Love the Sinner

Love The Sinner.

I’m going throw a little twist at you today. We all know that old chestnut “Hate the sin, love the sinner”. And, if you know me, you know how much I’ve come to despise that phrase. I despise it because it has, in my opinion, been used to justify hatred, discrimination and oppression of LGBT people. In the name of “Hate the sin, love the sinner”, the very group (the church) that should be a refuge and a champion of these people has instead cheered these actions on and left the LGBT community on its own to deal with this hate, discrimination and oppression. So, what’s the twist? I may not say “hate the sin, love the sinner”, but I live it. Every day.

That realization dawned on me this morning, as I read a piece on Sojourners written by the late Will D. Campbell. It was an excerpt from his memoir “Brother to a Dragonfly”, about his real conversion to Christianity. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because I’ve written about it before (here and here). But, until now, I haven’t quoted the part that moved me this morning. Here it is:

Many of us who were Christians were just a little bit proud of our alienation and a little bit arrogant in our newfound liberation and assumed sophistication. We justified it in terms of the suffering, the injustices, the blatant hostilities and economic deprivations black people had had heaped upon them. There was drama and romance in the Civil Rights Movement and we who had no home at home sought that home in the black cause. Because we did not understand the nature of tragedy, we learned the latest woolhat jokes, learned to cuss Mississippi and Alabama sheriffs, learned to say “redneck” in the same venomous tones we had heard others, or ourselves, say “nigger.” We did not understand that those we so vulgarly called “redneck” were a part of the tragedy. They had been victimized one step beyond the black. They had had their head taken away by cunning, skillful and well-educated gentlemen and ladies of the gentry. And so we, my people and Joe’s and P.D.’s, picked the wrong enemy. We were not wrong in aligning ourselves with the black sufferer. But we were wrong in not directing some of our patience and energy and action to a group which also had a history of slavery.”

If you exchange the wording about race and civil rights for words about rights for the LGBT community, this fits me to a tee. And, every time I read it, it cuts me to the quick.

Now, while it is certainly debatable whether homosexuality (and transgender or anything else in the alphabet soup we use to refer to all this) is a sin, there’s no doubt about hate. While the Bible might not specifically say “Don’t hate”, it says to love others often enough that message is clear: Hate is wrong. And, if it’s wrong to hate gay folks, it’s wrong to hate rednecks, fundamentalists, evangelicals, conservatives, Republicans…, well, you get the picture.

For a long time, I said “I don’t hate those people, I just hate what they do. I only say what I do out of love.” Reading what Preacher Will said about our shared heritage, I realized that I was saying was practically word for word what my evangelical brothers and sisters said about LGBT folks. And, it sounded just as fake and unloving coming out of my mouth as it did theirs.

Campbell’s friend, newspaper man P. D. East, once asked him to explain the Christian faith in ten words or less and Campbell replied “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway”. Later, in this conversion story of Campbell’s, he amends his definition, telling East ““We’re all bastards but you’ve got to be the biggest bastard of us all.” When East asked what he meant, Campbell replied ““Because, damned if you ain’t made a Christian out of me. And I’m not sure I can stand it.” If that’s true, then Campbell was just as big a bastard because this story made a Christian out of me. Sometimes, I wonder if I can stand it, myself.