Thursday, February 18, 2010

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin ...

Google that phrase and you get about a million hits. I didn't read most of them. Duh.
But the first couple of pages were, as one would expect, about either GLBT concerns or the origins of the phrase itself. I did find one riff on loving Mac users but not the sin of using Macs -- or maybe it was PC users. But I digress.
Gandhi actually said "hate the sin but not the sinner" in his autobiography long before the phrase's contemporary usage, and Augustine offered a variation on it -- Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, “with love for humankind and hatred of sins,” (Letter 211) -- about 1,500 years earlier -- more or less.
It's instructive to look back to Augustine, for whom the sin of wrong belief was critical. Like so many defenders of the Roman church, he took up "the problem of the Jews," about whom he wrote, "the Lord Jesus Christ distinguished between His faithful ones and His Jewish enemies, as between light and darkness." On the other hand, while many in the church were calling for the death of Judaism -- and, thus, of the Jews -- Augustine gave voice to a more temperate perspective best captured in his phrase, taken from the Psalms, "do not slay them." Let them survive but never thrive for their existence bears witness to the prophecies about Christ in their own scriptures, he argued.
For a thousand years across Europe popes and bishops resorted to Augustine as they preached against the Jews as enemies of Christ, and again to Augustine when they tried to stop mobs of Christians -- inspired by their preaching against the Jews -- from killing Jews.
Those popes and bishops found themselves in the same impossible tension that certain American evangelical leaders find themselves in today in the face of the proposed draconian anti-gay laws in Uganda. The steady drumbeat of Christian preaching against "the sin" of being gay helped create a context for such laws, and no amount of "loving the sinner" preaching can turn that around.
What James Carroll writes in Constantine's Sword about the church and the Jews might just as well be said about the church and homosexuals if one substitutes the word "gay" for "racial" and the phrase "Christian-GLBT" for "Christian-Jewish":
Because religious dispute was the source of racial hatred, there are sweeping implications here not just for Christian-Jewish relations, but for fundamental Western attitudes about identity itself. The modern world, which prides itself on being a repudiation of the irrationalities of a culture that could give rise to an Inquisition, was in fact forged in the fires of those irrationalities, and we can still feel their heat.

Carroll's book tries to answer one central question: is there something central to Christian faith that led inevitably to the Shoah? Given that tens of thousands of gay men were arrested by the Nazis and thousands died in concentration camps a similar question presses in on the church regarding the long history of anti-homosexual vitriol that has spilled forth from its pulpits.

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