When Justin Lee came through town earlier this year, one big part of his presentation was the need for people to better understand the definitions of the terms they use. If people on different sides of an issue use the same terms but imbue them with different meaning, it’s difficult to really have a conversation.
We see this in politics. When someone says “fiscal cliff” or “tax reform” or “increased revenue,” those terms mean something different depending on their party affiliation – and that definition might be different from the one assumed by reporters, voters and other, more impartial observers.
We really see this in sexuality. The topic is so personal – and so poorly discussed – that we have lots of room to internalize our experiences and apply definitions that may or may not be the same as anybody else’s. Then when we bring those experiences and terms into public discussion, we assume we’re all working with the same definition. But we’re not, and we end up talking past each other.
One frequently used phrase that needs better definition is “love the sinner, hate the sin.” All too often, this is defined as “convert the sinner, hate the sin” or “reluctantly accept the sinner, hate the sin.” In fact, Richard Beck will tell you it is psychologically impossible to love the sinner and hate the sin. You cannot hate what someone is doing and still love them unconditionally.
Further, it is not actually a biblical phrase. To paraphrase Andrew Marin in his video accompaniment to Love Is an Orientation, “There are plenty of places in the Bible where Jesus tells us to love sinners. And there are plenty of places where we are told to hate sin. But nowhere are those concepts put together.” In fact, Jesus’ message to us does not appear to be “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but to “love the sinner and hate our own sin.” Marin quotes Billy Graham: “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”
A lot of well-meaning Christians believe they can love the sinner and hate the sin. But this phrase relies on assumptions about love, hate and sin that may not be shared by – for example – someone who believes their sexuality is an inextricable part of who they are. If you consider that piece of their identity worthy of hatred, they would argue you cannot in fact truly love them.
“But,” some would argue, “it’s not our definition of sin that counts; it’s God’s.”
Exactly. Which is why he is the judge and not us. We are all sinners in need of love. Let’s focus on getting love right and let God take care of the rest. If we do that, I believe we’ll find our conversations about sexuality, regardless of our personal positions, will be greatly improved.