Remember Phil and Alex? After a long time away they’re back again. By way of reminder, they’re good friends even though they disagree deeply about one very important topic: homosexuality and marriage for gays. They’re at the coffee shop, as usual.
ALEX: You know what I hate, Phil? It’s the way Christians label and patronize gays with “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Frankly I don’t think you can separate them out that way anyway. If you hate my homosexuality, you hate me. It’s who I am.
PHIL: Well, I always appreciate how we can get things out in the open, Alex. I think there are problems with that saying, too. I’ll bet they’re not quite the same problems you see in it, though.
ALEX: Really? Like what?
PHIL: Well, first of all, there’s a pretty serious miscommunication going on most of the time when Christians say it. You see, we know that the word sinner applies to us, too. It’s almost a synonym for human being, because every human being is a sinner. But I’ll bet you don’t hear it that way.
ALEX: I’ll say. You call me a sinner, and you’re labeling me. It’s offensive.
PHIL: It must feel that way, and I don’t blame you for it one bit. The thing is, you and I aren’t living in a time when you could count on everyone knowing that sinner was almost interchangeable with human being. So I shouldn’t assume you hear it that way. I should assume that it comes across as a label, whether I intend it to or not. I really prefer to say hate the sin but love the person instead.
ALEX: Well, fine — you’ve taken away the label. It’s still patronizing, and I still don’t think you separate my sexual orientation from who I am. I don’t think you can hate the sin but love the person.
PHIL: You don’t? Then what are we doing meeting here for coffee like we do?
ALEX: Oh, right. I don’t know. You’re an exception. You’re different. I haven’t seen it anywhere else.
PHIL: It certainly is more rare than it ought to be, I’ll agree with that! But I want to ask whether you realize all that you’re saying. What if I were to re-phrase it this way: Hate the wrong the person does, but love the person. That’s the same thing only with a more contemporary wording. Do you think that’s impossible?
ALEX: It’s pretty judgmental: you’re saying the person is doing wrong. And whatever name you put on it, I don’t know how you separate out the person’s actions from their identity.
PHIL: Then that makes you quite the exception, too, Alex. Here you are sitting enjoying coffee with an unrepentant wrong-doer like me. How do you do it?
ALEX: What? I never judged you. I don’t put my values on you that way!
PHIL: You don’t? Do you remember the first thing you said? “You know what I hate, Phil? It’s when Christians say they ‘hate the sin but love the sinner.'” You’ve just identified something you think Christians do that’s wrong. And you hate it. So you’re hating the wrong you think we do, but you’re getting along with me anyway. You’re hating the wrong you think I do, but loving me as a person. I guess you’re pretty rare yourself!
ALEX: But you know that’s not something gays ever say, Phil! It’s a Christian thing!
PHIL: I wish they would say it. You know how you don’t like being judged and labeled. We get judged and labeled, too.* And look, I can understand the part about people disagreeing with us. There are two sides to this dispute, and each side thinks the other is wrong. Not just factually wrong, but morally wrong. Isn’t that so?
ALEX: I think your morals are wrong, yes; and you think mine are wrong.
PHIL: So we both think the other side is practicing some kind of wrong-doing. As Christians, from our side we have a tradition that says we can love wrong-doers. God did it for us; Jesus died for us when we were wrong-doers. It’s in Romans 5:6-8, if you ever get a chance to take a look at it; but that’s just the clearest single statement; it’s all over the Bible, actually.
ALEX: Well, are you saying you can do it but we can’t? There you go judging again!
PHIL: Me? No, you’re the one who said it’s hard to hate the sin but love the person.
ALEX: Sure, but I don’t think it’s impossible. I certainly don’t think Christians are the only ones who can do it.
PHIL: Right. We’re not the only ones who can do it, though I think you’ll have to agree we’re the only ones whose beliefs are built totally upon this idea of God giving himself up in love for wrong-doers. That makes a real difference, though I don’t think I ought to take time to go into it here.
ALEX: Good; you don’t need to go off on theology with me here. I’m just saying it’s hard to do what Christians say they do, to hate the sin but love the sinner.
PHIL: And I’m saying that if you correct some unfortunate miscommunications in the phrase, and you say hate the wrong-doing but love the person, it amounts to the same thing, and if there’s a problem with it, that problem applies just as much to gays as it does to Christians. So if you think that most Christians hate gays as people because they hate what gays do, what will you do with the fact that gays hate what Christians do?
ALEX: I don’t know, Phil, what do you think I ought to do with it?
PHIL: I think that if you believe that principle, then you have to believe a whole lot of gays are haters. They hate the wrong that Christians do, and if you hate the wrong-doing, it’s really hard not to hate the wrong-doers, the persons doing it. And if you hate the person, you’re a hater, right?
ALEX: Whoa, hang on! Are you calling me a hater?
PHIL: No, I’m saying you and I are both proof that it’s not impossible to love another person you disagree with, or who you think is doing something really wrong. But I’d urge you to remember that it’s possible for people on both sides of this issue to be haters. I could go off on another topic about how the gay PR machine has distorted reality by saying only their opponents are haters, but —
ALEX: — but I think we’d better be moving on.
PHIL: Right. Until next time!
*Judged and labeled? Yes. “History will judge.” “You’re as bad as the slaveholders, full of bigotry and oppression.” “You’re ‘professional homophobes.'” “You’re ‘extremists,’ ‘haters and liars,'” and on and on.