A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003
by Elizabeth G. Calhoun
St. Clare's Episcopal Church
Ann Arbor, MI
How many times have I heard over the course of my life the facile refrain of ``Love the sinner - hate the sin; love the sinner - hate the sin. LOVE the sinner, HATE the sin!'' The actions that follow, I've noticed, have almost nothing whatever to do with any manner of love that I am familiar with, and in fact appear simply to condone the gleeful, gloating hatred that the sinner ``deserves.''
Contemporary Christianity is a culture of hatred. It doesn't go very far without some kind of adversary, whether sex or money or Satan or other people on the planet who choose to believe differently. In Little St. Hugh of Lincoln's time (1255), it was the Jews who were accepted as the objects of hatred. We expect medieval people to be bigoted and superstitious and prone to pogroms and crusades and inquisitions; but how easy it is for us to shrug off our own bad behavior. We come by it honestly, though. From the moment the Roman Empire received the Christian faith in a military quid pro quo, the die was cast. At no time in the history of ``the Church'' has it ever been at peace with itself. There's always some new heresy, some new adversary, some new threat to purity and stability and ``tradition.'' In Christ's name, amen.
We accept this as the price of hating sin. It's not our fault - we're on a mission from God! God wants us to hate sin! Yes it's painful, but it's God's holy work. To stamp sin out, to utterly obliterate it ... to use the weapons of righteousness ... more war, more violence, more hatred. Reprisal, vendetta, suffering.
Perhaps we should admit that ``hating'' anything is a bad idea. Perhaps ``forgiving sin'' is a better principle than hating it. If you hate sin and stumble, you're likely to wind up hating the sinner as well. I think it's best to play it safe and just FORGIVE. Love the sinner, forgive the sin. Let God do the judging.
There was a defining event in my life, one that I recall when I'm tempted to be a bully and a bigot. In my fourth-grade gym class, I stood in a line of little girls waiting to be dismissed. I was the fat kid, the bucktoothed kid, the pariah of my school. I lived with daily scorn and teasing. I had no friends. And there in the line, the girl behind me started slapping my head. The giggling started. More slaps. I turned to her and said, ``Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when we're hit. That's what I've been taught by my parents.'' Her sneer has stayed in my mind these thirty-some years, as also her rejoinder: ``Then I'll slap THAT one, too!''
The teacher rushed up and jerked me out of line, stood me in front of the gym class, and explained that fat, ugly girls deserved what they got. She encouraged the name-calling and laughter while I stood and wept, the helpless target of the taunts of the whole class.
I can't believe that these schoolmates of mine didn't go to church. All of us did, in the 60s. But they needed someone to hate. It's a tribal thing, a rite of identity. We are what you are not; we are not what you are. The Church for over 2000 years has initiated and maintained its own rites of tribal hate as absolutely necessary to salvation. ``They'' are sinners, serve Satan, and work to destroy the True Faith (Jews, Turks, heretics, Protestants, Catholics, Arminians, Anabaptists, Communists, homosexuals, et cetera). YOU are to defend it. Hate sin, love the sinner.
I suggest we go the extra mile, since Jesus has asked us to love one another.
Love one another. Forgive, even forget, sin. Do justice.
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