Hating? Freedom?

It’s taken me nearly 9 days to get to a question that was submitted last week.  That’s because last week was a nightmare.  We had a serious break in at the church I serve.  I worked pretty much non-stop for the past 9 days.  I’m finally slowing down a bit today.  Nevertheless, my apologies for being so slow getting back to the blog.

The latest questions come from Yvette.  She wrote: “Hi Craig, on this Memorial Day I have A LOT ON MY mind.  First off and foremost, I’m sorry that someone did damage to a place of worship in your community/  This brings up my first question: ‘Why do people hate the sin and NOT the sinner?’ Does this not ask for forgiveness for anything?? I mean?? So, you could commit ANY sin? And you’re forgiven?”

Second, a non-religious question.  Memorial Day is to honor our veterans– whom I am grateful for their support of protecting our country and freedoms – but as I read social media, there are many who feel that their freedom is the only the only freedom worthy– i.e. Standing for the National Anthem at school events.  This bothers me so much – to make it required.  There are many ways to show your Patriotism, and in these times of late– I understand the protest– silent as it may be– And having a husband and brother that Both served in the military — they fought for the freedom of choice– NOT to be mandated by the government-. To me, it does NOT dis respect our Armed Forces– it is using the freedoms for which they fought for.”

In terms of your first question, the saying originates from the work of St. Augustine’s Letter 211 (written around 424) where he wrote: “With love for mankind and hatred of sins”.  Mohandas Ghandi wrote a variation of this theme in 1929 when he wrote the words you quoted: “hate the sin and not the sinner”.

I give you this background on the saying because the phrase itself is not from the Bible: though some people act as if it were!

There are a lot of pieces of Scripture that talk about hating/abhorring/etc. what is evil (Proverbs 8:13; Psalm 97:10; Romans 12:9; Exodus 18:21, etc.)  The way people approach that matter, however, is of great concern.

Too many of us can’t tell the difference between a person’s actions and their inherent worth as a human being.  Because of that inability to differentiate, the hatred/abhorrence/etc. toward destructive acts spills over and colors the way we see individuals themselves.

I had to be VERY careful of this last week following the break in at our church.  I spoke on camera with two television stations, and one newspaper.  And in the hours leading up to those interviews, lots of people in the wider community asked some variation of this question: “What sort of scum would break into a church?!?!”

As a Christian, I felt the interviews were an important moment to teach on the very matter you raised, Yvette.  So the comments I made to the press went something like this: “The decisions the individuals made clearly came from a place of desperation and brokenness.  Their decisions brought a lot of pain to our faith community, and it’s important they face the consequences of their actions.  However, the offenders are people of sacred worth, and we don’t hate them.  We feel sorry that their brokenness took them in this direction.”

When it comes to my faith perspective in regard to the matter of sin, my favorite word to use is “repentance” rather than “hate”.  The term basically means to turn oneself around, and reorient oneself toward God.  The one who commits acts of violence or destruction certainly needs to turn and reorient her or himself.  So too does the one’s whose heart becomes bitter, vengeful, and hateful in response to such actions.

In terms of forgiveness, Jesus was quoted in the Gospel of Mark as saying: “I promise you that any of the sinful things you say or do can be forgiven, no matter how terrible those things are. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven. That sin will be held against you forever” (CEV – Mark 3:28-29).

What that statement tells me is that God’s grace and mercy is always greater than our acts of sin/brokenness.  It’s hard for many to fathom that we are called to forgive “no matter how terrible those things are”.  And certainly, forgiving some for the atrocious things they have done to us and our loved ones IS unbelievably hard.  Thankfully, I don’t have to try to do that on my own.  God’s amazing grace has given me the ability to forgive all those who have done me wrong in my first 49 years and 50 weeks.

In response to your question about freedoms – and what those freedoms cover – it raises a lot of passion in me as well.

I tend to agree with you that those women and men who have given so much to defend our liberties have fought for our right to choose how we want to respond to something like a performance of the National Anthem.  This is not purely a secular matter, however.  It crosses over into matters of faith as well.  There are some people of faith, for instance, who are uncomfortable when asked to stand for expressions of nationalism such as the National Anthem that might suggest their primary allegiance is to country (and not to God).  And during times of war, there are many religious persons who declare themselves to be conscientious objectors: meaning their faith’s teachings about the sacredness of life renders them unable to take the life of others – even during war!  In such cases, individuals might take stands that are seen as unpatriotic because of their faith.

When we address matters of freedom or liberty, we must remember those concepts do NOT mean people are free to do what the majority of people feels is right.  Freedom and liberty means individuals are free to do what the individual feels right (as long as their freedom is not inflicting pain or damage on others).  That’s why I try to caution my friends on the Christian right who are such strong proponents of Religious Freedom Laws.  They support such laws because they think they will only give Christians who think and live like them the right to discriminate against those who live and believe differently from them.  The reality, however, is that if religious freedom laws are passed then EVERY person aligned with a religious tradition in this country could be free to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against any individual or group of her or his choosing.

All of this is to say the matter of freedom is complicated.  It doesn’t just cover people who think and live like you do.  It covers everyone.

Thanks for the great questions/comments, Yvette.  How about the rest of you?  What do Yvette’s comments raise for you?

And PLEASE.  Keep the questions coming!

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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2 Responses to Hating? Freedom?

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    In the atheist communities I belong to, there is a certain subset of people who come to atheism because they have experienced abuse at the hands of churches and other faith traditions where their spiritual leaders tried to “hate the sin” out of them. I’ve heard from LGBTQ people forced to attend “gay conversion” sessions, women in abusive relationships counseled to submit more cheerfully to their husbands to avoid “provoking” violence, people shamed publicly for having doubts or questions about their faith. The problem with trying to “hate the sin, not the sinner” is exactly as you say—that hate is never the solution to anything, and can lead even people with the best intentions toward responses that are hurtful and create more hate than repentance. Sometimes the kind of hate that might cause a person to break into a church.

    And that is a problem for atheists as well. The kind of atheism that is less about nonbelief and more about vengeful opposition to faith can poison a whole community and prevent it from seeing the goodness and truth in others’ beliefs and ways of being. We need to see each other clearly before we can hope to understand, get along, and work together, and hate of any kind prevents us from seeing anything but itself.

  2. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    (To be clear, I am not suggesting that the person who broke into your church was someone your church abused—only that some people’s hateful feelings toward churches in general come from a place of pain so deep that it doesn’t necessarily see clearly enough to distinguish between the church that hurt them and a church where they would be welcomed and maybe healed.)

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