As many folks know, Catholic magisterial teaching on homosexuality is not a simple and flat out condemnation. The trickiness comes from the fact that Catholic teaching does not condemn a person’s homosexual orientation (though many documents do frame it negatively), but it also does not approve of same-gender sexual relationships. The complication illustrates a basic conundrum in Catholic thought about homosexuality: our social justice tradition tells us we must respect all people, while our sexual ethics tradition does not approve of any sexual relationship or activity outside of the context of a heterosexual marriage bond which is open to procreative possibility.
Unfortunately, this complexity of teaching has often been simplified into the common phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” There are so many reasons why such a description is offensive to LGBT people. Recently, I read a blog post by a Protestant minister, Rev. John Pavlovitz, which offered three very succinct reasons the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” (LTSHTS) formulation is not a Christian response to anything, let alone something as personal and sensitive as sexual orientation and gender identity. (You can read his entire blog post by clicking here.)
I’m going to review Rev. Pavlovitz’ three reasons, and then add a few of my own. I’ll also invite readers to share their thoughts.
Pavlovitz’ first reason is very basic:
- Jesus never said it.
Though many people think the saying is Scriptural, and even a teaching of Christ, it is not. Pavlovitz explains what Jesus did say about loving other people, and it doesn’t look anything like LTSHTS:
“Jesus was crystal clear in his teachings about our calling to love: God, and our neighbor as ourselves, one another as he loved us, our enemies, sacrificially, extravagantly, relentlessly—but never with caveats or qualifications. He never let anything about a person’s life keep them from intimate fellowship with him (and he was the only one qualified to do so). . . .
“His words were never given as license to police someone else’s moral condition, but to use a mirror to assess one’s own. Any behavior modification, any inner conviction, any heart change would be between Jesus and those hearing his words. Only he decides the work he does. We don’t get to play middleman between Christ and another human being. We are assigned the tasks of feeding, healing, and caring for those we cross paths with, in his name.”
His second reason is extremely pertinent to those concerned with LGBT issues:
2. It’s cowardly and morally inconsistent.
By this he means that the phrase LTSHTS is generally used to justify discrimination:
“Let’s be honest here. Whenever any Christian uses the phrase LTSHTS, it’s never in the context of anything other than gender identity and sexuality. . . . It’s not as though they continually scour the Scriptures, applying their theological understandings of sin to those in their midst who might lie or steal or commit adultery or love money or drink to excess. If they truly lovedthose “sinners” and hated those “sins” enough to treat people as horribly as they treat the LGBTIQ community for the sins they charge them with, they’d have nobody left who could ever stand to be in their presence. . . .
“Hiding behind LTSHTS is just using Jesus as justification for the kind of behavior he would be quite appalled by. It isn’t Christlikeness, it’s cowardice.”
His third reason is one that is self-defeating to those who utter the phrase:
3. It’s a relationship-killer.
Pavlovitz notes that in uttering the phrase, the speaker cuts off any possibility of having a healthy relationship with the person or persons addressed:
“To say to a LGBTIQ person,’“I love you but I hate your sexuality,’ is the same as saying to someone, ‘I love you, but the color of your eyes disgusts me,’ or ‘I love you, but I hate the way you laugh,’ or ‘I love you, but God believes that the freckles on your shoulders and cheeks are an abomination.’
“LTSHTS is not (as its practitioners allege) a balanced phrase, but a hateful phrase; one that never makes a relationship between two parties better or closer or richer, it only severs or prevents the very kind of intimate fellowship Jesus forged, even with those he disagreed with. To utter it is to stand in complete opposition to the life he lived and to the ministry he practiced.”
Pavolvitz’ reasons are good, but a few more that I think need to be said to explain why this phrase is so offensive. The first is that using the phrase can make the speaker forget that in fact, we are all–the speaker included–sinners, and that we all fall short of loving one another fully.
The second reason I would add comes from Pope Francis’ famous question: “Who am I to judge?” In using LTSHTS, the speaker has determined who sinners are and what their faults are. No human can sit in that sort of judgement. To do so risks throwing oneself into deep sin. As Pavlovitz puts it: “LTSHTS is about as sinful as we can get, friends.”
Most importantly, though, we need to remember that sexuality is not a sin. Even the magisterial teachings confirm this claim. Sexuality is a gift. It encompasses a lot more than genital or other physical activity. To say that one “loves” a person, but “hates” their sexuality, means that the speaker is viewing sexuality primarily as an act. It discounts the complexity of relationship involved.
And, in fact, isn’t the problem with the conundrum of church teaching describe in the introduction of this post? Catholic teaching’s split of person from act, accepting the former and condemning the latter, does damage to a more holistic understanding of sexuality–the understanding that most people experience in their lives. Moreover, the magisterial formulation offers no understanding of relationship, which is the context for so much of human beings’ sexual activity. The teaching reduces sexuality to simple biological urges, foregoing any comprehension of the emotional and psychological gifts that are present in any sexual relationship.
What do you think about “Love the sinner, hate the sin”? Offer your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry