Σάββατο, 29 Ιουλίου 2017

Love the sinner, hate the sin


Khanya e isoe ho Molimo holimo (Orthodox Christians in South Africa)
Photo from here.

I was once chatting with a couple of friends, two of us were Christians, and the third was a catechumen, exploring the Christian faith for the first time, and she had lots of questions. She had been told that Christians should give thanks to God for everything and in all circumstances, and that puzzled her.
“How can you give thanks to God for Mr Vorster?” she asked.
Without thinking, I replied, “You can thank God for giving you Mr Vorster to love.”
And immediately I wondered, where did that come from? Why did I say that? Did I really say that?
I thought perhaps it may have been the Holy Spirit, what St Paul calls “a word of wisdom” (λόγος σοφίας) in I Corinthians 12:8. It was directed to me as much as to my friend.
Back then, in 1965, Balthazar Johannes Vorster was the South African Minister of Justice, and he was responsible for the repressive legislation that was turning South Africa into a police state. He was responsible for a great deal of evil — how could one love him? And yet, in putting those words in my mouth, God was telling me that I must.

And the answer could be summed up in the aphorism, Love the sinner, hate the sin.
Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Judge not, and ye be not judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). Clearly, he was speaking there of judging and condemning people, not actions, for he also said “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement” (John 7:24).
If we were to judge with righteous judgment, then Mr Vorster’s actions were undoubtedly evil, but it was not our task to judge Mr Vorster. “‘Vengeance is mine’ says the Lord, ‘I will repay'” (Rom 12:19), and St Paul urged “Bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not” (Rom 12:14).
If we are to judge with righteous judgment, then the important question to ask is not who is wrong, but what is wrong. We are to love our enemies, even Mr Vorster.
And when I became Orthodox this was stressed even more strongly: before receiving holy communion, one must forgive everyone. We pray to our Lord Jesus Christ “who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first”. If we think that other people deserve condemnation for their sins, then we’ve missed the point: we need to begin with ourselves.
But then a friend referred to the following article. I normally try to avoid stuff on the Patheos web site, but this one, whose conclusion counters everything I’ve learned over the last 50 years and more, caught my attention.
Let’s Be Honest… “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” is Really Just Hate
Ask anyone on the receiving end of being loved while their sin is hated. They will tell you it’s the same as being hated – for the exact reasons Gandhi wrote: because it’s virtually impossible to love someone but hate their sin.
We get caught up in judging them, and we feel self-righteous compared to them, we won’t just let the issue be, leave the issue between them and God, but continue to bring it up and try to change it… and so the poison of hatred spreads in the world – just as Gandhi said.
I read it, and it struck me that what it said was evil, very evil indeed. There is so much magnificent truth wrapped up in such appalling falsehoods that it smacks of perversity even to attack its perverseness.[1] And the conclusion is altogether evil.
If one takes that article at face value, then it means that:
  • One cannot love a corrupt politician without loving corruption too
  • One cannot love a police torturer without loving torture too
  • One cannot love a rapist without loving rape too
And going back to the 1960s and 1970s there were lots of people who argued in that way. When people spoke of the injustices done in the name of the government policy of apartheid, some said that yes, justice is important, but we must have reconciliation too. By this they often meant that those who supported apartheid and those who opposed it needed to be reconciled and therefore good and evil needed to be reconciled.

 

In 1965, when we had the discussion I referred to above, we were members of an Anglican church in Pietermaritzburg (where we were then students), and one of the priests (who eventually baptised my catechumen friend) used to read from a book, The will and the way by Harry Blamires, which he used to point out the errors of such behaviour. He pointed out that for many Christians the Christian God had been replaced by the god of twentieth-century sentimental theology:
Are we faced with evil whose roots reach down to the depths where angels and demons are locked in mortal combat? Don’t worry, a word of prayer to the god of sentimental theology and we shall be granted the dubious capacity to meet all comers, friend and foe, with the same inscrutably acquiescent grin.
No, saying that “‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ is really just hate” is thoroughly dishonest, and thoroughly evil.
It seems to belong in the same category of other weird American ideas that lack all logic and indicate a broken moral compass as those who say that saying “All lives matter” is evil and racist. But I’ve discussed that in another article here: How antiracism became racist: all lives matter.
No, if we are Christians we must love the sinner but hate the sin.
We must
  • Love the oppressor but hate oppression
  • Love the corrupt politician and businessman, but hate corruption
  • Love the warmonger but hate war
  • Love the exploiter but hate exploitation
If we hate the people, we will become like them. And if we love the deeds, we will also become like them.


Notes & References

[1] Blamires, Harry. 1957. The Will and the Way. London: SPCK.
About 30 years ago I lent my copy to someone who never returned it, so all quotations are from memory.
PS
This also works the other way round.
When people say good things, it doesn’t really matter who said them, but what they say is more important. The saying “Live the sinner, hate the sin” has been attributed to St Augustine of Hippo and Mahatma Gandhi. That doesn’t matter so much — what’s said is more important than who said it, and it succinctly expresses an important aspect of Christian ethics.
The other quote, in the graphic is attributed to a guy called Phil Robertson. I know nothing about him, but I suspect that he may be a character in a US TV show where the characters look a bit like monks but aren’t. But even if he isn’t a monk, it’s the kind of thing a monk could have said.

Click
 
"We are called to holiness!" ― Two orthodox voices from Africa about the Sunday of All Saints 
"That is the purpose of the Church, to make people holy"

 

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