• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

"Hate the Sin, but Love the Sinner"? We're Not Ready for That

I’m now completing a quarter-century of journalism, having started writing for Christianity Today magazine, the late, lamented TSF Bulletin, and the equally esteemed and mourned Reformed Journal around 1984. Some of my pieces have evoked letters to the editor. Some of those letters were critical. Some of those were right!

I’ve been blogging now for a few years and some of my posts have evoked comments. Some of those comments have been critical. Some of them also have been right.

But here’s the thing: In journalism broadly and in the blogosphere in particular, critical responses so frequently are mean. Ad hominem is everywhere. And it makes me wonder, how in the world can Christians keep spouting the claim to “hate the sin but love the sinner” when we so frequently seem unable to “dislike the idea but love the brother or sister who holds it”?

Of course, when we move out into public discourse, so many of those who can’t resist disliking their fellow Christians can be positively venomous toward those of more divergent views. But there is also the peculiar, but widespread, phenomenon of reserving the most vicious language for family members, for those who are seen to be disloyal and dangerous kin.

Firm disagreement is sometimes called for. Prophetic rebuke in extreme situations is mandated by Scripture. And sarcasm, satire, mockery, and the like are all valid forms of public discourse, sometimes even the right ones in particular situations.

But “speaking the truth in love” is a rule never superseded by some other imperative, nor is the Golden Rule, nor is the Great Commandment to “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

And nor is the New Commandment to love each other as Christians the way Christ loves us, in so conspicuous a fashion that “all people will know that you are my disciples.”

A friend of mine read through the comments following my recent blog post on the Manhattan Declaration and wearily responded, “See how these Christians love each other.”

Not even close. Not even liking each other because we disagree about ideas that we all agree are important but that we all agree (don’t we?) are secondary to the Gospel and to our familial bonds in Christ.

Charity begins at home. We’ll be able to say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner,” only once we’ve practiced not despising and attacking each other.