Love and Hate

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” This has always been a popular retort of Christians who oppose homosexuality. The phrase came up in Sunday school this morning as we discussed the outcome of several amendments regarding homosexuality that were hotly debated at the United Methodist general conference last week. Two key amendments were proposed that would have changed the church’s official position on homosexuality. (If you’re interested, you can read more about the amendments here) As one might imagine, there were several very vocal protestors of the amendments. In one of the many speeches that these delegates gave, warning that homosexuality is “of the devil” and that allowing for such behavior or even just acknowledging the divide within the church over this issue, would be the beginning of the end for United Methodism, one of them stated something to the effect that we can love homosexuals but that we must detest what they do. Our entire Sunday school class was pretty much horrified at a clergy member calling homosexuality of the devil, but for some reason, the contradictory nature of the second statement really struck me as well. Is it really possible to hold such diametrically opposed feelings about a person?

When I voiced my doubt to the class about whether it was actually possible to love a person and hate what they do, most everyone in the class seemed to think that, yes, of course that was possible. Putting aside the question of homosexuality (most everyone in the class, including myself, is vehemently against any form of discrimination against homosexuals, either in the church or out of it), but what about murderers and child molesters? Don’t we hate what they do? One person raised the example of parents and children, saying that parents can love their children and yet hate their behavior. These examples confused me at first, and I started to doubt my own doubt. I suppose it is possible to hold such contradictory feelings as love and hate about a person, though it seemed a stretch to me to imply that we love child molesters, try as we might, either as a society or as Christians. It also occurred to me that we weren’t actually talking about feelings. Love is an action, and hateful feelings result in actions, usually violent ones.

The parenting example is a great illustration of this for me. At some point in a child’s development she learns that it is possible to have contradicting feelings about something or someone. This is when the extreme black and white thinking of the 3’s and 4’s starts to give way to a more complex picture of the world and its inhabitants. Georgia, our daughter who just turned 5, is just starting to understand this. She still feels devastated, however, when one of us gets angry and raises our voice. Does raising our voice and yelling mean that we don’t love her? Of course it doesn’t. Is the action of yelling a violent one and experienced by her as something other than love? Of course it is. When I am angry or harboring feelings of disgust at my children’s behavior, the actions that I take are not loving ones (for example yelling, threatening with punishments, or giving disapproving looks) and only serve to perpetuate their behavior, or engender new, even more disagreeable behaviors. I find that I am a much better parent (and my children are much more enjoyable) when I approach them from a place of loving acceptance, even when they are behaving in a way that I don’t like. If I can accept them as being exactly the way that they are in that moment, then it frees both of us up to move and to grow.

This becomes especially important when a person’s behavior is truly unacceptable (which, to my way of thinking, does NOT apply to a person’s sexual orientation). Loving someone doesn’t mean you accept unacceptable behavior. It’s important to recognize, though, that how we think about another person’s behavior and how we talk about that behavior is going to influence our behavior. The words we choose have so much power. Using M. Scott Peck’s definition of love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth,” I don’t think it’s possible to act in a loving way while harboring hate in your heart. In the case of the murderer/molester this is obvious. It’s incredibly difficult to truly love such a person because our hate for their unacceptable behavior so taints our effort to find compassion and respond with love. With truly heinous criminals, however, we don’t try to convince ourselves or other people that we’re “really acting out of love” when we send them to the gallows or otherwise punish them. So I guess what I’m asking for is a little more honesty from the Christians who speak out in hate against homosexuals. If you must talk nonsense about their “behavior being from the devil”, please don’t feed us your horseshit about how you’re speaking out of love.

Patrick, who has helped be immensely in fleshing out these ideas, has suggested that perhaps I shouldn’t end my rant on such a negative, non-loving note, but I think my animosity towards gay-bashers is a perfect case in point. Maybe it is possible for others to remain compassionate and loving while feeling and expressing hate for a behavior, but I don’t seem to be able to handle hate so constructively. Hate may be the luxury of people more spiritually fit than I am, but for me it’s poison.

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~ by jenzai on May 6, 2008.

13 Responses to “Love and Hate”

  1. Bravo! Your post have given me a lot to think about. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I think some of the confusion here stems from the fact that in biblical Greek and Hebrew, and presumably in more archaic forms of English, “hate” was not strictly defined as an emotion. Hating something does not always mean “expressing or harboring vindictive feelings,” but can also just mean “repudiating” or “denouncing.”

    In the same way that Americans have redefined (and weakened) the meaning of “love” by understanding it only as an emotion, we have likewise severely limited the usefulness of the word “hate” by doing the same.

  3. Hmm, that is really interesting! I didn’t know that about the origins of the word hate. Your comment made me think that perhaps the saying had come from the Bible, and for a moment I felt really stupid because I couldn’t remember ever reading it in the Bible. Turns out the statement originated from a speech written by Mahatma Gandhi! Boy was that a surprise. If ever there was a person more spiritually fit than I am (and the people who fit that description are surely legion) it’s gotta be Gandhi. So perhaps for him, it wasn’t so difficult. I would still argue that for the average bozo on the bus (and I include myself in that category), it’s just not possible to act in love and talk in hate.

  4. I didn’t know that quote was from Gandhi either! To me, love is acceptance and compassion and hate is a reaction based on fear. I can feel compassion for a child molester (more so than a murderer) – but I do not condone his/her behavior. I think to hate his/her behavior is to reject the part of me that is capable of hurting others. I know this is not always the case, but you often hear stories of gay bashers who either turn out to be gay or have a gay child. Why are people so afraid of homosexuality? Is it because they fear they may have feelings for someone of the same sex and that terrifies them? Or is it simply because that is what they were taught to believe?

    This makes me think of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis (or any other opposed groups). I believe that If they keep acting out of hate the problem will never be solved. If they could let go of the fear and resentment built up over hundreds of years and get to a place of acceptance, they would see that we are all human and we should be working together for the betterment of everyone. Ok, I know that’s incredibly idealistic and will probably never happen, but I do believe that love is the answer.

    Good topic!

  5. For once, I am glad of misinformation. The “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing originated long before Gandhi was born. It is found in Augustine’s *City of God*, though he may not be the originator of the expression, either. It was also popularized by C.S. Lewis.

    But I imagine Gandhi commands more respect in your mind than Augustine, so, as I said, perhaps the erroneous attribution is a good thing.

  6. Augustine, huh? Well, at least I wasn’t feeling stupid for nothing! If only I had heeded my own warnings about using the Internet as a research tool.

  7. ack…. you really are going to make me start a blog, aren’t you? LOL I have plenty of thoughts about this one (of course), but the short version is this: I *d0* think it’s possible to love the person and hate the/an act. I have to go with Virgie on the “denounce” or “repudiate” version of the word. It’s not that I have ANGER or am riled up about, for example, lying. I absolutely have compassion (read: love) for people who sometimes lie, yet I abhor lying — on principle, because I think it is damaging to the liar and to all around her/him.

    I guess I think of it as the entire point or goal of spirituality — you know, “namaste” and all that. *shrug*

  8. Oh yeah — as to “At some point in a child’s development she learns that it is possible to have contradicting feelings about something or someone. This is when the extreme black and white thinking of the 3’s and 4’s starts to give way to a more complex picture of the world and its inhabitants…”

    I swear we were discussing something like this the other day, weren’t we? Or am I crazy? Something about Q’s b/w view of the world and starting to change. Seriously, my mind does NOT work anymore. Did I dream this or did it really happen???

  9. And who decides what little avie/pic/icon shows up by my comment, anyway???? What if I don’t like that one to represent me or my comment??? Huh?

    😉

  10. Duality of emotion on a personal level: I hate the cowardly way that my ex-husband decided to end our marriage, but I’ve never been able to hate him.

    After much life experience, I find I’m less and less able to believe in the concept of sin, or even evil. There are myriads of layers of malfunction in the human mind, and I believe that what we consider evil actions are the result of sick, sicker and sickest minds. I feel tremendous sympathy and compassion for victims, and it hurts my heart that people have suffered. I believe that those who commit criminal acts must be removed from free society. Not for punishment, not for some Old Testament vindictiveness, but simply for the safety of others. At this stage in our human development, we have not yet learned how to heal all illnesses. Perhaps some day we will.

    But homosexuality is neither crimninal nor a sinful erroneous choice. It is simply the way some people are made. Why this threatens others continues to baffle me.

  11. This ia a great post! There is a verse in Romans that says “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good” (12:9). I imagine that our more conservative brothers and sisters have something like this in mind. Ironically, though, Paul goes on to say “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep [I think of the tears on the faces of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters when the amendments you refer to were voted down]…do not claim to be wiser than you are[the proposed amendment that was defeated contained a healthy dose of theologial humility]…If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” The point, for Paul, is that unity and harmony are important marks of a Christian community, and something that we should work toward.

    I think also of 1 John 4, because I think that most, if not all, of the conservative reaction against gay rights has to do with fear. “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love beause he first loved us. Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:16-20)

    Having said all that, I do think you can love a person and hate what they do. In Greek there are three words for love, and our English leaves us a little poor on this subject. Agape is God’s love, and that is the love with which we must hold one another. It is a gift of the Spirit, and is the word used in the passage from 1 John above. Eros and philos are erotic and brotherly/sisterly love, and I don’t think our human limitations allow us to love some folks in this way — see the case of the child molester, for example. I can have agape for that person, since agape is dependent upon God and not me, while utterly detesting their actions. Philos is out of the question for me on this count.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking reflection, Jenny!

  12. Well, if we are what we do (the way to avoid hypocrisy), one who “hated” the sin would also have to condemn the sinner. But the notion that one can accept someone but not his or her way of life is fundamentally hypocritical unless one can find a way to separate being and doing. A person who is a homosexual is a homosexual; it’s part of his or her being. The only way the dichotomy can work is if you willfully choose to ignore scientific evidence of genetic conditions and assume that the gay person is choosing homosexuality as a “lifestyle.”

    It also seems absurd to condemn a person’s way of life, no matter how loving, caring, productive, and good that person might be, just because of very particular (and not particularly accurate) translations of biblical passages. I’ve known priests and rabbis throughout my life who have provided me with alternative readings of passages concerning homosexuality, readings based on textural and cultural context, and to flat-out condemn an entire group of people for something so difficult to understand, seems childish at best.

    Great post, by the way. And don’t worry about being “negative.” Some issues call for a bit of healthy anger.

  13. I agree that this is a wonderfully fruitful post. After reading all the comments, I thought at first that all had been said that I wanted to say. Like Karen, Chris and Virgie, I believe that it is indeed possible to “love the sinner and hate the sin,” but that there is tremendous room for confusion and misinterpretation of this phrase because of the poverty of English when it comes to these important emotion terms. In fact, it seems to me that it is not only possible to love child molesters and mass murderers, it is our responsibility to do so; or to put it in less authoritarian terms, our only hope of spiritual health and growth lies in learning how to love in this way.

    What I get angry about, and maybe this is what triggers you, too? is that these are easy words to hide behind. People who want to hate, who find it easy to hate, can spout this phrase as justification for their hatred, and convince themselves that they are doing it for other peoples’ “own good.” The important part of the phrase is the love part; for me, I don’t feel I should be concentrating too much on the hate the sin part until I have a better handle on the love the sinner part.

    But here is something completely different to chew on, having to do with our definitions of homosexuality. We (in the United States and the West more generally) are somewhat unique in the history of the world in the way that we categorize people who have same-sex sex. We have come to place so much emphasis on that aspect of a person’s life, such that it becomes a central part of a person’s identity.
    At the time that Paul was writing,Greek men were loving one another and holding up male-male love as the ideal form of love, yet that did not preclude them from marrying and having children.
    [Anyone really interested should see John Boswell’s incredibly well researched book, Homosexuality, Christianity, and Social Intolerance. He reads at least 14 languages and provides all the original Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and whatever else he uses in the footnotes so you can check his translations for yourself].
    And in most of the cultures of the world where same-sex sex is accepted as part of the normal range of human sexual expression, people engage in different kinds of sex at different stages or different contexts of their lives.
    When you look at the Biblical texts closely, note that they condemn a behavior – not a kind of person. It was only in the 1800s that Western Europeans and Americans began to think of men who had sex with men as being a special kind of person who preferred sex with other men all the time and would FOR LIFE. Only gradually did other attributes become attached(like femininity: fashion-sense, emotionality, weakness, sensitivity, artistic-ness [if that is a word?], limp-wristedness, etc.).

    So, like the concept of race, this is another made-up one. When people get into fights about what “causes” homosexuality [and my students are always stunned at the amount of money that has been spent trying to find the cause and cure for homosexuality compared to say, AIDS, or breast cancer] they are chasing a shadow, a ghost. There is no there, there. We say the jury is out, officially, about whether genes or environment is more influential, but in fact, we are asking the wrong question. The real question is “Why are we trying to make human sexuality – so amazing complex and plastic – fit into two (maybe three) categories, and then call one sinful and unacceptable?” Our sexality is unique – each one of us. We each make a category of one. We do not fit neatly into 2 or 3 or 5 or 8 categories, especially once you begin looking at the cross-cultural evidence.

    It just struck me that the entire debate has to do with categorizations and definitions – construct the categories a different way, define the words a different way, and you have a completely different argument.

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