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Why Evangelicals Cannot “Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin”

(This is written based on my personal observations of Evangelical Christians, in part through growing up as one; while it is by no means true of all Evangelicals, I think it is a pretty good depiction of the majority.)

It’s a catch-phrase you hear all the time from Evangelicals – “love the sinner, hate the sin”; in fact it has almost been raised to the status of a mantra for them, and is widely touted as their excuse for being able to act against the wishes and interests of the LGBT community (and others) while claiming not to “hate” us. The principle of “love the sinner, hate the sin” is applied (to a greater or lesser extent) to a variety of other groups as well as LGBTs, some with good reason and others not, including paedophiles & rapists, drug users & the drug-abused, violent criminals, and people from other faiths (including those they would consider “pseudo-Christians” such as Mormons, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses & Quakers). But at its core is, perhaps, the biggest irony of all: when you bear in mind the Evangelical concept of “love”, it’s impossible to do.For Evangelicals, “love” isn’t simply an emotion – it’s also an action. It is possible to love someone by making them feel welcomed and appreciated; by helping them when they are in need; or by protecting them from harm. For an Evangelical, the ultimate means by which they can love someone is “bringing them to Christ”, alternatively known as “loving them into the Kingdom”. However this concept of “love” introduces a flaw in the phrase’s logic – if “love” is used as a verb, then “hate” can as well – and indeed it must be. It is therefore possible to hate someone by alienating and denigrating them socially; by refusing to help them when they are in need; or by causing or allowing them to come to harm. And the corresponding ultimate means by which someone can be hated is to drive them away from Christ – to cause a person so much anger, hurt and resentment that they reject Him.

LGBTs denounce Evangelical opposition to the provision of equal rights and protections for LGBT people (amongst other things) as hate – not because that is the motivation (“hate” as a noun) but because that is the action (“hate” as a verb). Evangelicals may well love LGBTs in the noun sense – most of the ones I know certainly do, or at least try to – but their actions towards us do comprise hate in the verb sense. Evangelicals alienate and socially denigrate LGBTs by actively promoting the idea that we are psychologically disturbed or sick and need mental reprogramming. They refuse to help us when we are in need by choosing not to vocally oppose and protest violence against us which kill hundreds, if not thousands, each year and leave many more with long-term disabilities and psychological trauma. They allow us to come to harm by fighting to restrict or remove rights and protections, and cause many more to come to harm by engendering a level of self-hatred in LGBTs, especially youths, that drives thousands to suicide each year, and many more still to drug and alcohol addiction, sexual addiction & risk-taking, and other self-destructive behaviours. Rather obviously, this all has the effect of pushing LGBTs away from Christianity, and fosters anger, hurt and resentment that becomes a powerful barrier to rapprochement.

It seems to me that Evangelicals have several options for responding to LGBT anger, hurt and resentment (which I do not think they can reasonably claim to be unaware of). They could choose to admit they could be wrong in their beliefs about gay sex, however Evangelicals’ powerful belief and pride in their own infallibility is a major block to this – put bluntly, I doubt they could stomach the humble pie. Alternatively they could continue to consider gay sex sin, but trust in Jesus to forgive it, however this would require Evangelicals to admit that they are causing LGBTs such hurt that it is driving them away from Christ – and again, that would involve a seriously large slice of humble pie: a community which claims love as its central doctrine does not easily admit it could cause hurt, even privately. And so we are left with a final option: protect their beliefs and pride by belittling or consciously ignoring the anger, hurt and resentment of LGBT people altogether. And this is exactly what most Evangelicals do: following the elections in November LGBs were told to “suck it up” by one pastor, and within just this last week our anger at Rick Warren’s selection has been dismissed as “immature”, and we have been told to “grow up”; likewise the genuine and deeply-felt love LGBT couples have for one-another is maligned as base animal lust with no higher or more significant emotional value at all.

The decision to go for the third option is in itself an act of hate (verb) as it both alienates and denigrates LGBTs by reinforcing the perception amongst others that we are inferior, and it displays a complete lack of compassion or empathy, causing yet further isolation and hurt. So when an Evangelical tries to apply the “love the sinner, hate the sin” principle to LGBTs they can only end up hating on both counts, irrespective of their motivations – their condemnation of what they perceive as sin causes LGBTs to experience hate rather than love, and their refusal to recognise the hurt they cause further compounds the hate experienced by LGBTs.

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