In 8th grade, I sat on the grassy front lawn of my church and asked my youth pastor, “What’s the deal with us hating gay people? Why is that?” She told me, “Well, some people do things that are wrong, but we can still love them. We can love the sinner and hate the sin.” Thus began my incredibly rocky relationship with one of the most overused phrases in the Christian vocabulary. I work at a children’s hospital near Vanderbilt, and spend part of my days there delivering gift to the patients in their rooms. I recently delivered a stuffed animal and a few balloons to a little girl in a large Amish family. Delivering presents is the sweetest part of my job, but this delivery made me uncomfortable. As I took the elevator up, I looked down at my dress and immediately thought: “This dress is significantly above my knees. They will think I am immodest, sinning in impurity and anchoring my pride in appearance.” Then I grabbed the ends of my super short hair, realizing, “My hair is as short as a traditional man’s haircut. They will think I am denying the femininity required of and given to me.” I have never been more nervous to knock on a patient’s door and deliver a gift. I absolutely love delivering, love the look on a child’s face when she sees a Frozen balloon walking into her room or when he recognizes the names of friends who have sent him bags of candy and magazines. I love meeting the families– I am always amazed by the dedication of parents and grandparents, nights spent sleeping on small couches or rocking chairs to ensure the health of a child. A lot of times, the experience is so moving that I start crying on my way back down the hall. Delivering is almost never a bad experience for me. When I delivered to the Amish girl’s room, I learned how it feels when a group of people think you are sinning. Not just a sinner in the state-of-being sense, as we all are, but the feeling of someone thinking that your current actions are a sin. It is tough. I want to be clear about something, though! The family in her room didn’t smite me. They didn’t inch back against the walls of the room, afraid that my sin would catch, infectious. They looked up at me, said “Thank you,” when I handed their child her gift, and I left. There was no wrath inflicted upon me beside the knowledge that this group of people did not agree with my physical appearance in the slightest. That was enough, though. That was enough to make it scary for me to go in that room. The knowledge that you are wrong, you’re sinful, you need to be corrected? Communicated to you by other people who are equally as sinful, not by a loving God who has that authority? I think I know why gay people feel persecuted by Christians now. Or why overweight people feel persecuted by Crossfit-P90X-Insanity people. Or why Muslim people feel persecuted by basically all of America. How hard must it be to live in a place where the dominant people have made it clear that your decisions are wrong, but they are big enough to love you anyway? God reveals more to me about my own sin each day, and I have found that if I prescribe to “love the sinner, hate the sin,” letting myself “hate the sin” is a breeding ground for two types of sin in my own life: the first, pride in my absence of their sin, and the second, a ridiculously paved and well-lit pathway to hate the sin and also hate the sinner too. So while I used to give “love the sinner, hate the sin” as my stock answer for the Christian stance on homosexuality, I don’t think I can in good faith anymore. It breaks my heart that homosexual people might think entire groups of Christians hate them because we are terrible at distinguishing between what behaviors are “sinner” and what behaviors are “sin.” God is sovereign, and knows how to love me while hating my sin. I am not this talented. Do I smile at the gay man until he starts talking about his boyfriend, and then scowl at him? Do I act hospitable around the lesbian woman until she asks if she can bring her wife over, then kick her out? These sound like terrible and quite awkward actions, ones that do not in the slightest portray God’s endless love for his creations or my much-less-extensive-sized love, either. As a human, and not God, I have no idea how to distinguish between the sinner and her sin–especially in myself. I’m listening to Jenn Johnson’s “In Over My Head” right now, which says:
Would You come and tear down The boxes that I have tried to put You in Let love come teach me who You are again
Whether I sink, whether I swim It makes no difference When I’m beautifully in over my head
I love all those words. They feel so true to me when I let fear creep in: “What if people think I’m being too radical? Not radical enough? What if they think I’m being wishy-washy? What if they think I shouldn’t have even taken a stance on this?”
I feel 1000% in over my head when it comes to this topic. My friends are divided, my parents, my church, churches and all Christians and humans and maybe even dogs and crickets everywhere all have opinions about whether or not we can like gay people. What comforts me is that God is in control.
God loves us and hates our sin. He knows the boundary lines, he knows how to do everything correctly. He knew when he created the world that in the 21st century, we would all get in major tiffs about homosexuality. He knew that when we tried to use hate in his name, it would get messy and muddy and people would feel hurt. But he also knows the end of the story, and if I know one thing about God, it’s an ending that glorifies him. Hallelujah! I can’t wait to see what it is.