Avoid words or phrases (clichés) that stereotype or reflect judgmental attitudes.
This may not be a divine revelation for some, but I think it needs to be said – People hate being stereotyped or summed up by clichés. The problem is that we Christians love them. Why? Because a quick phrase takes a complex situation and makes it manageable, palatable, and digestible. It takes something we can’t wrap our minds around and allows us to think we have dealt with it effectively. In the sexuality conversation, there isn’t a more overused phrase than “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. It’s a quick, clean, tidy phrase that makes the speaker feel good that they are (supposedly) loving people like Jesus and hating sin (supposedly) like the Father. The problem is that we think God is angered at sin more than he is grieved by it and how it effects the crown of His creation, the people he loves deeply. In my experience with people, they tend to be fooled into thinking their "hatred" towards homosexuality is righteous when it would be more honestly termed “disgusted” or “annoyed”.
When people ask what I do or even ask about my story, I have often been met with “Well brother, I just love the sinner and hate the sin”. The problem is that this phrase is a conversation ender. It says, “I already know how I feel about this issue and I'm not interested in knowing more. My theological stance has eliminated my curiosity about your unique life and experience. There’s no need to continue talking about this.” As the person on the receiving end of this statement, it tells me you don’t want to think more about it and you are satisfied with a theological position – no further investigation necessary. Knowing what the Bible calls a sin, which is important, doesn’t give me insight on how to make people feel loved & cared for. I believe “Love the sinner, hate the sin” was born out of the church’s knowledge that Jesus loves all people but the lack of knowledge of how to put that love into action. This phrase pacified many and didn’t require movement. But today, thankfully, it’s different. The social justice generation wants more than empty phrases; they want love that is displayed. If you truly do love the sinner, put down your Bible and show them. Sometimes “love the sinner, hate the sin” is rejection that masquerades as acceptance, fooling us into thinking mere words are equivalent to pursuing & being present with people.
Part of the good news is that I don’t have to hate sin. If I’m honest, I don’t know that I can truly say I’ve even hated my own sin. The problem with any of my sin patterns is that I loved them and they had my heart. It’s frustrating to try to hate something that, if I’m honest, has my affections tied to it. So after dealing with the cycles of deception, sin, shame, & regret, I began to lament and grieve my capacity to continue doing something that didn’t lead me into life and joy. I haven’t ever repented because I hated my sin, I’ve repented because, by his grace and divine persuasion, I started to believe that God’s way was better despite the siren call of many things in my life that offer hollow promises. God’s patient loving kindness leads me to repentance, not hate.
So not only is this phrase not effective in conversation, I’ve come to realize it’s not good theology. Rather than employing clichés that push people away, I set them aside and enter into friendship with people, learning from the very people I want to reach most.
This blog is one in a series of 30+ tips for relational effectiveness with LGBT people. Find the condensed list HERE. These relational tips are from a handout acquired from “Lead Them Home”, a Boston based ministry that equips the church on LGBT issues. These blogs have been expounded upon with permission.
These tips, along with numerous other insights, are found in an excellent resource called “Guiding Families” available HERE.