Loving the Sinner

The concept of loving the sinner while hating the sin has fallen upon hard times. Fallen man finds it very difficult to hold in tension the notion that one must love the sinner along with the notion that one must hate the sin which the sinner commits. It is easy—far too easy—to equate the sinner with his sin and conclude that because the sin is an abomination the sinner must therefore be abominable, and therefore a fit subject for our hatred and the hatred of God.

This seems to be the default mode for everyone, ancient or modern, secular or religious. Thus some ancient Israelites concluded that God must have hated the Assyrians because He hated Assyrian idolatry and oppression, and some today conclude that God must have hated Hitler because He hated Nazism and Nazi atrocities. Suggestions (made at a safe distance) that God did not hate the Assyrians (see Jonah 4:11), or that He desired the salvation of Hitler (see 1 Timothy 2:4) are met with derision and hostility. For most people, hating a sin involves hating the sinner who commits the sin, and allowing oneself the luxury of abuse and violence towards the sinner. The Biblical precept which leaves vengeance to God and in which God says, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay” (Hebrews 10:30) is simply cast aside. We are delighted to function as God’s judges and little helpers, and mete out now the vengeance which we feel sure God will inflict on the Last Day. It makes us feel so good.

I note that this fallen principle is at work at many places in eastern Europe regarding homosexuals and homosexuality. I have never travelled to eastern Europe, but others have, and have brought back disturbing reports. These reports indicate that some people over there quickly, easily, and happily translate their rejection of the sin of homosexual activity into persecution, abuse, and violence against homosexuals. The Orthodox notion, found in the West (and in this blog) that all sinners, including homosexuals, should be treated with respect and kindness is rarely even considered. It is, I am told, very dangerous to admit to being a homosexual over there, for such an admission could result in being subjected to extreme violence.

It is otherwise in the West, and at least in Canada (the situation I know best), the situation is almost reversed: any speaking against homosexuality is subject to hostile opposition, public vilification, and possibly legal action. No politician that aspires to election may criticize homosexual practice, and failure to participate in Gay Pride Parades is dangerous to one’s political aspirations. Big Brother is watching us, and he flies a rainbow flag. It is therefore necessary here in the West to speak the truth about homosexual practice in the Church and to embrace a counter-cultural approach if one would be faithful to the traditional apostolic faith. There is no real chance of reversing the cultural tide flowing against those oppose homosexual practice. In Canada anyway, that battle is over, and the Christians have lost. Our experience here therefore is utterly different from those in eastern Europe. There, I am told, it is the homosexuals who are vilified and in danger.

This reality of the very real danger in which homosexuals find themselves accounts for the fury that sometimes accompanies gay activism here in the West. When a western writer (such as myself) points out the Church’s Tradition and the Scripture’s teaching that homosexual practice is unnatural and sinful, some people react with considerable anger. In one sense this anger is entirely understandable, for they are not thinking of my western exegesis so much as the eastern experience of homosexuals currently under threat. When they read the words, “the Bible condemns homosexuality”, they also read the subtext, “and therefore it is completely acceptable to abuse, hurt, and even kill homosexuals”. It doesn’t matter that I did not say this, and emphatically reject such a conclusion. The pain felt by homosexuals under attack is too great for them to separate my exegesis from the larger picture. For them, the Church’s traditional exegesis leads inevitably to the current anti-homosexual debacle and to the attitude often found in the east.

It needs to be stated that such an attitude of hatred of homosexuals is simply sinful, wrong, damnable, and subject to the wrath of God. We are to love our neighbour, whether he or she is straight or gay, whether our neighbour fornicates or is chaste, whether our neighbour is honest or crooked. We may hate homosexual practice, fornication, and dishonesty, but we must love our neighbour and treat him or her with kindness, love, and respect, whatever their behaviour. If we do not, we disobey Christ and sin against Him, and will ourselves be liable to judgment on the Last Day.

I suspect the attraction of collapsing the sin and the sinner into one and refusing to love the sinner while hating the sin is rooted in our own insecurity. It is hard to look at our own sins. When we do, we feel insecure, frightened, and guilty. It is a relief to turn our gaze from ourselves to the sins of others, and to imagine that we are better than they are. I am not a homosexual; I am not a heretic; I am not an Assyrian idolater. And I thank God that I am not as these other men are. I am straight, Orthodox, and a true Christian. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess (Luke 18:12). The disease of the Pharisee lies in wait for all who would strive to serve God. The error of the Pharisee was not in thinking that the sins he condemned (such as extortion, injustice, adultery, or tax collector gouging; v. 11) were wrong. His error consisted in looking steadfastly at those sins while ignoring his own.

It is such a relief to look away from one’s own sins and focus upon the sins of others, and this relief is, I suggest, at the root of the failure to distinguish the sin from the sinner. God loves every sinner—He loved the Assyrian idolater, the Nazi, the extortioner, the unjust, the adulterer, and the tax-collector. He loves the homosexual, and we must love them too. (Please note that I am not equating homosexual sin with idolatry, Nazism, extortion, or adultery. My point is that if God did not hate the Assyrian idolater and the Nazi, how much less does He hate the homosexual.)

I also think I understand the varied motivations of those in eastern Europe as they hate and persecute homosexuals. Part of their zeal is, I suspect, rooted in their fear that the western contagion of militant gay activism and the draconian normalization of homosexuality will spread to the east. But fear is a poor source of motivation. Submission to Christ is a better one. And that submission demands that we love all the children of men, regardless of their sins, real or imagined. Violence to anyone is unacceptable for Christians.

11 comments:

  1. Thanks Father for another great article. Great stuff here and another great reminder that we’re all sinners in desperate need of God’s love, grace, and mercy. Just a bit of pushback however. First let me state, unequivocally, that to be a Christian is to be opposed to any kind of violence against any person. Period. No exceptions. Any violence against homosexuals should be condemned and thank you for doing that. That said, I firmly believe that many of these “reports” of violence against homosexuals are pure propaganda. They’re made up and pushed as part of a larger agenda and narrative. When I clicked on the link and saw that the article was from Rod D, I chuckled. I’ll put it nicely (and mildly) to say that he’s an enigma. Always claiming to be on the traditional side of the culture wars, yet forever trying to prove his wokeness to his legion of leftist readers. There are many, many gay nightclubs in Russia that operate publicly and out in the open. Putin has clearly stated that people in Russia are free to live as they wish. The West is trying desperately to drag Russia into the complete decadence that has come to permeate the western world.

  2. Thank you so much for this insightful piece, and for speaking nuance into an over-simplified discussion, Fr Farley. I am sobered by the information shared, but also encouraged by your boldness and stance on raising the level of dialogue while upholding the righteousness and justice of God. And by righteousness and justice, I do mean the right-relationship and right-living with right-consequences of God. May the Lord have mercy on those who inflate one aspect of God and pit it against another aspect as if He could be somehow divided and approve of violence against the oppressed.

    One thing that really stood out to me through this blog post, which is an area of professional interest for me, is the dynamics of shame and pride. The language of shame is the very foundation of the LGBTQ/Non-LGBTQ dialogue. This expression you share that has “fallen on hard times” works to undo some of the inherent shame-conflation to allow freedom to respond appropriately and move to repentance: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” When we (rightly) recognize who we are and separate that from what we have (in reality) done, we separate shame from guilt. Then we can accordingly address both with the redemption (revaluation) and restoration of God for shame as well as the forgiveness of God for guilt as we minister to those who struggle and hurt.

    Lord have mercy as we struggle and strive for His fullness to be lived out through our lives. Thank you for deepening our thought-life with your reflections, and may God continue to bless your ministry.

  3. Hating the Sin not the Sinner has a compassionate ring to it. Wouldn’t redeeming the sin be far better? When Jesus took up the Cross, as the worst sinner of all in the eyes of those watching, God’s plan was to bring salvation, redemption and reconciliation to every sinner. Have I misunderstood God’s plan?

    As for the LGBTQ+ community…is their sin an abomination? Can something people detest and want to ride the world of be redeemed? Perhaps I’m thinking like a naive mom. I’m thinking nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37) and for those who love God with their whole heart, mind, body and soul and their neighbour as themselves. What do you think?

  4. I wonder if God made equating the sinner with the sin “easy” so there would be a challenge, test, and Cross for us – otherwise it would all be to easy to just be judgemental/hateful and let it go. God gives us the choice to pray for conversion of sinful souls and we have to remember somebody is praying for us as well – hopefully!

    I have thought many times of when and if I reach Heaven, that God will ask me, “Did you pray for them??”

    Thankyou for a good article! God bless…..

  5. I also read that article from Rod Dreher’s blog, and I’ll admit it was disturbing to me. As an inquirer it is a little discouraging that the people in traditionally-Orthodox countries often do not reflect Orthodox values. Why does not the gospel motivate them to act in Christ’s image? What good is Orthodoxy if it does not create Christian societies?

    1. I think society has influenced many Christians around the world – orthodox and not orthodox. It has become very laid back for many losing/weakening their commitment to the teachings and faith. If you are an inquirer into Orthodoxy, look for those who do hold to the faith commitment and Traditions and also get your strength from the Divine Liturgy even if you are not receiving communion yet. Read what the early Church Fathers had to say about prayer, worship and endurance. This might help to put the lethargic ones on the back burner of your mind – however you can and should still pray for them. (I was received into the Orthodox Church this past Easter and it was the best thing I ever did! ) God bless your search…..

    2. I personally see that an over-reliance on the efficacy of the Sacraments to compensate for catechism may be a part of the problem. The Sacraments are not magic, they correspond to the faith/faithfulness of the adherent. Baptism is much more of a tragic gift as it creates the covenantal relationship more dangerous than the Old Covenant. I hear people speak of Holy Baptism like Protestants talk of being born-again – this past experience to look back on to give them assurance. But everything is now, repentance is now, life and death are now.

      But Orthodoxy can recover their vision by looking to their past whereas Protestants and Catholics, their past, their view of human personality – if fully recovered would still be heretical.

      This is our predicament. But the Lord is good! But we must realize, that while we need those in the Church to guide and pull us up, the Church needs believers full of zeal for good works. It’s easy for me to see how any group could say that – “we’re a little messed up come and convert and help us out, we need you” – but not every group, not any, can say we carry the same vision, the same Gospel, the same ________ that Orthodoxy can. So, while every group needs new volunteers, Orthodoxy invites you to take up your cross with her – the same cross that has always been.

      Evangelicalism is entirely pragmatic and will continually change with the culture, liberal Protestantism is fading by the wayside, Reformed Protestantism is very influential but also extremely isolated (and they can feel even more “elect” for this), Anglicanism has little hope of returning to their beginnings, Catholicism is riddled with problems, I can keep going. Then you have Orthodoxy with their problems but the difference is, they can actually show that their Gospel, that their vision of a human being really does and always has lined up with Scripture, with the mind of Jesus and the Apostles – whereas none of the other groups can or only can in part, usually a very limited part. I’m not saying there are not countless Christians among these groups, but to believe that these people are being healed in the center of their personality – which is what Orthodoxy has the prescription for – it’s mostly not happening because they do not have such a prescription. That sounds harsh and it’s probably too broad on my part, but being good people is not the same things as becoming fully human.

      I got on this Ark to be saved, and I hope I will by the Grace of God.

      Matt

    3. Perhaps it’s because things are not actually the way they are portrayed by the US media, Dreher included. If you’re in inquirer into Orthodoxy, reading Dreher is not helpful.

  6. We should of course pray for egregious sinners. It would be better, though , if we don’t try to reform them ourselves. Psychopathic bullies and extortioners, blackmailers, pornographers and so on can be prayed for but must be avoided for our own safety . We can hope that the Lord who said something like,”Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” will protect us from these people.

  7. Fr. Farley,

    It hit me a while ago while I was working on my car, it’s really the same thing you’re saying but the flipside – people today equate their sexuality with their identity as human. If you are gay, for many that is their identity. To say a person is sinning sexually feels like a personal attack if you equate your actions with your fundamental identity as human. But being human for a Christian is grounded in an anthropology and an eschatology. We do not see ourselves with the necessity of identifying our sexual preferences with our anthropology or our eschatology for several reasons that the world does not share with us.

    To me, the emphasis on judgment towards sin should very much show that the reason is the failure “to be” rather than rule breaking. Rules are there so that the parameters in which a person can “become”, part of the necessary means, are in place. But rules can be kept without ever “becoming”. Westerners typically do not have this anthropology because they believe in Original Sin – so theosis, our “becoming” is not part of their anthropology or eschatology or Christology for that matter – specifically the lack of appreciation for the Incarnation, that we are each to be “incarnate” – we are each to have the Divine added to our humanity through the Holy Spirit and to realize this as much as we can through effort combined with the Grace of God now.

    So, Westerners focus on Law, as a result of Original Sin (and the whole soteriological package accompanying it: monergistic necessity for regeneration, justification by faith alone, imputed righteousness, penal substitution, etc.) and preach conversion to an experience that will fix them (or, if you deny Original Sin, you may just go ahead and affirm homosexuality or whatever). What I’m getting at is people who hear “you’re a sinner” can only hear it as an attack on their personality because they have identified themselves with a part of their being that isn’t actually fully them and they are never hearing that the reason for calling what they do sin is not an attack on personality but lifting up their personality to a level where they no longer see themselves in this distorted way, equating their sexuality with their core personhood, but giving an anthropological vision and an eschatological vision of their personality to work towards. Then suffering a passion could seem a worthwhile goal versus feeling an attack on personality.

    Now, I could be far too optimistic that such an approach would make much difference, but this is what the Law is for. Our morality, our sin, is mainly a prohibitive for theosis, for our anthropology and eschatology and for Westerners the Law is mainly an exposition of how bad people are so that they will seek to be born again realizing that they are under the wrath of God for their law-breaking and that they need God to break their will, Jesus to forgive their sins, Jesus to give them His righteousness, for Jesus to suffer in their place, resulting in a permanent change in God’s disposition toward them (or a conditional permanence). I’m not saying that realizing our willful rebellion against God is a bad thing, but it falls short of the vision of a human in Orthodoxy, in Paul, in Jesus, in Revelation.

    Original Sin I believe has made this mess because it does make a person equal to their sin and God must overcome this through the soteriology it requires. But Orthodoxy, while difficult, presents a vision of humanity that actually elevates the human to their place among Saints if a person will undergo the life required for such a high calling. The personality attack should be diminished somewhat and smarter homosexuals know this.

    The real debate should be over whose anthropology is correct, the Western Protestant view, the liberal Protestant view, the materialistic or humanistic view, or the Orthodox view. And since the Orthodox view can hold it’s own Biblically, emotionally, I believe in a self-authenticating way empirically, subjectively – we stand a good chance at explaining ourselves if, and this is a big if, people will listen.

    God bless you,
    Matthew Lyon

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