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Why “Love the sinner, hate the sin” must be removed from Mormon culture

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a phrase repeated so often within Christian circles, one might mistakenly believe Jesus said it. However, Jesus did not say it. Neither did the Bible.

Where did the phrase come from?

In A.D. 423, St. Augustine wrote a passage in a letter which translated into, “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” Since then, modern Christian authors have continued to adapt this phrase into their own work.

While many today identify Mahatma Gandhi as one who made the phrase popular, Gandhi actually didn’t approve of the phrase.

“Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which though easy enough to understand is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Life can be confusing, thus we as humans like to find ways to simplify the world around us. As Gandhi points out, the logic behind the phrase is well recognized, but is an oversimplification of a complex issue. The sin and sinner are so intertwined, they are literally impossible to separate.

Breaking it down

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” is fundamentally flawed, in both portions of the phrase.

First, in order to love the sinner, one must first place themselves above another to make a sinner diagnosis.

“I think Jesus knew that if he commanded his disciples to ‘love the sinner,’ they would begin looking at other people more as sinners than neighbors. And that, inevitably, would lead to judgment. If I love you more as a sinner than as my neighbor, then I am bound to focus more on your sin. I will start looking for all the things that are wrong with you.” – Adam Hamilton

Second, we are encouraged to hate sin.

Choosing not to hate sin is not to condone it. We all recognize what is identified as sin and what is not, choosing to feel hate is not a necessary component.

God doesn’t want us to hate anything. Hate, in any form or usage, is not of God. We are not licensed to hate simply because we proclaim we are doing it in the name of God. Hate is an emotion which even the best of humanity and the best of intentions are not able to control.

When encouraging us to hate sin, rarely does the phrase remind us to be concerned with our personal sins. More commonly, the phrase gives excuse for one to worry about the sins of others. In this sense, Mark Lowry had a humorous take:

MarkLowryHateSinnerQuote

At what cost? 

The phrase has done far more harm than good in our society. For those on the receiving end of this phrase, love is rarely felt but hate and disdain are frequently absorbed, the pain of which can’t be tracked or calculated.

Although used in a variety of contexts and situations, it’s best known for being used in discussions surrounding LGBT-related topics. Mean-spirited remarks and discrimination directed at the LGBT community has been a staple of these discussions.

In addition, the phrase is even misapplied to individuals in the LGBT community. For example, being gay is not a sin. The Mormon church now has an official stance that individuals can be born gay and have same-sex attraction towards others. However, many members of the LGBT community continue to have their “sin” pointed out to them by others when no such sin even exists.

Does the phrase honestly show love? 

When used, the phrase is never mentioned within the primary context of loving the sinner. Rather, it is only used in situations with an emphasis of hating the sin. Hating the sin is often cherry-picked out of the phrase when there is literally no intention to show love, yet many people hide behind the first portion to justify this hate in front of others and to ease their conscience. Perhaps this is one of many reasons why love is rarely (if ever) felt by those on the receiving end of the message.

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Throughout the years, I’ve seen countless examples of individuals who muster up endless energy in focusing on someone’s sin, then never go back to that person to show them acts of love and kindness. If we truly love someone, we need to spend all our energy on letting them know.

A culture which focuses more on sin than love places labels on people and allows those labels to define who they are. I was recently playing sports with members at a ward activity. Other people being discussed in a group conversation were being identified as drinkers and smokers, as if that summarized who these people were and what their future potential entailed. Wouldn’t it be better to call these people a father, a mother, an entrepreneur, a pilot, an artist, a police officer, a returned missionary, a doctor, a business owner or a musician?

Most people don’t identify someone else as a friend who drinks coffee or a friend who swears. A normal person talking about their neighbor might say, “John, my neighbor, is putting new shingles on his roof this weekend.” From a Mormon, it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear, “John, my coffee-drinking neighbor, is putting shingles on his roof this weekend.” This kind of language only serves to dehumanize others and doesn’t help them or ourselves grow closer to Christ.

One commonly named justification for using the phrase is when one says they truly do feel love for the sinner, but fear they wouldn’t be showing the individual love if they didn’t point out how a sinful behavior might be harmful to them.

In the case of a LGBT individual, do they already know what the church teaches about those topics? Yes. So proclaiming a sinful behavior to them isn’t actually teaching, it ends up as no more than pointing out a sin. I once heard someone say something to the effect of, “If that’s the only way you know how to show love to me, I don’t need your love.”

Replacing the phrase

Unfortunately, the phrase is so engraved into our culture, it will take years to be removed entirely. To some, it has somehow become equated as doctrine.

No defense or justification exists for using this toxic phrase. Although Christians may use the phrase, the phrase is not Christian. For those of us who have come to this realization, we have a responsibility to not use the phrase ourselves and encourage others around us to not use it either. The time has passed for us retire it and move forward to a more wholesome way of interacting with one another. Rather than loving sinners, we need to love our neighbors.

LoveMyNeighbor1

Braden Jenks is studying addiction counseling at Minot State University and Rio Salado College. You can contact him at braden.jenks@gmail.com.

*This post was originally published at BradenJenks.com and has been reprinted here with permission*

Photo credit: Drrissamp and Marrionn. Photopin.com.

This Post Has 22 Comments

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  4. Hate is a godly emotion he hates things and so should I, at least in myself.

    Proverbs 6:16-19King James Version (KJV)

    16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:

    17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

    18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,

    19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

  5. Well, seeing that this isn’t a MORMON Culture thing, I have to completely disagree. THIS if from the Bible. Man does not have the authority to change the Teaching’s of Jesus Christ, only HE does. THIS is what is wrong with accepting Societal norms in churches. MAN is changing God’s word and they WILL have to answer for that in the afterlife. EVEN the Apostles have said this. Listen to Elder Lynn G. Ribbons Conference talk “Which way do you face?”

  6. my soul abhorreth sin, 2 Ne. 9:49.

    those sanctified cannot look upon sin save with abhorrence, Alma 13:12.

    Anti-Nephi-Lehies look upon shedding of blood with abhorrence, Alma 27:28.

    teach them to abhor such wickedness, Alma 37:29.

  7. Too many things wrong with this article to list. It asks that we all put our head in the sand. You don’t have to do that to be non-judgemental. Ironically, Elder Christofferson referenced the phrase just a couple of months ago in Gen Con.-

    “Sometimes those who raise a warning voice are dismissed as judgmental. Paradoxically, however, those who claim truth is relative and moral standards are a matter of personal preference are often the same ones who most harshly criticize people who don’t accept the current norm of “correct thinking.” One writer referred to this as the “shame culture”:

    “In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. … [In the shame culture,] moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion. …

    “… Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along. …

    “The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.”

  8. What the…?!?

    Parents – earthly ones! – are quite capable of loving their children unconditionally. It truly never occurred to me that my heavenly parents don’t, and am aghast that the man who is likely the next prophet is so TOTALLY certain that this the case. How is it possible for mere mortals to harbor more love for their offspring than Gods??!!??

    1. My recommendation is that you read the actual talk that President Nelson said that in. It really clears up doubts when you read the entire message, and not just the quote

  9. I agree that love thy neighbor is a more apt phrase. Also I don’t know anything about Gandhi’s relationship to the phrase other than from your post, but the quotation you have from him does not seem to suggest that he disapproved of the phrase. Instead it seems to suggest that it is a failure to practice this easily understood idea that leads to so much hate. Perhaps you could clarify his position, either providing more context or a more clear quotation.

  10. Just wondering if you could provide more info on this statement: “The Mormon church now has an official stance that individuals can be born gay” – I read the official press releases and stuff but haven’t found that part yet, so if you could point me to a link I’d appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

  11. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    But here is the modern teaching by the “prophet in waiting” Elder Nelson “While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional. The word does not appear in the scriptures. On the other hand, many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional.”

    Modern Mormonism is actually worse than the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin”.

    Modern Mormonism is “God doesn’t love the sinner, because God’s love has conditions.”

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/2003/02/divine-love?lang=eng

    1. What he is trying to say is that even though God loves us no matter what,, it doesn’t mean that God unconditionally accepts sin or make no requirements of us. Don’t mistake unconditional love with complete acceptance. Love comes uncondionally. Sometimes in the form of consequences.

    2. I live and love modern Mormonism. Here are some quotes from apostles and prophets affirming the unconditional nature of God’s love.

      Elder Marvin J. Ashton: “[God] demonstrated to us that His love was unconditional and sufficient to encircle every person.”

      Elder Neal A. Maxwell: “I am stunned at [Jesus’] perfect, unconditional love of all.”

      Elder Robert D. Hales: “That we may share His eternal, unconditional love with our brothers and sisters everywhere, is my humble prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

      President Gordon B. Hinckley: “In moments of quiet, we reflect upon His matchless life and His unconditional love for each of us.”

      President Monson: “My dear sisters, your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes. It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account. It is not changed by your talents and abilities. It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there.”

      Even Elder Nelson said, “You are constantly mindful of the Savior’s atonement and rejoice in His unconditional love.”

      I think the word ‘unconditional’ may have a dual interpretation when applied to love. God will always love us because we are His children, no matter what we do. But Elder Nelson clarified this love cannot extend into approval when our actions violate His commandments.

    3. I loved the article, and understand your comment, however, I feel as if you have missed an important part of Elder Nelson’s message.

      I don’t want to go too deep into his message, but he does say in the article. “Does this mean the Lord does not love the sinner? Of course not. Divine love is infinite and universal. The Savior loves both saints and sinners. The Apostle John affirmed, ‘We love him, because he first loved us.’ 39 And Nephi, upon seeing in vision the Lord’s mortal ministry, declared: ‘The world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it.'”

      So first off, I think that it is important to remember that in recent years other apostles and prophets have stressed one of the important messages of this blog. The message that we are all sinners, and should therefore not judge others because they sin differently. So in this quote, when he talks about saints and sinners, I don’t think he is trying to dehumanize children of God into two different groups, of good and bad, but point out that us, and those we perceive as more righteous than us are both loved alike.

      So I think the conditionality isn’t within the love of God, but it is conditional on our choice whether to accept the blessings that come with his love, by showing love in return, and doing what he asks us to do. His love isn’t unconditional because he can’t have it be unconditional. It goes against the very laws of heaven by which even he is bound. In order to inherit his kingdom, we must prove ourselves willing to accept the responsibility that comes with it. We musn’t prove ourselves worthy, because the only one worthy was Christ himself, and Through Christ’s grace, he extends the blessings to everyone who is willing to accept them and abide by the rules that govern the blessings.

      I also want to say that my thoughts are not necessarily church doctrine, and I may be wrong, but they are what I personally believe. So anyone who may wish to correct me, please remember that my comments are mine alone, and not to be confused with that of the church. I hope my comments can further the discussion, and not hinder it. I also ask that anyone who decides to comment does not do so with any purpose to hinder the conversation, but to further it.

    4. Hmm, it seems like a pretty big leap to go from what Nelson said to your conclusion that he meant “God doesn’t love the sinner” – especially since in the very thing you quoted he said, “While divine love can be called … universal” (i.e. which would seemingly include sinners, especially since all of us are sinners).

      In the speech you quoted, he listed many Biblical references to illustrate his point. Since you disagree with him, could you please share how you interpret those various references? I went through many of them and they seem to support what he’s saying, but I’d love to hear your viewpoint.

      The “higher levels of love” that are conditional – and that are affirmed in the scriptures – don’t seem that hard to understand. Imagine you have two children. The first one who causes you personally and your family all kinds of heartache, trouble, etc. even going so far as to being mean-spirited and hateful toward you. The second one loves you, takes care of you in your old age, does everything they can to help you. As a parent, on some level you will hopefully feel love for both of them. But it’d be only natural to feel a deeper, higher, closer love for the faithful and kind one who over many years has also become your dear friend, compared to the one who for years has more or less tried to become your enemy.

      To me it seems a testament to God’s perfection that he is able to still love people who do some very terrible and vile things, but it doesn’t seem odd that He’d feel a higher degree of love for those who love and humbly try to do what He asks.

    5. I think the LDS church is wrong about a lot of things, but I don’t see the quote you are using in the article you referenced from the LDS church

    6. The point of President Nelson’s message was to correct a common misunderstanding that, since God’s love is “unconditional”, it doesn’t matter what we do in life. People have been viewing God’s Love as God’s Acceptance, even Approval.

      Does God still love us, even when we sin? Of course He does. But that doesn’t mean He approves of what we do or that He won’t bless us more for following His commandments.

      The Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates this. The son that left his father’s presence did not receive any aid from his father while he was away. Was he in his father’s thoughts and prayers? Most certainly. But it was the son who stayed who received the father’s love and attention, who learned at his father’s side day in and day out. When the prodigal son returned, after repenting of his misdeeds, his father welcomed him back with open arms and restored to him his birthright. Just as God will do.

      Many view this parable as only an illustration of how God will welcome us back when we repent. That is only one aspect. It also shows that God’s Love (in the active sense), IS conditional. The father did not leave his home and go in search of his son, he didn’t secretly get funds to him through a third party. No, he stayed where he was, his son in his thoughts, but ultimately, the son had to return to him.

      Many too feel bad for the son that remained, who while ever faithful did not appear to benefit from his faithfulness relative to his brother. In birthright, that is true. But unlike his brother, he benefited from day after day of learning and growing in his father’s presence. Years lost that the returning brother can never get back.

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