaved because he owed a great debt that he could not pay. But the master forgave the man his debt and set him free. The man then went to another who owed him a small debt demanding payment. The man’s great debt was forgiven but he could not forgive the small debt owed to him. Jesus called the man “evil” because he did not forgive as he was forgiven.
We need to remember what Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV) If Paul is the “worst of sinners” then why are we making such a big deal over sinners of any stripe?
The Christian message must be to love the sinner and forgive the sin. And to know that God’s love is powerful enough to convince all us sinners to walk away from sin and toward the light of God’s Grace.
BATSON, C. Daniel; FLOYD, Randy B.; MEYER, Julie M.; WINNER, Alana L.. (Dec., 1999). “And Who Is My Neighbor?:” Intrinsic Religion as a Source of Universal Compassion. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 38, No. 4., pp. 445-457. Retrieved November 10, 2005, J-STOR: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-8294%28199912%2938%3A4%3C445%3A%22WIMNI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-5
BURRIS, Christopher T.; JACSON, Lynne M. (Mar., 1999). Hate the Sin/Love the Sinner, or Love the Hater? Intrinsic Religion and Responses to Partner Abuse. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion Vol. 38, No. 1 pp. 160-174. Retrieved November3, 2005, J-STOR: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-8294%28199903%2938%3A1%3C160%3AHTSTSO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-J
DESPLAND, Michael. (1946). Conscience. In Lindsay Jones (Ed.),Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 3 (2nd ed., 1939-1946). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved November 10, 2005, Gale Virtual Reference Library: http://0-find.galegroup.com.library.acaweb.org:80/gvrl/ infomark.do?&type=retrieve&tabID=T001&prodId=GVRL&docId=CX3424500641&source=gale&userGroupName=tusculum&version=1.0
FULTON, Aubyn S.; GORSHUCH, Richard L.; MAYNARD, Elizabeth A. . (Mar., 1999). Religious Orientation, Antihomosexual Sentiment, and Fundamentalism among Christians (in Focus on Fundamentalism). Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 38, No. 1. pp. 14-22, J-STOR: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-8294%28199903%2938%3A1%3C14%3AROASAF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-J
GIANNINI, J. M. (2003). Hatred. New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6 (2nd ed., 666). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved November 10, 2005, Gale Virtual Reference Library: http://0-find.galegroup.com.library.acaweb.org:80/gvrl/infomark.do?&type=retrieve&tabID=T001&prodId=GVRL&docId=CX3407705043&source=gale&userGroupName=tusculum&version=1.0
LEWIS, C. S. (1942). The Screwtape Letters. Simon & Schuster, New York. (pp. 123, 160)