October 22, 2020

Why “Hate the Sin/Love the Sinner” Doesn’t Work

 Praying Angel 2

Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

– Matthew 9:13

Mercy and sacrifice reliably come into conflict due to the reciprocal nature of love and disgust, the psychological dynamics governing exclusion and embrace. Consequently, the church cannot sidestep the tensions in Matthew 9 as a mere logical error or false dichotomy. Whenever the church speaks of love or holiness, the psychology of disgust is present and operative, often affecting the experience of the church in ways that lead to befuddlement, conflict, and missional failure.

Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality
Richard Beck

* * *

Unclean-CoverRichard Beck’s book, Unclean, could be an important discussion starter for the church today, caught as she often is in the tension of trying to “hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

Matthew 9 is a key text for Beck, where Jesus responds to criticism from certain Pharisees about eating and drinking with “sinners” by pointing them to the prophets: “But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’”

Mercy and sacrifice — at first the distinction was not clear to Beck, but he came to see that these concepts represent tensions in Israel’s religious traditions and practices, a tension that is evident throughout the Bible.

Why, I wondered, are mercy and sacrifice antagonistic in Matthew 9? Why is there a tension between mercy and sacrifice? Of course, this tension might only be apparent and situational, two virtues that just happened to come into conflict in this particular circumstance. But the more I pondered the biblical witness and the behavior of churches, the more convinced I became that the tensions and conflict were not accidental or situational. I concluded that there was something intrinsic to the relationship between mercy and sacrifice that inexorably and reliably brought them into conflict. Mercy and sacrifice, I suspected, were mirror images, two impulses pulling in different directions.

…Sacrifice—the purity impulse—marks off a zone of holiness, admitting the “clean” and expelling the “unclean.” Mercy, by contrast, crosses those purity boundaries. Mercy blurs the distinction, bringing clean and unclean into contact. Thus the tension. One impulse—holiness and purity—erects boundaries, while the other impulse—mercy and hospitality—crosses and ignores those boundaries.

The religious leaders in Matthew 9 represented “sacrifice” — Israel’s holiness tradition that created barriers between the clean and the unclean, the sacred and the profane. They criticized Jesus for merely being in the presence of “sinners” because to them contact transferred pollution. A “holy” or “pure” person, they reasoned, would keep away, avoiding contact, erecting social boundaries to prevent becoming tainted or contaminated.

Notice how this language reflects more than a principled position identifying certain behavior as “sin.” There are psychological elements of sociomoral disgust that evidence themselves in our emotional, reflexive responses and in our words.

Thus, we wrinkle our noses, turn away our eyes, utter exclamations of distaste, or feel tension or unpleasant sensations in various parts of our bodies. “That makes me sick!” we say.

Our words also reflect this impulse. Hindus called the lowest caste “untouchable” and Israel used words like “clean/unclean” and “abomination” and “detestable” to describe not only behaviors but also people and classes of people. So have communities (of all types) excluded others throughout history, encoding that in colorful language which demeans the outcasts and maintains a sense of disgust in the “pure” group.

Beck’s work in Unclean shows how “we unwittingly import a contamination-based reasoning into the life of the church.”

[D]isgust psychology regulates how we reason about and experience aspects of the moral universe. Disgust psychology prompts us to think about evil as if it were a virus or a polluting object. When we do this the logic of contamination is imported into moral discourse and judgment. For example, as noted earlier, we begin to worry about contact. In the domain of food aversion contact with a polluting object is a legitimate concern. But fears concerning contact might not be appropriate or logical in dealing with moral issues or social groups. Worse, a fear of contact might promote antisocial behavior (e.g., social exclusion) on our part.

Richard Beck notes that this logic of contact contains additional elements, such as a sense that even a minimal amount of contact with contagion can cause profound harm, that there is a sense of permanence about becoming polluted — once tainted it is difficult if not impossible to return to “pure,” and that contact has a one-way effect — the unclean pollutes the clean, but the clean cannot purify the unclean.

It is important to realize that this “logic” of disgust psychology is, as Beck shows, “often immune to reason and rationality.” We can tell people “hate the sin but love the sinner” all we want, repeat it in sermons and enshrine it in our mission statements, but in doing so we are essentially trying to overcome deeply ingrained impulses with a slogan.

Disgust is an exclusionary or expulsive impulse: one must either avoid or remove a contaminant for the body to remain healthy. The logic of “sacrifice” (holiness, purity, cleanness) maintains boundaries to protect nefarious infiltration.

Love, on the other hand, is about embracing, not excluding. Love is an inclusionary, receptive impulse. In the marital bed, for example, two become one flesh; that is, persons share the closest possible connections with each other’s bodies. One allows access within the most personal of boundaries so that one’s lover might enjoy intimate contact and sharing.

Indeed, this is the essence of all genuine love. As Beck writes:

The boundary of the self is extended to include the other. The very word intimacy conjures the sense of a small, shared space. We also describe relationships in terms of proximity and distance. Those we love are “close” to us. When love cools we grow “distant.” We tell “inside” jokes that speak of shared experiences. We have a “circle of friends.” “Outsiders” are told to “stop butting in.” We ask people to “give us space” when we want to “pull back” from a relationship. In sum, love is inherently experienced as a boundary issue. Love is on the inside of the symbolic self.

In Unclean, Richard Beck argues that Jesus routinely resolved the tension between Israel’s priestly tradition of sacrifice (holiness, separation, purity) and her prophetic tradition of mercy (love, inclusion, fellowship) by choosing mercy. He chose contact rather than boundaries. Note that in Matthew 9 he did not say, “Go and learn this: I desire mercy and sacrifice.” He went one way and resolved the tension by choosing mercy.

The other stories in Matthew 9 may clue us in on how Jesus could take this position. For example, when he was touched by an unclean woman with an issue of blood, contact with Jesus did not render him unclean. Rather, the contact cleansed and healed her. When he touched the hand of the dead synagogue leader’s daughter — a touch that would render anyone unclean according to the law — the life-giving power of Jesus raised her up. Likewise he touched the eyes of the blind and they began to see.

These examples counter the “negativity dominance” that we naturally give to unclean over clean.

What is striking about the gospel accounts is how Jesus reverses negativity dominance. Jesus is, to coin a term, positivity dominant. Contact with Jesus purifies. A missional church embraces this reversal, following Jesus into the world without fears of contamination. But it is important to note that this is a deeply counterintuitive position to take. Nothing in our experience suggests that this should be the case. The missional church will always be swimming against the tide of disgust psychology, always tempted to separate, withdraw, and quarantine.

Jesus consistently shows the way of love, not separation. He welcomes sinners into his presence. He disregards established rules of segregation. He lets himself be touched and he reaches out to touch the unclean. And what Jesus touches becomes clean.

This is something much different than “hate the sin/love the sinner.”

* * *

I am fully aware that this raises a host of other questions, and I’m sure some of them will come up in the discussion. We will have opportunity to deal with them in future posts as well.

But like I said, I think Beck’s book could be an excellent discussion starter. So let us begin…


  1. “Who is left to condemn you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

    How odd?

    I wonder why Jesus was interested in the person not sinning, if He loves sinners?

    • Final Anonymous says

      Odd how?

      I love my kids. Sin hurts. I do not want my kids to hurt. So I do not want them to sin.

      • @Fin,Anon—–

        I have been a parent for 32 of my 54 years, so I am sure that parenthood influences my thinking and theology……in addition to the fact that Jesus taught us to call God “Daddy” and trust Him as our Father.

        In that light, I see much of human love in this context of love and discipline (mercy and sacrifice) that undergirds parents. Too much love and no discipline leads to an indulged and self-centered BRAT! Too much discipline and no love leads to a cowering robot—-one who will often bolt for rebellion and ‘freedom’ as soon as is feasible.

        So…does the same follow with others, coming from Christians and the Christian community? Isn’t there a constant tension between these two poles?

        • Final Anonymous says

          Pattie, I’ve got kids from 11 to 30 and 2 grandkids, so I hear ya! I just don’t think I think of the terms the same way. Love and discipline are intertwined, but not opposite; discipline is not punitive, shunning, angry, excluding treatment.

          And at some point I am no longer disciplining. They are legally adults, they are making their own choices and I am here to guide if they ask for help, of course, but their choices and consequences are theirs alone. My most important job at that point is to love and accept them while they make their own path. Hardest thing in the world to do, but necessary for their own personal growth. And yes, I do think there is a parallel there for the church community.

      • It’s odd that Christians don’t see that.

    • Final Anonymous says

      The other part I find interesting about that story is that Jesus, with his comment, effectively sent away all those who were judging and confronting the woman with her sin. Only *then* did He tell her to sin no more; it was a private matter, between Jesus and her.

      It’s actually not even our responsibility to hate the sin, and let the sinners know about it. Jesus said we have enough to worry about with the planks in our own eyes, He’ll deal with other people and their sins.

      Great post.

      • Joseph (the original) says

        and since the men standing around with stones in hand slowly dropped them and walked away after Jesus said, “He who is among you, let him be the one to cast the first stone,” the only option they had left was to express mercy, not condemnation/judgment…

        in reality Jesus did imply to all those involved in this gross miscarriage of justice to go and sin no more. but as we all know, such a divine command will not be kept no matter how sincere the saint attempting to do so. so we all rely on the mercy of Jesus no matter where we are at on our own spiritual journeys…

        here’s a theological consideration: even if this unnamed woman did cease to be an adulteress or prostitute, would that be sufficient to ‘save’ her eternal soul? would simply ‘not sinning’ make her righteous? would it lead to spiritual transformation? would it make her a true disciple of Jesus?

        was Jesus advocating sin management in this well know passage? did Jesus pinpoint which sin or sins He wanted the woman to cease from committing again? was it from the Jewish perspective of the time?

        I am always fascinated by this account and how much it doesn’t state for certain or clarify for us what Jesus implied from His perspective…

      • Jesus didn’t send away those who were “judging and confronting the woman with her sin” he sent away those who were about to kill her. What they were doing went way beyond judging and confronting. If they had come to her and said “Daughter, your sin is ruining your life and the lives of others. Turn from it to God and experience life.” That is still judging and confronting but not of the sort that Jesus would have sent them away for.

        • Since this story is not well-attested in the manuscripts and may not be genuine, are there other instances where Jesus said words like, “Go and sin no more.”?

          • Joseph (the original) says

            yes…I’ve always felt this scenario was just a bit contrived. just like the plot to the movie, God’s Not Dead…

            and all with a tense, mystery-filled pause with Jesus scratching ‘something’ in the dust (no spoiler alert possible)…

            and there is no other reference to Jesus saying anything remotely similar anywhere else in the Gospel accounts. seems this scene that stands alone without context or following a storyline or chronological setting seems, well, odd. would it actually be WJWD? hmmm…

          • The Epistles say this sort of thing quite a lot.

          • Joseph (the original) says

            “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” ~James 2:13

            thank you Jesus…

          • Joseph – Read the whole letter that James wrote, you’ll find the phrase you quoted is far from a carte blanche license to go on sinning.

          • I think the Gospel of John, 5th chapter, is similar in nature.

            The healing at the pool on the Sabbath. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

          • The healing of the paralytic (“That you may know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins”) also comes to mind

    • Marcus Johnson says

      The notion that every Bible story is a direct instruction to us on what to do (you know, in case someone ever drags a woman caught in adultery and condemned to death by stoning–happens to me all the time) doesn’t really acknowledge the complexity of why Scripture was given to us. I don’t think this is a story about how we are supposed to forgive, as much as it is about how Jesus has the authority to forgive. It’s less about what we’re supposed to do, and about who we’re doing it for.

    • petrushka1611 says

      Seems to me that Jesus was interested in her not sinning AFTER he had crossed the boundaries and showed mercy to her.

      He also told her, “Sin no more,” not, “Stay away from other sinners and you’ll sin no more.”

      I also wonder if “Go and sin no more” isn’t only a command, but also a mark of forgiveness and (though I dislike the trendiness of this word) inclusion. The beatitudes are stated in the form of proclamations, not commands, even though the encouragement toward good is fully implicit. I think the phrase goes beyond a simple command to live up to: it’s an encouragement in light of offensive mercy and Christ’s power to forgive.

    • I think we might do well to see the “order” in which he acted in this encounter

      1) He basically made ir clear who, if anyone, was to be judged.
      2) He saved the woman’s physical life.
      3) He forgave her (something tells me forgiveness was offered to the crowd who seemed to rejext it._
      4) He did not condemn.
      5) Jesus NOT proceed to threaten, demean, or condemn the woman.

      Only then did Jesus sau “Go and sin no more”. And isn’t odd how Jesus did say exactly what sin she wasn’t to commit anynore, abd beither did she ask?

    • As has been noted already, the words “sin no more” appear twice in Scripture, John 5.14, the story of the invalid by the pool, and John 8.11, the story of the adulterous woman. And whereas the passage in John 7.53-8.11 is not found in the oldest manuscripts (or so says my ESV), I find it’s teachings consistent with Jesus’ teachings and behavior towards sinners.

      Actually, it’s the other “sin no more in John 5.14 which I find interesting, for here Jesus, after healing the invalid man, tells him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” But the story in John 9 of the blind man who received his sight begins,

      “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’ (John 9.1-3)

      So, the invalid man in John 5 is told to “sin no more” so that nothing worse (worse than being an invalid, that is) would happen to him. Yet the sins of the blind man (or his parents) in John 9 had nothing to do with his blindness; he was blind simply so that God’s power of healing would be made evident in him. Now that’s a curve ball!

      All of this leaves me a bit baffled. On the one hand, I would agree that sin entering the world is the aggregate cause of sickness and death (along with all other sorts of evil things). But on the other hand, we cannot be specific as to the effects of sin on a particular individual. And if so, perhaps we should be less judgmental about others. And I suppose this ties in to having a greater desire for mercy and less so for sacrifice.

      • Final Anonymous says

        Interesting when compared to obesity; is a person obese because of a host of sins, gluttony, selfishness, etc. Or is there a metabolic problem, is the person actually eating more healthy than we are but still gaining weight? The obese person himself may never know which it is; what should his focus be? How then should we treat him? Does the subject of possible sin even come up?

        • As a formerly obese person, I can tell you that it could be any of the above or all of the above. For me it was all of the above, something I came to realize early on and treated by way of both physical and spiritual disciplining. I still struggle, but by the grace of God I have been able to keep it under control, sometimes more effectively than others. I expect to struggle with this for the remainder of my life.

          One thing I find very helpful is that my weight–anyone’s weight–is not a factor in being accepted by God.

          “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14.17)

  2. It seems to me that when sinners came into contact with Jesus, that is, they wanted to come to him, then mercy abounded. On the other hand, those who didn’t want to be with him he had different words for them. I am thinking here of the two crucifixion mates on either side of him at the end, and so it seems throughout the gospels. Thanks for letting me ramble.

  3. I would love to hear some stories about how Christians today successfully loving sinners without condoning their sin. It just seems like the tension will eventually come up.

    • Final Anonymous says

      I don’t know if it’s as hard as it sounds. When we’re not constantly looking for the sin or making sure to point it out, we find other things to talk about.

      • +1.
        If we’re more focused on our own sin, it’s easier to love others and extend the mercy God has shown us.

      • Christiane says

        ‘the pointing of the finger’ is so rampant these days among many Christians . . . have we forgotten to heed Isaiah 58 or have we just ignored it in favor of that strange version of ‘truth in love’ that is our own brand of smug self-righteousness looking down on those we judge? Easier to point the finger from on high than to heed the cry of Isaiah, whose book is sometimes referred to as ‘the fifth gospel’.

        ” 6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
        to loose the bonds of injustice,
        to undo the thongs of the yoke,
        to let the oppressed go free,
        and to break every yoke?
        7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
        and bring the homeless poor into your house;
        when you see the naked, to cover them,
        and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
        8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
        and your healing shall spring up quickly;
        your vindicator* shall go before you,
        the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
        9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
        you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

        If you remove the yoke from among you,
        the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
        10 if you offer your food to the hungry
        and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
        then your light shall rise in the darkness
        and your gloom be like the noonday.
        11 The Lord will guide you continually,
        and satisfy your needs in parched places,
        and make your bones strong;
        and you shall be like a watered garden,
        like a spring of water,
        whose waters never fail.
        12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
        you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
        you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
        the restorer of streets to live in.”

        When I read of conservative evangelical despair over denomininational ‘decline’, I think about all of the ‘finger pointing’ masked within their ‘truth in love’;
        and of the words of Isaiah 58 offering words of healing for those who will hear and heed . . .

    • Vega Magnus says

      I guess through simply treating everyone like normal human beings. For example, I could go all moralizing on plenty of people at my college for their standard college antics, but the only thing that would accomplish would be causing people to dislike me. I can vouch for the idea of ‘hating the sin, loving the sinner” not working though. I grew up with Pensacola Christian Academy homeschool videos and they harped on this concept extensively, but it backfires because it places so much focus on sin rather than on the mercy and love mentioned by CM in this post. Combine that with their “everyone is so evil, Average Joe would kill for a cookie if not for THE WILL OF GAWD” view of total depravity, and you end propagating a very anti-social mentality, or at least, that is what happened to me. You do actually succeed in separating the sin from the sinner, but that changes nothing because instead of wishing to avoid a specific person, you wish to avoid this nebulous sinfulness instead, and that leads to pretty much the same outcome. I’ve been working to undo this type of thinking, and while I’m not antisocial anymore, I still occasionally feel the disgust impulse when I really shouldn’t.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > moralizing on plenty of people at my college for their standard college antics,
        > but the only thing that would accomplish would be causing people to dislike me.

        You’ve nailed it. This approach does not *work*.

        And the sin is fixed in time; hating the sin goes on forever, as the sin cannot be undone, just as nothing can be undone. At best with this approach in turns into one of those creepy ‘rehabilitation’ stories which only serve to glamorize the sin.

    • Christiane says

      “it seems like the tension will eventually come up”

      I suppose it will . . . because we are all so prone to pride. But if we are blessed with a real humility, then our chances of caring for ‘fallen people’ without judging them is much greater. How can we hold the sin of pride at bay? I think the answer is obvious: We recognize our own sin. We acknowledge that we are sinners ourselves. And then we can say, like Pope Francis ‘who am I to judge?’

      The Eastern Orthodox have an edge on this quest for true humility. They have an ancient prayer based on the biblical prayer of the publican in the temple: “God be merciful to me a sinner”
      The prayer goes ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner’

      Catholics seek humility also, and during the Lenten season they try never to stray far from that painful journey.
      Avoiding the ‘things of this world’ helps, as does more time spent in prayer and reflection on the suffering of Our Lord. ‘Painful’ but merciful is this time of reflection, much needed, and able to yield the grace of real spiritual fruit.

      “Our fallen human nature, that which tries to engulf the still small voice of faith within us, runs from the reality of our finite being, and searches the heavens and the earth for a false utopia in man-made immortality.
      We run from suffering, inevitable suffering, seeking fleeting happiness in search of ultimate meaning in passing things.
      Instead, we should stop, sit, and listen.
      For only within our isolation and suffering will we taste of the joy of humility, and hear the faint cry of our innocence crying for the Lord of our salvation.”

      (from a Lenten reflection by Thomas Yanoti)

      • Thank you for that, Christiane. Very profound and captures the essence of Chaplain Mike’s post.

    • Rick Ro. says

      ->”I would love to hear some stories about how Christians today successfully loving sinners without condoning their sin.”

      Everyone’s a sinner, right? So why bring sin into it? I’m either successfully loving people or I’m not. It occurs to me that sin shouldn’t be a part of “love” equation. Taking that thought a step further, it seems to me that we tend to make only selected, specific sins a part of the “love” equation and ignore the rest. For example, I don’t hear Christians talking about “love the sinner, hate the sin” regarding obese people and their “gluttony.” When was the last time someone sat with a friend and called them selfish and prideful, “but I love you anyway”…?

      Maybe it’s time we treat all sinners equally, and just love them.

      • +1

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > Everyone’s a sinner, right? So why bring sin into it?


        > Maybe it’s time we treat all sinners equally, and just love them.

        And Love is the best `answer` to sin. Sin is something the sinner himself or herself much deal with. And Love is the best encouragement to do so.

      • Good thoughts Rick. We need to recognize that we are ALL infected with the same sin disease, so that should bring compassion. We are all unclean. The hard part comes when the sin of others results in injustice in the form of persecution, violence and murder. Jesus help us to imitate You.

      • “Everyone’s a sinner, right? So why bring sin into it?”

        Ok, the pedophile, too? Wouldn’t you want him in jail?

        Wouldn’t you all agree that love also includes basic justice for those who are sinned against so horribly?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > Ok, the pedophile, too? Wouldn’t you want him in jail?

          For the prevention of further harm. That is the purpose of incarceration.

          > Wouldn’t you all agree that love also includes basic justice for
          > those who are sinned against so horribly?

          You have now left the domain of the church community and entered the civil space. There, my answer is no. Retributive justice is both pointless and recuperatively ineffective.

        • Rick Ro. says

          I see what you’re saying. I guess I see the two differently, or maybe one is a symptom of the other. Sin (such as greed) might lead to something needing justice (like a bank robbery), but I should be careful showing judgment over a person’s greed. Does that make sense?

    • I think I should have used some examples.

      1. how about a sin that is considered ok by the society at large – say, sexual sin. Let’s say a co-habitating couple visits your church and starts attending. At the time they have no intent to marry. And the congregation loves on them and they feel included and loved. Does their sin ever come up? Do they ever find out that they are not living according to God’s will? When that happens do they feel shocked and betrayed? Perhaps it only comes up when they want to further their commitment – membership, leading a small group, etc.

      2. and let’s bring up sin where people are loved and the sin not only isn’t hated but actually tolerated in the church – gluttony. I’m glad Rick brought it up above. Has anyone seen it addressed in their church? How did it happen?

      So how do those dynamics actually play out? It is easier to deal with when the sins involved are immediately destructive to others and self (alcoholism, violence). What about the ones that are not? We’ve all seen attempts to address sin handled badly by the church. What does it look like when those attempts are handled well. (Esp. w/regard to Aidan Clevinger’s point #2 below?)

      • cermak_rd says

        I would say an easy way to answer #1 would be that the membership requirements would mention the accepted range of partner arrangements for membership.

        I would say that 2 can’t be dealt with unless there is actual evidence of gluttony other than simple obesity. Obesity can have a genetic component, it can also have deep psychological roots, it can be affected by income (generally foods that aren’t all that good for you are cheaper than healthier alternatives0, it can be caused by lack of exercise (tell a 45 year old woman with arthritis that she has to exercise for an hour a day to lose weight, oh and she can’t afford a gym membership so she can use equipment that’ll make it easier on her). It can be affected by drugs (e.g. anti-depressants can cause weight gain).

        If the sin is not destructive to others or self, then what is the emergency to deal with it as a congregation? Shouldn’t that be something the individual(s) work on as a result of encounter with the Divine?

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Modify Example 1 to a married couple, both on their second marriages following divorces. If the church in question still considers divorce to be illegitimate, how does it respond to this couple, both in theory and in practice? If the church in question does not consider divorce to be illegitimate, why is this?

          As for Example 2, let us separate gluttony from obesity: Let us suppose that what is observed is not a physical characteristic, but a behavior such as going back for a third dessert at a church supper.

      • I can give you a practical example; At present I am working with/friends with a man who is (was?) emotionally abusive to his wife and kids. He is a large intimidating man who doesn’t lay a hand on the wife or kids but will shout, glare, curse at, get in the face of, and intimidate them. He used to do this a lot. For a few years now I have been his friend. We get together for breakfast and hang out every once in a while. I don’t usually bring anything up unless he opens up to me first. Over the course of our friendship I have been able to encourage him to get into Christian counseling and agree to start taking the meds proscribed to control his moods as well as move out of the house at his wife’s request. He knows where I stand on things but not because I shove it in his face. He actually asks me quite a lot what the right thing to do is and I tell him plainly. Actions do speak louder than words, but that doesn’t mean that words aren’t some times necessary.

        • Rick Ro. says

          Excellent practical application! Thanks for sharing that!

        • I like this approach. On the other hand, the voices in my head from my past say you are condoning sin and letting him continue in sin. And since he’s in sin, he’s probably not saved to begin with.

          • Rick Ro. says

            ->”And since he’s in sin, he’s probably not saved to begin with.”

            LOL. Yes! And we must circle the wagons, boys, to make sure he doesn’t enter “our” Kingdom of God!

          • Stuart- I don’t see it as condoning or letting him continue, I’m just choosing to be wise on when I address things. People are more receptive that way. About him being “saved,” maybe he isn’t since he only joined church some 20 years ago because his wife required it. That is another thing I have been able to talk with him about; Not following Jesus so she will take him back, but following Jesus because he chooses to follow Jesus. Only he and God really know what the relationship between them is.

    • David Cornwell says

      “I would love to hear some stories about how Christians today successfully loving sinners without condoning their sin. It just seems like the tension will eventually come up.”

      I’m afraid to even attempt to answer that question, because I’m not sure what end of that dynamic I find myself. I live among sinners because I am one. It’s when we claim to “have no sin” that we call down judgment on ourselves, not the other person. When I look at another with disgust and loathing, if I just look a little further I see myself.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        “I live among sinners because I am one.”

        Well, yes. But isn’t it interesting how that often gets set aside when the discussion is someone else’s sin? Or how, if it is addressed, it so often turns out that the speaker’s sin is one of the OK sins, while that other person’s sin is one of the unacceptable sins? Or how this can even turn into an opportunity for bragging? “Yes, I too am a sinner. Sometimes I am cranky before my first cup of coffee!”

        • A brother who had sinned was turned out of the church by the priest. Abba
          Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, “I, too, am a sinner.”

          One day Abba Isaac went to a monastery. He saw a brother committing a sin
          and he condemned him. When he returned to the desert, an angel of the Lord came
          and stood in front of the door of his cell, and said, “I will not let you
          enter.” But he persisted saying, “What is the matter?” And the angel
          replied, “God has sent me to ask you where you want to throw the guilty
          brother whom you have condemned.” Immediately he repented and said, “I have
          sinned, forgive me.” Then the angel said, “Get up, God has forgiven you.
          But from now on, be careful not to judge someone before God has done so.”

          To uproot sin and the evil that is so imbedded in our sinning can
          be done only by divine power, for it is impossible and outside man’s
          competence to uproot sin. To struggle, yes, to continue to fight, to
          inflict blows, and to receive setbacks is in your power. To uproot,
          however, belongs to God alone. If you could have done it on your own,
          what would have been the need for the coming of the Lord? For just as
          an eye cannot see without light, nor can one speak without a tongue,
          nor hear without ears, nor walk without feet, nor carry on works without
          hands, so you cannot be saved without Jesus nor enter into the
          Kingdom of Heaven.

          St, Macarius, Homily 3.4

          If any of them committed a fault, many of the brothers would seek his
          permission to take the matter to the abbot and to accept both the
          responsibility and the punishment. When the great man found out that his
          disciples did this, he inflicted easier punishments, in the knowledge that
          the one punished was actually innocent. And he made no effort to discover the
          real culprit.

          St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 4

          Abba Anthony said, ‘I saw the snares that the enemy
          spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can
          get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying
          to me, “Humility.”‘

          A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was
          called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to
          go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come,
          for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He
          took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with
          him. The others came out to meet him and said to him,
          ‘What is this, Father?’ The old man said to them, ‘my sins ran
          out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am
          coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that
          they said no more to the brother but forgave him.

    • I have a friend who does not believe in the gay lifestyle and would say that it is sin.
      She is involved in a group combatting sexual exploitation of youth. She says that it means ALL youth, including gays.

      Some of those she works with know she is Christian. She tells of being in a group once and someone starting to rag on Christians about their stance and she said ‘hold it – thats my people…’ the person backs off and says ‘Oh Jacqueline – thats OK, we know you are not like that’

      I have another friend who led a protest at his school about the way gays were being treated (this would be almost 30 years), he is a Christian and does not believe in the lifestyle.

  4. Aidan Clevinger says

    Chaplain Mike,

    I think that you make some good points here in regard to the inclusionary nature of love and mercy, but I feel like there are two things that don’t quite make sense to me still:

    1. If mercy is what Jesus is about, and is intrinsically superior to sacrifice, then why did Jesus offer Himself up as a sacrifice *in order* to accomplish mercy? Regardless of how we understand that (I’m very traditionally Lutheran on this, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment), doesn’t it indicate that mercy acts through sacrifice, and through the gift of holiness? On a smaller, though still crucial note, how can we say that Israel’s sacrificial-centric covenant is a negative thing when God Himself is the one who established it, and established it specifically in order to bring about the forgiveness of sins through faith in the coming Messiah who was typified in the sacrificial system?

    2. I agree entirely that love is inclusionary. But doesn’t God still hate sin? If not, why did He “condemn sin” in the flesh of Christ? (Romans 8) Why is His wrath coming to purge it from the earth? (Matthew 3) Even if one doesn’t believe that God hates sin as something that’s intrinsically evil and different from His holiness, it seems like we have to at least say that He hates it because of the destruction it causes to His beloved creations. So it seems like God, at least, hates the sin and loves the sinner. Shouldn’t we do so for ourselves, also? Hate what is evil within us, while still believing in Christ, giving thanks to the Spirit, and hoping for our salvation? Why is it such a stretch to believe that Christians can or ought to do the same for others, especially with all the NT condemnations of sin in both believers and unbelievers?

    • Volkmar (aka Tom) says

      Aidan C,

      Regarding your item #1;

      Beck addresses that issue by saying that sacrifice/holiness is necessary in me so that I am in a position to be useful to those who I try to love. Therefore, “holiness” is empowerment/equiping/enablement to be loving.

      Good discussion here —-> http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2012/07/streaming-part-2-hospitality-holiness.html

    • Perhaps one answer is to see the difference between requiring sacrifice of others (purity, holiness, cleanness) before they are accepted rather than Jesus’ approach (which should also be ours) — exercising mercy, which involves me making the sacrifice by laying down my life for their benefit.

  5. C.M., should we not hate cancer? Are not sins ultimately a cancer?

    • Seneca, here is an example Beck gives that is quite striking:

      St. Catherine of Sienna, when she felt revulsion from the wounds she was tending bitterly reproached herself. Sound hygiene was incompatible with charity, so she deliberately drank a bowl of puss. (Mary Douglas)

      The point is that “hating the sin” (as we hate cancer, puss, etc.) inevitably stands in the way of exercising mercy. Mercy must triumph over judgment, not be held in tension with it.

      • Good point, but there goes lunch.

      • Horse patoots CM.
        See my above story

      • Apologies in advance to my Catholic brothers and sisters, but St. Catherine of Sienna sounds like a person ridden with false guilt who let it drive her to do something down-right stupid. And, CM, you seem hung up on this whole “revulsion toward sin” thing to the point that I am beginning to wonder if you aren’t being driven by some false sense of guilt yourself.

        This idea of conditioning ourselves to accept the disgusting is wrong-headed. Conditioning isn’t love, it is just developing a numbness toward what should be disgusting. It is normal and even right to feel revulsion toward sin. It is how we respond next that matters. Will we respond with rejection toward the person, or will we respond with Christ’s supernatural love. Christ’s love goes beyond conditioning or numbness and can accomplish supernatural things in their life and ours.

        • “And, CM, you seem hung up on this whole “revulsion toward sin” thing…”

          Because it is so obviously hindering the church’s mission.

          Because people are not self-aware enough to understand how they come to many of their theological positions.

          Because the world we are living in will, in many ways, become more and more uncomfortable for Christian people and IMO we are poorly prepared to be Christlike and missional in it.

          I hope to contribute some specific, down-to-earth examples later, when I am not confined to typing on my phone.

    • cermak_rd says

      Isn’t this a difference between hating cancer in yourself and hating cancer in others? Or treating others as cancer?

    • Actually, I think cancer is a pretty good metaphor for sin. It’s a “soul killer.” Several things come to mind when I look I examine it from the “cancer” angle, though:

      1) “Hating cancer” does nothing to cure the disease. Likewise, “hate the sin” does nothing to cure it. As my sister-in-law lay dying of breast cancer earlier this year, I could cry out “I hate your cancer!” all I wanted, but it provided no relief and no remission. Sin does not go away just because we hate it. So why shout out about it.

      2) Cancer doesn’t inflict everyone; sin does. Similar to something I posted earlier today, we ALL have the cancer of sin. So for me to harp on someone else’s cancer ignores the fact that I have cancer, too. I drift toward hypocrisy when I point out how much I love someone, but how much I hate their sin. I hate my OWN sin!

      3) Jesus WAS without “cancer,” the only person to walk this earth in cancer-less condition. In my mind, he’s the only one with a right to walk up to someone and say, “Go and sin no more.” (This idea is brought up in the article/book.)

      4) I think it’s important, too, to remember Jesus is the cure, not us. I think we have this presumption that if we point out people’s sin, they’ll realize the need to be cured. But unlike cancer, which wreaks havoc on the body, sin is an unseen killer. It requires belief in a Holy God and sinful man/woman. It requires a belief that a soul is being destroyed by it. Heck, it even requires a belief that sin is “cancerous.” It seems to me a more loving way of approaching the cancer of sin would be to just describe how Jesus has helped us in OUR cancer treatments, and that even though the cancer of sin will eventually kill us, Jesus has cured us. Then just let the Holy Spirit work.

  6. Robert F says

    “The boundary of the self is extended to include the other.”

    If this is true, then all love is self love, and the only distinction to be made is between a narrow and or wide narcissism. In fact, this extending of boundaries can be seen as a form of appropriation of the other, and expansion of the self.

    This is not the “I and Thou” of monotheism, where the boundary between self and other does not dissolve but is embraced by loving relationship; this is the the “I am that” of pantheistic metaphysics, where boundaries do dissolve and I’m not asked to love the “other” but to become the “other,” or recognize that I am the already the “other.”

    • Robert F says

      It seems to me that love for the other can only really be possible where the otherness of the other is respected, and not subsumed under my self-interest. Where the boundary of the self is truly extended to include the other, the other ceases to exist as other, and love for the other becomes impossible. Where the boundary between the self and the other is permeated with love, it continues to exist, but is transformed and redeemed, no longer being an occasion for hate or antagonism but for the celebration of differentiation and distinction, and the multiplicity that we see in all of creation.

      • Robert, I think you are reading too much into Beck’s words about love here. In context he is speaking about how we normally protect our embodied selves. There are core “disgust” issues with regard to our bodies involved in relating to others — how much space we allow between us, how much contact, etc. Those we love are allowed closer contact while those we suspect or reject must keep their distance.

        • Robert F says

          “The boundary of the self is extended to include the other. The very word intimacy conjures the sense of a small, shared space.”

          But, CM, Beck is talking about the self in the quote above, not just its bodily aspect. In addition, just before that you wrote :

          “Love, on the other hand, is about embracing, not excluding. Love is an inclusionary, receptive impulse. In the marital bed, for example, two become one flesh; that is, persons share the closest possible connections with each other’s bodies. One allows access within the most personal of boundaries so that one’s lover might enjoy intimate contact and sharing.

          Indeed, this is the essence of all genuine love.”

          You emphasize the word “all,” and you use marital sexuality as an example illustrating what all love is like, and you seem to be making a point about not only human to human love, but divine to human love, since your statement is all-inclusive.

          I think this is an inadequate definition of love, even if we are just speaking about its embodied aspect. To speak as delicately as I can about this matter from a personal perspective, in marital love-making, boundaries move and are transformed, yes, but the dynamic is complicated, and not infrequently the sense of self becomes even more defined and enhanced than it normally is. Love-making can inflate the sense of self in ways that overstep boundaries, and its important to have a good sense of boundaries if love-making is what one is intent on doing.

          On the other hand, physical closeness and sexuality, inviting someone into close, intimate proximity with one’s body, can also obviously be done in a casual and selfish way. Disgust is totally absent, and physical closeness is established in the extreme, but no love is involved, and the other self is hardly even considered except as an instrumentality to one’s own pleasure and satisfaction. Nothing truly personal is involved, and physical boundaries are passed over while boundaries of self are solid as the Great Wall of China.

          There is a disconnect in the way Beck is imaging this, and it doesn’t stand up to the test of experience.

          • I think you are making too much of this, Robert, or, at least taking things in a direction that wasn’t intended by either Beck (who uses the word “example”) or CM.

            Maybe take a look at Beck’s blog post on this topic, or read his book, or…?

          • You need to read it in context, Robert. He’s really just making a simple point about the “boundary” of the body that is opened up, whether through closer proximity to friends or in intimacy to lovers.

            Perhaps I overstated it or gave a wrong impression. In any case, the main idea is that when we love, we let others in while the psychology of disgust keeps others out.

          • Should be “posts.”

          • CM – no, I don’t think you mis- or overstated anything. At least, I didn’t get the impression that Robert did.

          • Robert F says

            I do think there is an element of generalization in the post about love and the self that certainly was confusing to me. What Beck is saying about disgust and its relationship to moral judgement would be more clearly expressed without any of the generalizations.

            If the point you and Beck are making is merely that our moral judgement of others is often accompanied by a fear of contagion expressed as disgust, I find that self-evident. But I think fear is the primary problem, not disgust. In fact, I think the fear masquerades as disgust in this psychological dynamic, because disgust tends to give the illusion of empowering the one experiencing it, while fear makes one feel vulnerable.

          • Robert F says

            In regard to the sexual practices of homosexuality, what many heterosexuals (particularly men) have feared is exposure to a contagion that would strip them of their power and privilege. Disgust is a psychological strategy for making that fear acceptable to the one who feels it by interpreting it as a form of power.

  7. What I’ve read seems to a condemnation on how the church has not loved the sinner. If we are repulsed and “do not touch” then we have not been following the examples of Jesus. We must contact, feed, clothe, tend etc. the people around us created in God’s image. We must embrace them.

    At the same time, however, we must not embrace sin. As believers we must hate sin in our lives and choose to live righteously. We must hate sin but interpret that as “hate other people’s sin.” The statement “hate sin, love the sinner” if not found in scripture. If we hate our sin and live by the motto “love people” we can keep what Jesus identified as the greatest commandment.

    I have only seen what is in this post and obviously not read the book, but there must be some aspect of regarding sin that he doesn’t seem to address.

  8. We must hate sin but NOT interpret that as “hate other people’s sin.” I messed up the most important sentence in that whole comment.

    • Well, I HATE the sin of pedophiles because of the life long damage it inflicts on innocents.

      • Rick Ro. says

        As I stated in response to Martin elsewhere, I’m not sure the sin is “pedophilia.” The sin might be lust, leading to pediophilia. Yes, we must demand justice for people who break the law, but judging somone’s “lust” is a very difficult thing to do. Just thinking sorta outloud there.

  9. The matter we are considering today hinges on desire. But make no mistake. It doesn’t dissolve the paradox. The paradox stands as Christian. You think the cross was the desire of the Pharisees, the Sadducees. God told Abraham to kill his son. Is it possible for a father to kill an only son and that family be a great kingdom? I don’t think you can be a Christian and not see mercy and sacrifice together. I don’t deny the paradox.
    And on the matter of paradox….The law is holy, don’t judge(faith); love one’s life, be willing to lose one’s life( courage), One can hardly think too little of oneself, one can hardly think too highly of one’s soul(humility); Respect for others, creation, disrespect for totalitarian (justice); One can’t step in the same river twice, one’s commitments are forever( purity of heart); Be still, do what is right(peacemakers)…all inspired by the beatitudes.
    I think love the sinner, hate the sin is a paradox that is in the caritas(Latin) realm. The word caritas has been translated in many ways. It is well remembered that its opposite deadly sin is greed. It’s easy for us to think of desire and greed. But make no mistake, caritas also hinges on desire. Blessed are those who are gentle when it comes to desire, they will inherit the earth.
    There is no doubt that Israel was big on sacrifice. They sought purity, even in clothing, no mixing of the fabrics. Christianity is a mix. Jesus is a mix. God and you is a mix. You can’t take the paradox out of Christianity. I don’t disagree on seeing mercy overshadowing sacrifice on Calgary. But they are both there.

  10. The problem with this kind of consideration is that the postulates formed are done so, conveniently isolated from other Words and acts of Jesus such as the rebuke of Jesus toward the Pharisees and turning over of the tables which were, indeed, boundaries being reinforced.

    I believe, as noted, it is situationally or contextually apparent and not an unqualified ruling principle.

    • Alex, what I did not develop in the post, but which Beck notes, is that this tension between sacrifice and mercy is a long-standing tension within the OT – the priestly perspective vs. the prophetic tradition. This is not simply situational. This reflects a debate within Judaism itself and a tension throughout the entire Bible which is only ultimately resolved in the person of Jesus himself.

  11. Michael Z says

    This probably get mentioned later in the book, but on the cross Jesus becomes “both victim and priest”: he is the sacrificial offering and is also the one offering the sacrifice. That in itself can be seen as an act of reconciliation and mercy. And it was also, of course, an abolishment of the sacrificial system, because now that Christ has made the perfect sacrifice, no further sacrifices are necessary. In that light, Christ’s death, although it can be viewed as acting in accordance with the sacrificial system, could also be viewed as a subversion and overturning of it.

  12. In yesterday’s homily (the texts were Hebrews 9:11ff and John 8:46ff) my rector discussed the difference in how we ought to exercise that “prophetic” office when dealing with those who name the name of Christ versus those who do not. When it comes to fellow Christians, he said, we ought to be holding each other accountable to live the lives of holiness that the Scriptures (including the NT) command for God’s people. But when dealing with unbelievers we simply ought to be their friends and show Christ’s love.

    I was reminded of a discussion I was part of that was about faith alone vs. some sort of mingling. Here’s what I said about when as a pastor I need to show grace versus when I need to give a kick in the pants:

    I tend to be pretty eclectic in my studies and am much more of a pastor than a theologian. Where I’ve seen the separation between justification and sanctification to be helpful is when you have people who’ve been misled to think that Christianity is all about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, perverting the faith into what some friends of mine have called “therapeutic moral deism.” How you know you’ve reached this point is when your focus is on your performance of the rules rather than on God. This path leads to either despair (when it all falls apart) or to arrogance and self-righteousness. This was the sin of the Pharisees, a sin toward which I’m all too inclined. Folks like this need to hear St. Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

    On the other hand, there’s a tendency for us to be lazy in the faith, whether it’s going through the liturgical/sacramental motions with stony hearts so that we can “get credit” for our Sunday obligation and then go on living however we want, or whether it’s ignoring our “bounden duty” to live lives of holiness and just presuming upon Christ’s grace. Folks like this need to hear St. James’s admonition that Tiffany is talking about: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? . . Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

    To me this is where the “Third use of the Law” is very important. Now, I know that there are a lot of folks here that don’t buy into a “third use,” and see it as a violation of the sharp Grace/Law dichotomy that is under some of our theological assumptions. But, really, I think that ignoring these things is simply being unfaithful to the Scriptures. I don’t see how we can toss aside the NT’s call to holiness any more than we could toss aside the NT’s emphasis on God’s grace and mercy.

  13. That’s one of our problems…that we don’t hate sin. Recognize sin. Resist sin.

    We have become our own little gods who know best how to run our lives.

    We are caught in sin. Bound in it. Every last one of us.

    • But we do, Steve. In others. Nothing in this post is about dealing with our own sins like you are talking about, except for those sins of failing to love others. Beck’s point is that our natural revulsion toward the sin of others keeps us from loving them.

      Please do not make this post about Lutheran theology and points you want to make about that. Respond to what the post actually says.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Please do not make this post about Lutheran theology and points you want to make about that. Respond to what the post actually says.

        CM, I think this guy’s a cage-phase Lutheran to whom EVERYTHING is about Lutheran Theology.

    • On the other hand, is it possible that we confuse sin with evil? Do we make too big a deal about sin and not enough about evil? Do most people realize the difference between the two?

    • I’m a grace guy. I’m hardly a perfectionist. But I do believe that the Spirit graciously works to transform us more and more into the likeness of Jesus. And I think our will is a big part of the process.

      So when I hear the constant, consistent cry of “we’re all bound,” it hurts my heart. There’s more hope in the gospel than that.

  14. Love, on the other hand, is about embracing, not excluding. Love is an inclusionary, receptive impulse. In the marital bed, for example, two become one flesh; that is, persons share the closest possible connections with each other’s bodies. One allows access within the most personal of boundaries so that one’s lover might enjoy intimate contact and sharing.
    Indeed, this is the essence of all genuine love. As Beck writes:
    The boundary of the self is extended to include the other. The very word intimacy conjures the sense of a small, shared space. We also describe relationships in terms of proximity and distance. Those we love are “close” to us.

    Whether this is Dr. Beck speaking or Chaplain Mike agreeing and amplifying with Dr. Beck I cannot discern, but
    that either of them is suggesting that the boundaries of our inclusiveness become so permeable that we invite the whole created cosmos into our marital bed.

    There are some places where the Other is not welcome.

    Resolving the problem of the One and the Many is difficult enough even if your theology is Trinitarian. For a species whose deep-historical solution to the problem of the Other is genocide, even slavery has to be seen as moral progress. The only power capable of sustaining the kind of absolute-Unity-In-absolute-Diversity that obtains in the perichoreisis of the Trinity is love; ecstatic, self-forgetting, self-sacrificial love. “Tolerance”, even “Affirmation”, is to that as the flash of a lightning bug is to the dawn.

    Every sin is between a sinner and a confessor. It is really and truly Not. My. Business. My anger, and it is probably confessable anger, and sin, is not so much with the sinner or the sin, but with those who want to loosen the bands and accommodate the sin.. Even worse are those who agitate our passions to manipulate us and make commerce with them. No wonder the Islamic world sees us as the Great Satan.

    Jesus could afford to be cavalier with sin because He didn’t have an internal Quisling, an inner Benedict Arnold screaming in His ear to throw down His weapons and join the camp of the Adversary. This is a real struggle for me, and causes me some real distress. Both lupus and AIDS will kill you. i need more than Dr. Beck’s “don’t be a Pgharisee, be like me-e-e-e-e-e!”

  15. Al Rider says

    There is one point where I see things differently. Chaplain Mike’s diagnosis toward the end of his review: “The other stories in Matthew 9 may clue us in on how Jesus could take this position. For example, when he was touched by an unclean woman with an issue of blood, contact with Jesus did not render him unclean. Rather, the contact cleansed and healed her.”

    I would respectfully disagree… I believe (along with Martin Luther himself) that a “great exchange” took place in Jesus-contacts like that: Yes the woman with the issue of blood and the sick and disabled people all became “clean” by virtue of their contact with Jesus. But at the same time, Jesus accepted their “uncleanness” into himself and into the heart of God with that same touch. That’s what got the Pharisees so riled up about Jesus: They were upset with him: he was a prophet who embraced human un-cleanness, who wasn’t afraid of it. They wanted to stay clean and pure, Jesus had no problem with being unclean himself if by doing so he could bring clean-ness to sinners.

    Which is precisely what took him to the cross: That’s where he totally accepted the consequences of human un-cleanness, and of course he was “nailed” there by the same proud people who hated the sinners and the un-cleanness. What killed Jesus was our human desire to be more “clean” than God. Which was the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden: They already had everything, but wanted even more than that. The mystery of redemption is Jesus’ “Great Exchange” (Luther’s term, not mine…): God absorbing our uncleanness so we can be clean.

    • I don’t think we disagree Al. I think you just took the analysis further.

      What you have described is the “mercy” Jesus is talking about, which triumphs over judgment (sacrifice). Rather than requiring sacrifice from the other, Jesus laid down his life in sacrificial love, taking to himself the judgment (or the uncleanness, as you said). To love like Jesus then, is to do the same. Not to require sacrifice of the neighbor, but to sacrifice ourselves for them. Not to let our natural revulsion to sin cause us to separate from them, but rather to embrace them and absorb their sin into ourselves through love.

      • No.

        I think you’re wrong. I think it is complicated.

        You make the kind of love necessary to overcome disgust sound as if it were easy to acquire, like learning to fight down a gag reflex with broccoli.

        The Roman Church is right to call charity like this heroic. It is very singular. I don’t think you could build public policy initiatives on this impulse.

        I have very little trouble getting close to individual sinners. I can always find some point of contact. They are human, and their sin is Not. My. Business, remember? But I reserve my right to be disgusted with sin in the abstract, and to be angry with the devils that are attempting to use us to incarnate their desires.

        • This was meant to be above, but it fits well here too.

        • Mule, we’re talking past each other. I’m just saying Beck’s point was a rather simple one involving physical proximity.

          • The zone around my body where I start feeling irritable and defensive if someone is standing there is much larger than it is for men in my wife’s country. Talking to Latin American men in a way that makes them feel comfortable the conscious suppression of a “disgust reflex” on my part.

            If I’m in his country, I play by his rules and lean in, vigorously suppressing my body which is telling me that this zone is either for kissing or fighting.

            Yes, I will admit that Dr. Beck is right. People we love get privileged access. Maybe his point was purely descriptive, with no hint of prescription. If so, I apologize.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          …the devils that are attempting to use us to incarnate their desires.

          Is that some sort of EO thing?

          • Could come from early desert (etc.) asceticism, though I’m sure that could be many other possible sources. I have looked briefly at some material from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America that, among other things, strongly suggests that people *not* fixate on these kinds of ideas. How that affects the popular imagination is another thing entirely. (Looks like there’s a very balanced view of the need for exorcisms and such, though – very practical and down to eat, jot sensationalized in any way, which I like.)

          • Err, practical and down to earth, not sensationalized…

            Oh, autocorrect!

          • Could well come from various parts of the Philokalia as well…

  16. I think you’re making the mistake of reading your own interpretation into the phrase “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” Every time I have heard it publically used it was used to mean something very similar to what you said here:

    “Jesus consistently shows the way of love, not separation. He welcomes sinners into his presence. He disregards established rules of segregation. He lets himself be touched and he reaches out to touch the unclean. And what Jesus touches becomes clean.”

    Love the sinner means crossing the very real line between clean and unclean in order to reach out to sinners. But “hate the sin” is a vital component and we hate sin because it destroys the sinner and effects those all around. If it doesn’t then why bother with the Gospel? If sin isn’t destructive then “I’m OK, you’re OK” which requires no Gospel at all.

    • Ah but it too often ends up with judgment (sacrifice) triumphing over mercy rather than vice versa. We may initiate contact with the sinner but over time, if said sinner does not become “clean” our mercy finds its limit.

      • So people fail. That doesn’t make the words untrue.

      • Daryl Wheeler says

        I have worked my entire adult life in the criminal justice system, 25 years as a probation/parole officer and the last 9 years as director of a community corrections program so I have some experience with sin and sinners. As a probation/parole officer I was expected (whether I was Christian or atheist) to treat all my clients and potential clients, their families, friends, relatives, para mores, significant others, partners etc. with the decency and respect any human being deserves. Didn’t matter whether I was sitting down in a jail cell to interview someone charge with the most heinous capitol offense, a serial pedophile or just stealing to support his drug habit. I was never asked to condone what they had done or ignore it or overlook it, but as persons they were not to be defined by what they had done. I was expected to work with those who ended up in my caseload to change their behavior. You can’t change behavior by ignoring it. If I was expected to do this as a professional I don’t know why it is thought to be so hard for Christians to do.

        My job also required the arrest and imprisonment of clients who crossed the line or failed to change. As Christians acting out of love we perhaps have the same responsibility to our fellow sinners. If Christian love involves desiring what is best for someone then there are going to be times when I have done all I can do. I would argue that continuing to “help” becomes enabling. I don’t want to enable them to continue in their sin.

        Making those decisions is not easy.

        If I am not to “hate sin” what attitude am I to have toward it? Am I to condone it? Ignore it? Hating sin and loving sinners is not impossible, it really isn’t even all that difficult with the right mindset about which is which. My experiences have made me infinitely more aware of “but for the grace of God….”.

        • Darryl, one of the problems in this discussion is that we are talking on multiple levels. Many of the the responses today reflect an individual mindset – Can I, as an individual, hate sin and love the sinner? Beck’s main concern is for churches and the struggles they have with being missional. As I said in another comment, this brings a host of other dynamics into play.

          Now you work for an institution that requires you to behave in a certain way or you will lose your job. You have been able to fit in with that (though I’m sure others would find that nearly impossible, given the “disgust” they would have to contend with within themselves).

          Transfer this to the church and you might see the almost overwhelming difficulty of getting people engaged in mission to a variety of people and groups.

          • Daryl Wheeler says

            I understand your point. It may be unrealistic to expect everyone within a church to accomplish this at the same level. It requires a certain amount of compartmentalization of ones feelings in order to carry out a job (mission). Doctors, nurses, policemen, firemen, paramedics and even lawyers must do this. Some more successfully than others and none without it taking a toll and needing support. It may be that some in the church take on this task while others simply wait, pray and support them. Paul said we all have a roll to play, he didn’t say we all have to play the same roll. The Body of Christ is limited if it only has feet or only has hands. Just a thought, I claim no credentials as a theologian.

        • Daryl- Great perspective!

    • cermak_rd says

      “I’m OK, you’re OK” works really well for running a society as long as neither of the two is a threat to others (i.e. active alcoholism, drugs dependence, violence, etc.) It implies by its statement that I am to accept you as OK with all your human foibles, and you are to accept me as OK despite all my human foibles and we can get on and work together for the greater cause.

      To be honest, this (I’m OK you’re OK) is the way my shul operates. Because we are Reform, we extend each other the autonomy to live our lives. If you breach Torah in a way that negatively affects others, say by cheating your workers or battering your spouse, then you’ll be criticized by the membership and probably taken aside by the Rabbi to talk over your issues privately.

      True this requires no Gospel at all, but on the other hand, if one has no concerns of Heaven or Hell, then it’s not a bad way to live peacefully with other humans.

      • From the perspective of politics and secular society, we agree 100%. Politically I am a libertarian and I realize that I can’t claim any rights that I am not willing to offer to everyone else. Live and let live, so long as you aren’t hurting others. Everyone get to choose their own past.

        But this isn’t politics we are talking about, this is Christianity. This isn’t about secular society getting along with all her diversity of belief, this is about what we believe please God.

        • cermak_rd says

          True, like I said, if one has no concerns of Heaven or Hell, it’s a good way to live peacefully. Christians, usually, however, do have concerns of Heaven and Hell. And the Pauline epistles pretty much rule out the autonomy of Reform Judaism.

          What to do then when secular society offers acceptance and Christianity doesn’t. Which will be more appealing to those who crave acceptance?

          • “What to do then when secular society offers acceptance and Christianity doesn’t.”

            The obvious answer is that they will reject (or in some cases *modify*) Christianity because they crave acceptance. But acceptance isn’t the highest good and so it shouldn’t be pandered to. If someone is hurting themselves then you aren’t doing them a favor by telling them it is OK to continue.

            Jesus truly is a “stone of stumbling” because we have to humbly admit He is right and we are wrong so that we can receive grace and forgiveness.

          • Final Anonymous says

            Hmm, I would disagree; I think acceptance is very high on the “good” scale. That would be the next step after “inclusion,” I imagine.

      • “I’m not okay, you’re not okay, but that’s okay,” for those of us lost in painful imperfection.

  17. Oops. “Everyone get to choose their own past.” should read “Everyone gets to choose their own path.”

    Only Dr. Who can choose his own past.

    • WOW. I’m making all kinds of mistakes today. This was supposed to be appended to my response to cermak_rd

      • Rick Ro. says


        • but I hope you still love me 🙂

          • Rick Ro. says

            I do. But go and sin no more.

          • “But go and sin no more.”

            Fat chance…..

          • Fat chance indeed. Jesus says go and sin no more, which we want to obey. Then we read this from John:

            “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

  18. “Hate the Sin/Love the Sinner”?

    Psalm 139:21 Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
    22 I hate them with the utmost hatred;
    They have become my enemies.

    • Rick Ro. says

      I’m not sure this Psalm applies to the “hate the sin/love the sinner” idea. I think this Psalm is talking about something other than sin, for while sin separates us from God, I don’t think it means we “hate” God and I think it’s a stretch to equate “sin” with “hatred of God.” (I know lots of people, in fact, who love the Lord, but still sin. Everyone in my church, actually, including me.)

      Am I missing the point you were trying to make, Eric?

    • Have I not pisseth against the wall for thee, Lord?

  19. It is striking to me how clear the command to hate sin and love sinners comes across in Scripture:

    “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”–Romans 12:9

    “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”

    In both contexts where hatred is explicitly commanded of us, love is also commanded.

    “Hate the sin, love the sinner” makes sense only if it is possible to separate a person from his or her sin. Is that possible? If it isn’t, then there is no gospel.

    • Yes, but…

      The elephant in the room that no one has addressed is the reality that lies at the heart of Beck’s argument: the psychology of disgust. “Hate the sin means more than simply a principled opposition, a doctrinal stance, a religious commitment. “Hate the sin” carries with it a lot of visceral, emotional and psychological baggage. And when we are talking about how Christian communities function and not just individuals, we are also talking about group dynamics and peer pressure and institutionalized expectations. “Hate the sin” and “love the sinner” cannot be so easily distinguished and kept separate under the force of such pressures.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The elephant in the room that no one has addressed is the reality that lies at the heart of Beck’s argument: the psychology of disgust. “Hate the sin means more than simply a principled opposition, a doctrinal stance, a religious commitment. “Hate the sin” carries with it a lot of visceral, emotional and psychological baggage.

        Wasn’t there a recent Christians-vs-Homosexuals posting (either here or one of the other linked blogs) about the gag reflex factor? Involving either Franklin Graham or Thywati Anawible(sp?)?

      • OK… read through all the comments to try and get this to soak in a bit…

        Seems to me we talk here sometimes very idealistically. To me it sounds like relativism. Everything is OK. I’ve read also here that Love the Sinner hate the sin doesn’t work. I guess that depends, doesn’t it?

        I have a friend who had a wife and three young boys. He didn’t want to grow. He stated she knew what he was like before he married her. He stated she was slightly overweight and this was not appealing to him. He found a girl 18 years his junior. He paraded her to the community. His wife finally had enough. I still consider this guy my friend. But I want to beat the cr@p out of him for what he has done to his family and for his complete immaturity and his blindness.

        Yes… you can still love the sinner and not love the sin, and let him know. Or you can ignore because its not your sin… not always a good idea.

        Then there are times when I do not love the sinner. Yes I know ideally I am wrong. But if that person is a practicing pedophile, or intrinsically an evil person bent on hurting others, then its either fight or flight, and I am not worried about disgust. Point is, some things are plain wrong or evil, and this kind of discussion here reminds me of most bullying policies at school – peer mediation, tell an adult etc until the bullied kid is looked at as a pain in the @$$ and the bully moves on to his next victim. The bullied kid could love the bully andnot think about being bullied. My advice – turn around and hit the bully as hard as you can. Not very Christian like, but reality sometimes is tough.

        It also seems that many here are so scarred by Evangelicalism that everything relates to how this subculture deals with issues at the expense of common sense – like the pendulum for them has swung completely in the opposite direction so as to not associate themselves with Evangelical behavior. So… love the sin, hate the sinner is actually code for how evangelicals deal with homosexuals, except there is a lot of other sin out there that the ‘Accept everyone for who they are’ crowd do not neatly address.

        SO to sum it up… Love the sinner hate the sin… sure it works, if it didn’t there’d be vey little love in the world since we all fall and get back up throughout our life…..

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > Yes… you can still love the sinner and not love the sin, and let him know.

          I believe this is true – in the case of an established relationship. I’ve done it, and been rightfully on the other end of the stick. But it does not work, really, as a community practice or motto; then it does become very easy to dismiss people. I also don’t have a relationship with most of the people I interact with on a day to day basis, they are people who come and go; sometimes with evident “sins”, I view addressing those sins as exceeding my brief, my brief is to deal with people charitably.

          > Or you can ignore because its not your sin… not always a good idea.

          The ‘spill over’. Yes, this is where discussion of the ideal vs the wheel on the rail gets tricky. Because a lot of sin is not personal at all; left to simmer long enough and perhaps none is.

          > Then there are times when I do not love the sinner.

          True, but I don’t know that I get to the point of hating them much anymore. But that could be as much age as it is maturity. I do not believe hating even the pedophile is productive.

          > until the bullied kid is looked at as a pain in the @$$ and the bully moves …
          > … My advice – turn around and hit the bully as hard as you can. …

          I’m with you; that meme, which is currently pervasive, is very disturbing. I’d tell the bullied kid to hit the bully as hard as he can, then do it again. Is that unchristian? I have no idea. Letting someone go on harassing and extorting people certainly is cowardly, and writing their aggression off as pain is ludicrous.

          > there is a lot of other sin out there that the ‘Accept everyone for who they are’
          > crowd do not neatly address.

          Much of the spill over is what the civil system is for. And for the community to address, but if someone exists outside a structured or formal community… they can indeed just keep going. I do not believe there is an answer to that, in Christianity, or anywhere else.

          But I, personally, still have to choose how I interact with people, as individuals, and to not see them as their sins.

        • cermak_rd says

          I would want to know what you mean by “grow”. To some degree your friend is correct that his wife knew what she was getting. With later marriage and most couples living together before marriage, both should be sufficiently mature before tying the knot and they should establish ground rules before the wedding of what the expectations of fidelity are. Not everyone expects a strictly monogamous marriage, some might be happy with monagamish. Should the church care? Why if both sides are in agreement.

          I think it all comes down to victims. If the “sin” has no victims then why is it important? In the case of your friend, the victims are the 3 children. The sin? It could be the man’s cheating, when the wife had an expectation of lifelong fidelity; it could be that the couple had children before determining ultimate compatibility; it could be a lot of things; and no one not in that marriage could probably fairly judge it.

      • Okay, so why not just use Pauline language and say “Abhor the sin, love the sinner”?

        Clearly, we are commanded in the NT to do both. If a psychologist wants to read incompatibility into those two commands, I suppose he can do so, but I hope he will excuse me while I twiddle my thumbs and ignore him.

        • Beck helps me understand why it is so hard to truly do both, and how blind most of us are to the fact that the church is failing every day to do both in the way that Jesus did.

          • Rick Ro. says

            Agreed. And hence the importance of a site like Internet Monk, which is a forum for learning and sharing “Jesus-shaped spirituality” (in contrast to “church-shaped religiosity”). Keep up the good work, ladies and gentlemen of the iMonk community!

  20. Dana Ames says

    “I concluded that there was something intrinsic to the relationship between mercy and sacrifice that inexorably and reliably brought them into conflict. Mercy and sacrifice, I suspected, were mirror images, two impulses pulling in different directions.

    “…Sacrifice—the purity impulse—marks off a zone of holiness, admitting the “clean” and expelling the “unclean.” Mercy, by contrast, crosses those purity boundaries. Mercy blurs the distinction, bringing clean and unclean into contact. Thus the tension. One impulse—holiness and purity—erects boundaries, while the other impulse—mercy and hospitality—crosses and ignores those boundaries.”

    To me, this is a signpost pointing to: 1) the Incarnation as God not only crossing the boundary of creator/creature, but doing something entirely different – not obliterating the difference, but uniting both in himself without confusion, change, division, separation; and 2) the cross as the fullest expression of Mercy, therefore having to do yes, with sacrifice, but not at all with punishment as an aspect of that sacrifice – Christ on the Cross is the epitome of Mercy triumphing over judgment, precisely in our doing our worst to God and him absorbing all the evil and displaying and pronouncing forgiveness – and then going into death and destroying its power.

    People will ask, “Well, if the cross is not about punishment of sin, why should we proclaim the Gospel?” This presupposes knowing what “the Gospel” is. There are 2 strong clues in scripture about what it is. The first is that Jesus always links it with the arrival in himself of the Kingdom of God. The second is that in all the sermons in the book of Acts (except for perhaps Stephen’s address before his martyrdom), the point where people either say “Let’s here more about this” or a riot breaks out, is the announcement of the Resurrection. Those 2 things are intrinsically connected. Neither one is about cognitive belief in a penal atonement with the future result being admission into a place called “Heaven.”

    Hebrews 2.14-15 and surrounding tells is why Christ died: to destroy the one who holds the power of death, and to deliver us from the bondage to fear of death. We sin because we fear death/non-existence (on some level; it may not be physical death, but something else that seems like death to us). The disgust reflex, I believe, is connected with this fear of death; the pollution it seeks to avoid is a very stark reminder of our physical death, or it can also be spiritualized in the form of exclusion/exile from the “right(eous)” group. In Jesus’ day, the phrase “forgiveness of sins” would be heard by his fellow Jews as “the end of our exile, and our restoration as the True People of God.”

    That is why this little poem is sung over and over again during the Orthodox Pascha liturgy, in as many languages as there are in any given community:

    Christ is risen from the dead,
    trampling down death by death,
    and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

    The Kingdom of God – where what God wants is done – has broken upon us in Christ, the God/Man. His Resurrection is the end of our true Exile and the beginning of the New Creation on the Eighth Day, taking all of humanity beyond the power of death, so that we can, bit by bit as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work in us, move out of the fear of death and become the humans God created us to be, becoming able to relate to everyone in self-giving love. The door is open – come on in!

    That’s the Good News. To me, that’s the only Good News worth announcing. It presupposes that God is Good and Loves Mankind, and that nothing can get in the way of his love – not our sin, and not even any of his own attributes (if that were the case, Our Sin or The Attribute would in fact be the real god…)

    My sin is dealt with within that reality; the paradox is that, though I am constantly reminded of how I fall short, I don’t have to fixate on my sin to the point of despair. And the sin of others is Not. My. Business. My business is to simply treat people kindly, as if they were actually Fully Human Beings – to learn to love the same way God loves: sending the sun and the rain up on the righteous and unrighteous alike, giving to all the wages of life no matter how much or how little labor they do, loving my enemies enough to lay down my life for them (perhaps unto physical death; certainly unto the death of my disgust).


    • Dana Ames says

      This does not exclude restraining evil. Hitting a bully is a sin, and needs to be confessed, even as stopping the bullying is the right thing to do. Christians can put themselves on the line physically and reputation-wise to restrain evil. Societies need laws – but laws to restrain evil are not the same thing as the Kingdom of God.


      • How is hitting a bully a sin? Please prove that.

        • Rick Ro. says

          Isn’t that implied when Jesus says, “When a bully wants your milk money, give him your lunch money also”…?

        • Dana Ames says

          Well, what Jesus said about turning the other cheek jumps to my mind… implies that to not do so would not be what he wants. Beyond that, whatever is of the nature of force is not love, both the bullying and the hitting of the bully. Jesus summed up the entire OT in “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself” – that’s not about having a feeling about love, but acting as if one actually loves – seeking the good of the other person at least as much as one’s own good. How would one do that with a bully? Perhaps the bully could be restrained in another way that is not motivated by the bully’s own tactics of domination from fear. The tactics of domination from fear are a symptom of our inhumanity, of our missing the mark of being fully human (able to love like God loves). Hitting may be necessary at some point, but it still “misses the mark.” Rick Ro.’s reply makes me smile, but it’s actually true, at least for oneself. It’s tough to suffer for the sake of another, especially for the sake of someone doing evil. If one needs to defend another, like standing up for another kid whose milk money is being extorted, other measures may be necessary.

          I don’t know if that constitutes “proof” that will satisfy you; if not, that’s okay – we can agree to disagree.


          • Rick Ro. says

            The sci-fi book I’m writing hits this on the head toward its conclusion, and I must say I’m struggling with fleshing it out. I find myself wanting to drift toward a big, climactic battle, yet if I read Jesus’ words and look at his actions, they suggest there might be another way. “You want my home, take my land, too,” just doesn’t seem to fit with the way the world reacts to aggression and oppression.

          • Rick – I’m not sure how much it has to do with the original post but this is an area that really interests me. In my thinking “You want my home, take my land, too” is great for a single person, but it doesn’t do for a husband or father. Jesus indicates that my giving myself up to win my enemy is the right path, but that doesn’t carry over to giving up what is my family’s. I am also charged by Scripture with protecting the innocent and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. I have no right to yield to an unjust person when it is someone else who will bear the pain of it. In that case, the “bully” is going to end up on his back with a bloody nose (or I’ll get a bloody nose trying).

          • Rick Ro. says

            Thanks for those thoughts, TPD. It’s a very interesting issue, isn’t it? And I’m still wrestling with in my book and not sure I’ve quite figured it out.

    • Danielle says

      Dana, thanks for this. I think it cuts to the heart of the matter.

      In fact, your posts often do.

    • Dana – thank you for this!

  21. We have no operating theology of the human condition. Too many swing between radical depravity and perfectionism. So when we encounter sin, the only thing we know to do is to say “stop sinning, be perfect like your Heavenly Father.”

    If we had a theology of the human condition, and of the soul (*coughpsychologycough*) we wouldn’t be afraid of sorting out environmental factors as well as innate factors that cause people to “sin.” We’d be able to take people through an authentic soul care journey, addressing both the human side of things (family history, secrets, relational patterns, mother/father wounds, roots of addiction, coping mechanisms, etc) as well as the spiritual side (confession & repentance, generational sin, spiritual warfare, etc).

    We’d be able to hear people’s individual stories, instead of trying to solve issues on a massive scale, with endless debates.

    We need people who can minister to the entire person, with discernment to divide between human stuff and spirit stuff. A holistic Gospel. Jesus did it.

    • Rick Ro. says

      Good stuff, Sean! Thanks for those insights.

    • Robert F says

      When you find these people, let me know. Good luck.

      • Rick Ro. says

        LOL @ Robert F. I was actually thinking of posting “If you ever find a church like that, let me know. I’ll join in an instant!”

        • These are the people I hang with. We live it together, in the context of an historic church that was in steep decline, but now beginning to thrive because people are starting to get honest about their lives and go after the dark stuff.

          It takes guts to model this stuff – vulnerability, bringing EVERYTHING into the light, etc. But I’ve seen more authentic healing and new patterns of life emerge in the past year than in the previous 10 combined.

          I’m going to begin writing on this stuff. Maybe I’ll submit something to CM to see if it would make the cut here.

          It’s out there, in churches and seminaries. But it’s not popular because there’s no glory in admitting the dark stuff, and going after it with everything you have. Nor is there glory in praying someone through their grief & sin & baggage for, sometimes, hours on end. The glory is God’s when breakthrough happens: when someone feels the Fathers love for the first time, or hears his voice, or grieves stuff that’s been buried & ignored for a lifetime, and moves towards a healthy and fruitful life.

  22. Danielle says

    I think there’s a lot of circling around the issue taking place. Topics are falling on related topics, but not “the topic.”

    Some comments seem to be about whether it is ever permissible to call a person’s action wrong, and to dislike the action taken. You’re translating the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” into a logical proposition that goes something like this: “I can believe in right and wrong without hating people.”

    Granted. The question is how. The question is always how. Doing is the rub, isn’t it?

    I think the topic that Chaplain Mike/Beck are asking: What is going on at the levels of language, emotion, physical contact, etc. while one is dealing with people who have committed or embody real or perceived offenses? We might say that one when loves, one “draws close.” Indulge me for a second, I am going to try to chase this notion a bit, but I’m casting about for the right language: To draw close, one may literally move closer to someone than one would to an enemy, or neutral stranger. One might see, or strive to see, those aspects of a person that are worthwhile or beautiful, even though they are not readily apparent on first pass. When noticing that which seems less than beautiful, one looks to understand what one is seeing, to sympathize, to capture in ones mind the reality and experiences of the person, even when they don’t please us. One finds something of interest in that place, despite the fact the person is not oneself. Intellectually/emotionally/spiritually this is a kind of closeness. You cannot get to it so long as you are thinking, “here I am, over here,” and “there he is, over there, we are different.” The creative action of listening and understanding and seeing involves a self-forgetfulness (I cannot assume “that person” is precisely the “same as me,” I actually have to try to move outside myself, to see “him as him” and then to identify our common link, and then make another leap still: “me as him”. Metaphorically speaking, this a kind of humanizing embrace where my regard for the person is rising and my regard for myself is sinking (or at least, my usual self-absorption has been traded for the energy to move outward toward not-me). Nobody does this perfectly, let alone well, but you see it come easier to people who are centered (secure enough in themselves that they can put themselves aside, and don’t have to self-assert over and against “the other” all the time, or get everyone to be just like themselves/how they want to be), and have some sense of humility (who am I to lord over you? Where I see a blemish, I can recall my own failing and find sympathy instead of revulsion/fear), and who have some kind of control over the passions that get in the way (anger, fear). If I’m not mistaken, in Christianity aesthetic spiritual discipline, prayer, reflection, etc.—the power of Silence that Henri Nouwin writes about in his little book of desert spirituality is what specifically is coming to my mind here—may be considered of practical use because it promotes that kind of self-emptying centeredness. It allows the self to get outside the self.

    So here’s the problem with “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” When one has “drawn close,” the very way one talks to that person and relates to them and their transgression changes. It’s different than the interactions one has with a stranger or an enemy. The person hearing the message has “position” with you. The effect of the message and the way it is delivered is will be different. One COULD be trying to discuss that kind of closeness when we say we want to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” However, when we invoke the phrase, that’s rarely what we’re in fact about to do. Folks often drop this phrase just before they launch into a sermon or an internet rant where Sin is a Category and Sinners are Others. This has happened so often, that even when you do mean what you are saying, the hearer has probably already assumed that you are about to sermonize at them. When someone hears this, should they assume you are “for real?”

    Grab my hand first; that gets my attention.

  23. But if some err in one direction, does it follow that there is no error in the opposite direction? This reminds me of something Luther said about mankind like a drunken man, who, falling off his horse on one side, gets up and falls off on the other.

    There is this tension that goes through the entirety of Scripture.

    6 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. 2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2

    Here, both love and justice meet. And we’re to look at ourselves when helping others out of the sin which is abhorrent. Another is in Jude:

    20 But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. 22 Have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.

    We’re not to hate them at all, but the thing that afflicts them. Where does one end and the other begin? That is one of those things that we do have to wrestle with. We’re not to separate us from sinners, as if we could, as we are sinners as well. We’d have to separate us from ourselves as well. That passage in Galatians speaks to that.

    10 While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

    12 But when He heard this, He said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

    Jesus was quoting from Hosea 6, which has that tension. I don’t have the space to quote the entire chapter, but it speaks to all of this. Look it up yourselves. We’re to be among people, not separate ourselves. Does that mean we condone sin? Not at all! What does it mean? I leave that to you. This is the reason why I can neither affirm nor deny what is meant by hate the sin/love the sinner. It all depends on what you mean by that phrase.

    • I guess what I’m really saying, is are we afraid of saying “I don’t know?” It’s the greatest fundagelical fear.

  24. Robert F says

    “It is important to realize that this “logic” of disgust psychology is, as Beck shows, ‘often immune to reason and rationality.'”

    Of course, because it arises our of fear. It arises out of psychological pathology; reason and rationality don’t usually undo such fear based pathology.

  25. “Jesus consistently shows the way of love, not separation. He welcomes sinners into his presence. He disregards established rules of segregation. He lets himself be touched and he reaches out to touch the unclean. And what Jesus touches becomes clean.”

    I’m afraid that I’ve not had the experience that what I touch becomes clean. Yes, to the pure, all things are pure, but I’m not pure….

  26. Chaplain Mike, I don’t know how much you listen to other sermons, but I thought this one by Andrew Picard speaking about his experience in his Church (second part of the message) would be a good antidote to the five examples you relate above.

    (And look, I’ll give you the choice to watch or listen no doubt hold my comment up in moderation as a result.)

    It’s called, “The Spirit and a Riskier People”

  27. Mike, regarding your elephant in the room: I am an expert at simultaneously having both disgust towards the sin, and loving the sinner. I do it all the time: I loathe and regret my own sins, yet am at the same time perfectly comfortable to still be in my own presence. I suspect many of us have this duality.
    Perhaps the bigger issue is really “love your neighbor as yourself”…?