Recently some of my friends have started posting a bumper-sticker that says, “Love the bigot, hate the bigotry.” This is a response to the oft-repeated, “Jesus taught us to hate the sin but love the sinner”? But I’d like to offer a better response. I’d like to say, “Enough with the hate, already.” After all, Jesus didn’t say anything about hating sin or sinners, did he? Not in my Bible! Luke alone preserves the saying about hating one’s family (a strange twist on ‘family values’) and one’s life (14:26) and John the instruction to hate one’s own life in order to gain eternal life (12:25).
So this floating quotation seems not to be an authentic logion. But suppose one wants to argue that it is in keeping with what Jesus would have said; well, let’s take a look at that possibility.
First of all we have to ask, What is sin? (If that’s what we’re supposed to hate.) Wrong actions? Would Jesus have said that? No, because defining behavior alone as being sinful is not only non-Christian, but non-Jewish. The Tenth Commandment (“Thou shalt not covet”) and the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:20-48) have confounded jurists and agnostics for centuries. In Judaism and Christianity, ethics, which forbids certain acts, is augmented by a higher moral law in which it is not enough just “not to kill, not to commit adultery...” but in which one must not hate, must not lust, must not desire (possessions or actions) wrongly. For the Christian and the Jew, there may be victimless crimes, but there are no victimless sins.
Jesus recognized, in his critique of the Pharisees, how by categorizing certain actions as sins it becomes very simple to justify oneself. When behavior alone is the criterion, it becomes painfully easy to stand in judgment: “I thank God I’m not one of them!” is a cry of self-justification through the judgment of others who do “what I don’t do.”
So it would seem on the first count, the very nature of sin, that Jesus would not have said, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.”
But there is a further difficulty. How does one separate the two, if sin involves more than behavior, as both the Law and Jesus maintain? Jesus does not deal with sin apart from sinners. Without a word about hatred, Christ on the contrary tells us that we should love the sinner and forgive the sin. Be hated — yes, you will be — but do not return that hatred with hatred.
It is impossible to “hate the sin” apart from the sinner, as if sin had some reality apart from the desires and actions of fallen human beings, as if you could somehow extract the sin from a person and vent your purifying fury upon it. Such a notion is very far from the Gospel. What is worse, those who begin by “hating the sin” in this abstract way soon will come to hating the sinner in a concrete way, as indeed they must, since the one cannot exist apart from the other. And when those who legislate what is sinful have sufficient power, we have seen what results: the auto da fé was intended to save the souls of those repentant heretics being burned alive.
There have been enough burnings. There have been enough crosses on the hillside. No more hate, brothers and sisters. Please; no more hate.
— Tobias Haller BSG