By Joel McKerrow

This article is an excerpt from Joel McKerrow’s book Woven, used with permission. We’re going to be sharing a few of these in coming weeks. If you consider yourself a ‘spiritual misfit’ Joel’s book is an excellent guide to navigating different stages of faith. Go and grab a copy here.

One of the most quoted clichés in the church world around our hot- button issues is ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin.’ I wish this statement could be thrown out of the church’s lexicon. We don’t use it when we talk about the hoarding of wealth in the church or about the idolatry of nationalism (I wonder why not?). It is reserved solely for those hot- button moral issues. It is a statement that reads like a ‘but’, as in, ‘I love you, but …’ The ‘but’ is a condition. A standard. Another way to make an us versus them. I will love you up to a point and then I will judge your particular sins as worse than my own, and I will call this ‘loving the sinner.’

How horrendous it would be to go up to an overweight person and say, ‘I love you, but I hate your fatness.’ We all know there are many psychological, nutritional, metabolic and physiological reasons why someone is obese. It is not as simple as saying they are gluttonous and gluttony is a sin. How indecent to think so. How would this person feel if they were told this?

Now transfer this to any other issue that you feel like quoting the ‘love the sinner’ cliché at. The reality is that such a statement or anything like it does not and will not bring about a safe place for the Unravelled to continue in their journey. It is not a statement of love. All the Unravelled hear is the silent but screaming but. Spoken straight from the lips of a people they once called their own.

What I see in the Scriptures is more in line with ‘Love the sinner, hate your own sin.’

Actually, I wouldn’t even hold to that. I would say instead: Love Jeremy, or Sarah, or Frank, or Lisa. Don’t strip someone of who they individually are and label them ‘sinner’. This is not the heartbeat of their identity; this is not the name God gave them. Call them by their name and love them as a nuanced, complicated, intriguing, beloved, whole person.

And then, do the same for yourself. Love and forgive yourself. And in so doing, begin to see the brokenness inside yourself, the brokenness that causes what you call ‘sin’, transformed.

Love and forgive. Always.
A true community of loving acceptance. Can you imagine it?
This is what the church is meant to be. Could be. Sometimes is.
I have such hope in the church and what she is meant to be,  for I have seen communities that embody this. I have been part of church communities that embody this. I am a member of a local church community in Melbourne that embodies this. It is a beautiful thing to be part of.

Joel McKerrow is an award winning writer, speaker, educator, artist, creativity specialist and, having performed for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, is one of Australia’s most successful, internationally touring, performance poets. Based out of Melbourne, Australia he is the Artist Ambassador for the aid and development organisation ‘TEARFUND Australia’ and was the co-founder of community arts organisation, ‘The Centre for Poetics and Justice’ (2010-2013). Joel was the third ever Australian representative at the Individual World Poetry Slam Championships in the USA and is a highly sought after speaker at conferences and festivals all over the world. He has four published books and four spoken word/music albums, is a successful play-wright and is a co-founder/host of the The Deep Place: On Creativity and Spirituality Podcast.

4 Comments on “‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’

  1. This is thought provoking and full of compassion – thank you.

    I find myself a little more sympathetic though, to the concept of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’…

    I think I would be comfortable saying “I love my sister, but hate her cancer”, “I love my uncle but hate his racist comments”, “I love my friend but hate the drugs he takes”… perhaps it depends on our view of sin. If we see it as a trap that snares a person, clouding their true identity, then in our love for them, surely it makes sense to hate the thing that keeps them from life and freedom?

    • Thanks for sharing this Lia. It’s interesting how different those sentences sound, isn’t it? I think you’ve nailed it on the head when you say it comes down to how we understand sin. I wonder if the fact that the concept of sin is more ambiguous than something like cancer can make it more easily ‘weaponised’ in a phrase like this?

      • hey Will 🙂 yes – very true. The concept of sin carries an awful lot of baggage, doesn’t it? And is too often tied up with shame… and shame is soooo destructive, and so easily ‘weaponised’ as you say.

        For me, this is where the truths about the depths of God’s love, and the inherent dignity of the person become so key. Remembering those things enables me to face my own sin, but not be overwhelmed by it. I am not my sin. I am loved fully. How liberating that can be, and how devoid of shame and judgment.

        Love these posts by the way. Always so authentic and insightful.

      • Thanks Lia, so lovely to know you are reading these and the encouragement is appreciated 🙂

        Fully agree with your thoughts here. Boo to shame, yes to dignity and the liberation of being loved without judgment. That is truly transformative when we live into it hey?

        Hope you are well friend!

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