Social Issues, Theology

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” sounded radical once, but it isn’t anymore.

**As with any of my posts on controversial subjects, “I could be wrong” is always an implied caveat.**

My friend Cassidy has been writing a series of reviews based on People to be Loved by Preston Sprinkle: a book that purports to describe a “radical love and acceptance” of gay Christians in a way that has never been done before.

Long story short: there is nothing new regarding mainstream evangelical rhetoric about homosexuality in this book. Same-sex relationships are still sinful. What Sprinkle actually does is rephrase his anti-gay stance in flowery, user-friendly language so he doesn’t come across as bigoted. He describes a text conversation in which a pastor friend of his deliberately dodged answering a woman’s question, “Would your church welcome my lesbian daughter?”

Instead, he writes that the pastor invited her to join him in a series of coffee dates to “get to know each other,” almost as if he intended to soften her up before delivering the bad news: yes, your daughter is welcome, but if she’s in a same-sex relationship, she will be encouraged to repent.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” sounded radical once, but it isn’t anymore.

Mean what you say, say what you mean

I see nothing to be gained by this approach. Sprinkle may think it’s “radical” to show kindness in the form of buying someone coffee as opposed to shouting “Get behind me, Satan!” But I wouldn’t be surprised if this felt like a bait-and-switch to the coffee recipient. In the context of same-sex relationships being sinful, there is no gentle way to break that sort of news when it’s bound to be personal.

I’ve been in Sprinkle’s shoes before: not as a pastor, but as an acquaintance confronted with the question “Does your ministry welcome gays?” from a fellow classmate. I’d hem and haw and struggle to find some way to essentially say “Yes, but no” without sounding mean. Ideally, I’d want to answer the question in such a way that conveyed a parent’s struggle to tell their adult child he cannot live at home anymore if he refuses to go to rehab to kick his drug habit. You know, “tough love.”

In other words, I was struggling with a way to say, “We hate the sin, but love the sinner” without sounding cliché.

It’s taken several years for me to see, however, that the “consequences” of committed same-sex relationships are really nothing like a drug habit. In Evangelical World, it’s as if there is no difference.

The destructive nature of drugs is tangible, measurable, and can be seen with the naked eye. The only “consequences” of homosexuality that I’ve gleaned from Scripture are symbolic – “against God’s design,” arguably because two people of the same sex cannot produce children (neither can all straight couples), and because with two of the same gender, there is confusion regarding who the “head” of the family is, and whose job it is to submit (a complementarian idea that has been debunked).

While I in no way profess that my understanding of the Bible is perfectly clear on this subject, it does seem to me that the type of relationships gay Christians seek – committed, consensual, for better or worse, richer or poorer – is likely not what is being referred to in Leviticus 18:22 or 1 Corinthians 6:9, the two biggest “clobber verses” that are pulled out for debate.

Two scholars, three opinions

I can speak with a bit more confidence (but only a bit) regarding Leviticus, simply because I have a bias toward Hebrew translations from Jewish scholars – I trust the translation of the Old Testament through a Jewish lens more than I do with Christian ones, and many Jewish experts believe “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman” refers to unlawful sex; perhaps even rape.

In his book Torn, Justin Lee rightly points out that the word “homosexuality” did not exist until about the 18th century, so it couldn’t have been used in the Bible. Additionally, same-sex prostitution was a part of ritual pagan worship, which was common at the time, and condemned by the apostle Paul as behavior unbecoming of Christians – hence why he wrote that this category of offenders “will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

I write all this to explain that, contrary to mainstream evangelical thought, it is possible to be affirming of same-sex relationships for reasons that are not purely self-seeking. Don’t take my word about the above exegesis being correct, however – it’s an alternative interpretation that I, a seminary dropout, have no way of confirming for complete authenticity. But it does make sense to me. And if Sprinkle really wanted to show “radical love” in his book, perhaps he ought to have included both sides of the issue. If Scripture were easy and simple to comprehend, we wouldn’t have the 40,000 denominations that exist, and have existed, over the last two thousand years.

As I read about the controversies of bakers and florists refusing services to gay couples, and in some cases, gays being fired or denied housing because of their orientation, the more I come to believe that we are living in a pivotal time in American history: a new kind of Jim Crow, if you will.

The minds, they are a’changin’


And speaking of Jim Crow, it must be acknowledged just how many Christians were unapologetically racist, believing integration and interracial marriages were just as sinful as gay marriage is considered today. They cited Scripture and predicted the collapse of society if black people were recognized as equal citizens.

Society is indeed facing the threat of collapse. But it’s coming from those stuck in their bigotry, not from black people. And not from gays.

While it’s not my goal to try and change anyone’s mind, it will do Christians some good to remember our history of disagreements (many of which resulted in burnings at the stake!) and be honest about how many times our ancestors have revised their understanding of Scripture right around the time that their respective cultural tides began to turn.

Today, Christians insist that slaveholders and KKK members interpreted their Bibles through a lens of hate. If I’m still around fifty years from now, I wonder if the majority of American Christians will be saying the same about the “hate homosexuality, love the homosexual” crowd.


39 thoughts on ““Hate the sin, love the sinner” sounded radical once, but it isn’t anymore.”

  1. “and neither did the people who wrote it.”

    Well therein lies the issue does it not? If it was written by God and Jesus is God, He can define what he intended to mean and what He intended when He said that He came to fulfill the Law.

    If a bunch of guys wrote it on their own with their own intent, then I don’t particularly care what they intended.


      1. Unless man is as defiant, self glorifying and gifted with free will as the Bible says he is. The point was though that if Jesus is the Messiah and said what the Bible recorded then the argument about the Law responded to doesn’t make much sense. If he wasn’t than we are still under the Law.


      2. @Thomas- being Jewish (well, a Jewish atheist), I’d say that yes, you’re all still under the law if you consider yourself to be. It never applied to non-Jews, though. However, if you feel bound by it, you can also take the Jewish teaching that we humans were given the law, and it’s ours now, and we get to figure out how to make it work for us. So if we look at it and go “holy shnikeys, stoning a non-virgin bride to death on her father’s doorstep is awful”, we can do all sorts of things to sort of … clarify the law into nonexistence. The official Talmudic ruling makes it impossible to prove the bride was non-virgin, basically. They rules-lawyered the rule out of existence.

        There’s a story in the Talmud (Bava Mezia 59b) about how this all works. It’s pretty long, but it comes down to whether or not an oven can be ritually purified in a certain circumstance or whether it’s permanently contaminated. Most of the rabbis think it’s contaminated, but Rev Eliezer says it can be cleansed. He asks for all kinds of minor miracles to prove that G-d agrees with him, and they all occur. I’ll let the text speak for itself at this point.

        Then Rabbi Joshua rose up on his feet, and said, ‘It is not in the heavens’.
        What did he mean by quoting this? Said Rabbi Jeremiah, ‘He meant that since the Torah has been given already on Mount Sinai, we do not pay attention to a heavenly voice, for You have written in Your Torah, ‘Decide according to the majority’.
        Rabbi Nathan met the prophet Elijah. He asked him, ‘What was the Holy One, Blessed be He, doing in that hour?’
        Said Elijah, ‘He was laughing and saying, “My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me.’

        That’s right. G-d was thrilled that we had achieved independence and were interpreting the rules for ourselves. Jews might still be subject to the Law, but we interpret for ourselves what that means in a human context. Can Christians take the plunge into independent exegesis?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. @feminerd – Thanks for the Talmudic interpretation! A friend who is a Christian from a jewish background and I were very recently discussing this very thing and I had forgotten to ask him where it came from.

        Frankly, I am very good at interpreting Gods rules for myself and can wiggle myself out of all sorts of things if I let myself. I think it is the nature of people that we are self focused and we don’t like anyone else telling us what to do and therefore we come up with all sorts of ways to make everything about us and make it favorable to what we want to do.

        If you go back to the very beginning, Adam and Even in the Garden in Genesis 3, the nature of man is exposed in this way in the nature of the sin involved. The serpent encourages Eve to question God’s direction and apply her own conclusion on a simple direction from God — Did God really say or do I know better.

        Jesus repeatedly addresses the idea of independent interpretation of the Scriptures and the results in His interactions with the Pharisees with in summary the message of you guys make the Bible say what you want it to see to wield power over other while not actually following it. Jesus addressing the Pharisees avoiding taking care of their parents, avoiding the direction of honor mother and father, by claiming that their money was pledged to the temple for example.

        The underlying question goes to the nature of God vs. nature of man. If He is indeed a perfect, holy righteous, all knowing, all powerful God and our creator and we are just we — lots of smart people in the world but no one meets that description — why would we want to take what He says question it and make it about us, even if we could hope to think on His level.

        So I think all people, including christians are great at independently interpreting the Bible, but the question is whether that is a good thing.


        1. ” If He is indeed a perfect, holy righteous, all knowing, all powerful God and our creator and we are just we — lots of smart people in the world but no one meets that description — why would we want to take what He says question it and make it about us, even if we could hope to think on His level.”

          There’s multiple answers to that question. We do it because it’s practically impossible to divorce our modern cultural values from our understanding of the text. Because the Bible was written by fallible men, and is read by fallible men, so it’s inevitable that we’ll continue to read Scripture with the belief we are being guided by the Spirit, and still come to different conclusions than our neighbor on the pew next to us.

          There really isn’t any option other than “independently interpreting the Bible,” but then that’s why we have Bible studies and schools of theology.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Beth, good assessment of Preston’s book. I’ve read it as well. I’ve posted on both his blog and on your friend Captain Cassidy’s blog. Preston’s main defense when confronted with the fact that Jesus did not address SS relations is that Jesus had a “stricter” view of the Law than the Pharisees. I have tried to point out to him that this was not the case, as the Pharisees kept the Law fastidiously. The problem with viewing the Bible as a rules book, as Evangelicals do, and using the half-dozen “clobber passages” as rules, is that Jesus did not view Scripture the same way the church has for over 2000 years. Yes, we’ve got it wrong.

    Any reading of Matthew 5 shows that Jesus flat out denied laws in the OT that did not reflect God’s nature. He also was not adverse to completely changing context or meaning of OT verses that were violent. And he completely blew past OT laws when it was more expedient or loving to do so. In other words, he didn’t seem to have the same unquestioning reverence towards the Bible that Evangelicals have. He did not worship Scripture. Which begs the question, if this is Jesus’ attitude towards Scripture, how does God view the Bible?

    This is why Progressive Christians start with Christ and his teachings as the lens through which to interpret Scripture rather than “prove” Scripture’s “trustworthiness” as the first agenda of Christian apologetics, as Evangelicals do. There is frankly, too much in Scripture that presents God in a very bad light and contradicts what Jesus has taught us about the Heavenly Father to blindly accept literal usage without filtering it through Christ first.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kirk, interesting argument, but it seems like you are applying a lens to Jesus and the Bible that is simply not present in the Bible. Yes, Jesus forced the Pharisees to reevaluate how THEY read the Scriptures and corrected where man changed the Bible to suit his beliefs but He also refers to such OT figures as Jonah and Adam literally and further relies on the Scripture to prove who He is — the Road to Emmaus comes to mind but He is citing Scripture left and right.

      If we are to take Jesus as a lens and then decide which part of the Bible we agree with, which part of Jesus are we to take as a lens? Do we decide that we like Jesus at the Last Supper but don’t like Him as He is overturning tables? Do we sit in judgment on Jesus like the Jesus seminar and vote on which part of the the Sermon on the Mount is acceptable and which is not? If we accept Jesus defending the woman caught in adultery do we also accept that He told her go and sin no more, implying that what she did was in fact a sin or just hold to the love part without the holiness part?


      1. Thank you Thomas, for your response. If your presupposition, that God wrote the Bible were true, then, yes, we have no right to question any of it, and need to mindlessly obey it. Unfortunately, this has some problems, as it creates a schizophrenic God who blesses those who dash babies heads against the rocks one minute, then tells us to love our enemies the next. Inspiration of the writers doesn’t seem to insure that ungodly behaviour is not attributed to God. Inerrancy of the Bible as a means to explain inspiration doesn’t work out well. Jesus understood that and used a different hermeneutic than conservatives do. Paul as well. The belief that we must unquestioningly except “everything” as true or “profitable” in Scripture can be quite harmful (and has been historically).

        Your premise that we take an “all or nothing” approach is quite common among conservatives, but is not adhered to even among themselves. It is a straw argument blown apart by the fact that evangelicals and Catholics “choose” which parts of Scripture to maintain and which parts they ignore. This can be clearly seen simply by looking at church history and watching how Christendom has splintered over church doctrine.

        Rather than attempting, yet another “systematic theology” (there are so many!), based on a belief that the Bible is a “rule book” (no one can agree precisely what those rules are) a common sense theology needs to be aspoused based on Christ’s teaching and attitude towards Scripture. Hint: he was a people person, not a rules person. This is why he ignored the Law commanding stoning of the woman caught in adultry, forgave her and told her to sin no more. Her “sin” was not breaking the Law, but behaving in a destructive manner, not consistent with a truely committed and loving relationship. Likewise, he condemns the unloving and legalistic attitude of her accusers. This story has nothing to do with keeping rules, but everything to do with love. Conservatives always, always miss this and hone in on the “sin no more” part. So sad!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. To be fair to the person in the coffee house question, the church welcomes anyone anytime no matter what they are dealing with from drug addiction, and sexual issues of any kind whether it be in video or live form. So yes, we welcome everyone.

    The actual question is one of doctrine and whether that church believes that some sex relationships are a sin. In today’s climate where as evidenced here a belief that the Bible calls same sex relationships a sin is equated with Jim Crow laws and bigotry it can be a touchy subject where people don’t answer well particularly given the fact the desire is usually to let God work it out with the inquirer rather than the answerer. I was a drunk, a blasphemer and a fornicator per the Bible and God worked that out with me through exposure to His Word.

    In other words, I don’t care overly much if I personally offend someone as I stopped caring about that a long time ago, but I don’t want to get in the way of them and Go with my careless words.

    Ps – even if you accept that there is no difference between the moral law and the rituals of the Law and throw out Leviticus and the OT, the New Testament use of fornication in general makes your argument extremely hard to maintain.


    1. Sprinkle’s error with regards to coffee is that he’s advocating tactics to evade the question. He’d save a lot more time and energy just being honest about his stance, and if he isn’t ashamed of it then he should just own it already. Why beat around the bush?

      I never claimed there is no difference between OT ritual and moral law, and the context of homosexuality I wrote about -committed partnerships- is not the same as fornication. Not even close. But as I said, I’m not going to change anyone’s mind with a blog post. Just please don’t put thoughts in my post that aren’t there.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ok gotcha on the Coffee point.

        I was summing up what seemed to be the argument including the comments and did not mean to say that was your point – sorry.

        Question though, do you consider a committed man and woman living together with the intent to stay together sinful if they have a physical relationship?


        1. “Do you consider a committed man and woman living together with the intent to stay together sinful if they have a physical relationship?”

          In principle, yes. But your question brings up another question for me: the question of what, exactly, makes people “married” in a biblical view. No one held ceremonies or signed paperwork like we do today, it was moving away from their parents’ home and consummating the relationship that made people “married.” So I wouldn’t say that a relationship between two people who have been together for years, and plan to be for life, is less significant than that of a married couple simply because they feel modern marriage is just a “piece of paper.”

          Liked by 4 people

      2. This may show up in the wrong place in the conversation, if so sorry.

        Yes, there is no specific marriage ceremony set out in the Bible, but there is clearly an institution of marriage in OT and NT — Jesus attended a wedding and all and the Church is pictured as the Bride of Christ as two of the many examples.

        Paul talks about avoiding sinning by being married and duties of husbands and wives so though the ceremony may be different, the institution, to use a really overused word is definitely there. They may not have had paper, though the extensive geneologies would seem to be paper recordings of marriages, but there was certainly a time when someone agreed to go from singled to married, the laws of adultery and consequences accompanying would require clarity.

        Committed partners can be lovely and wish to remain together forever but they are not married until they are married…to simplify things quite a bit.

        My point was that fornication as set out in the Bible repeatedly covers any sexual activity outside of marriage so the broad term makes the argument difficult.


        1. There are many arguments that are well-researched and legitimate even if they aren’t 100% accurate or correct, so I don’t understand why many Christians get all bent out of shape and immediately question the salvation of anyone who doesn’t completely agree with the majority about a social issue, not a moral one. This is a debate about the actions and decisions made between consenting adults, with no direct harm caused to others, so this isn’t a hill I’m going to die on.


    2. So it’s wrong to call being anti-LGBT bigotry. “The desire” (passive voice alert) is to let God work it out with the inquirer (because “Does your ministry welcome gays?” isn’t actually a question about the ministry of the person being addressed, apparently). You feel the need to write four paragraphs defending the “person in the coffee house question”–and you think you’re defending Preston Sprinkle’s long lecture on how to take someone to get coffee repeatedly rather than giving a simple answer by saying “the actual question is one of doctrine and whether that church believes that [same] sex relationships are a sin.”

      Do you really not see any contradiction here?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bigotry is by definition intolerance of those who hold a different position that you. There is no intolerance or hatred going, just a difference of opinion. You appear to hold a different opinion than I and I have no problem with that.

        If you don’t like the answer and don’t think there is a distinction, that is fine as well.


    3. I am not Beth, of course, but I don’t see any difference in the moral law and ritual law, and neither did the people who wrote it. It was all the Law, handed down by Adonai, and followed as a moral imperative. This moral/ritual distinction is a Christian addendum, entirely made up in order to justify picking and choosing which rules they like and which rules they don’t. Jews, and the Israelites who wrote the Torah, saw all 613 laws as equally important and valid.

      Now don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of tossing out proscriptions and prescriptions that are clearly dated and/or immoral! Just don’t pretend they’re picked out by asterisks or different wording or anything. They aren’t. It all looks the same, it all sounds the same, the trope (cantorial markings on how to chant it) are all the same, the wording is all the same.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. How about if I don’t believe your definition of bigotry is the one in common use? If I think pretty much everyone who isn’t legalistically trying to disallow a term they find particularly negative from being used for things like racism, sexism, and homophobia would recognize those qualities as bigotry? Does that have your approval as well?


        1. Yes, the common use of the term bigot is anyone who does not agree with me on a subject that I feel strongly about. Or in other words, being intolerant of one who has a different opinion that you do.


          1. That doesn’t answer my question, but it implies the answer “no,” and…a great deal of confidence in your own accuracy. I wonder what you are seeking to accomplish here.


          2. Your question is not really a question, it is more a statement that you will define the word as you wish which you are free to do. My response was pointing out the irony of what you were saying.


          3. Well, I see you’ve found an airtight justification for not responding to anything that doesn’t come from your own mind. Still wonder what you think you’re accomplishing, but–life’s full of disappointments and I’ll somehow live without knowing.


      2. My other comment just now belongs under a different comment. I think it’s probably pretty easy to guess which one. It’s not addressed to Feminerd. Typepad is buggy and I cannot edit.


    4. I believe part of the disagreement comes from differing definitions of the word, “welcome.” When I tell someone that they are ‘welcome’ in my house it means that they can come and enjoy hospitality, and that they are accepted as who they are, without requirement to change to conform to a standard of behaviour in the future.

      Your description of ‘welcome’ with the identification of certain categories of people and a priority on labeling certain things as ‘sin’ suggests that you have something different in mind. That difference would seem to be the root of the issue the OP is trying to highlight.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I understand that, but if a church is acting like Jesus did then it welcomes everyone no matter what their sin is, we are all sinners, and explains the Bible to them with the intent that God handle the convicting of sin part not us.

        So Jesus welcomed everyone who wanted to hear, but Jesus never changed His message because people did not like it.


          1. Which lead to the other discussion above, but there it is not a semantics issue as it goes to the heart of what a church is and isn’t.


      2. I guess that we’re deep enough into the hierarchy that I can only reply to myself to try and keep the comments close.

        Thomas, I understand that there’s a distinction and that you take your understanding of the word from your understanding of how Jesus wants you to practice welcome. I’m simply pointing out that there are many Christians, including Beth in her ‘yes and no’ example, and Sprinkle, who realize that there is this difference in definition.

        To reply to “Are you welcoming?” with “Yes we’re welcoming*” “*According to our definition not necessarily yours”, isn’t practicing good communication and will likely have negative repercussions from the recipient once they realize that there was some linguistic hanky-panky used on them. I think that bears some consideration by those Christians in dialogue with LGBTQ individuals today.

        Beth, there has been negative interpretations of homosexuals and homosexual behaviour documented in Christianity back to at least the 3rd century. No one questioned the interpretation from then until now because ‘that’s how it is’. The same reason why hell went mostly unquestioned, and the role of women, and other currently controversial subjects. So there are now alternative interpretations about hell and some choose them, but not all. Some choose egalitarian theology, but not all. Some will choose the more conciliatory verses related to LGBTQ individuals and some won’t.

        What’s important to note is that in all of these examples, as well as your ‘yes and no’ story, it was an increase in the societal support for the alternative position that led to reconsideration of these positions by Christians, not some sort of enlightenment directly initiated by God. As has been noted elsewhere, the strong social stigma attached to slavery hasn’t completely removed support for it from Christian ranks, only turned down the volume at which these people discuss it. So some will change, and some won’t and everyone will find ways to justify their decision.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. A good post.
    The flaw in literal interpretations on the Old Testament is that one is reading something which has been translated and translated and so forth, and messages loose nuances in translations.
    I’m not a great scholar of biblical texts (I’m not even up to mediocre standard!), but the messages seem to me are ones of not so much what you do, but the means by which you do it which are wrong (eg my reading of the events in Sodom strike me as more like scenes out of the film ‘Deliverance’ rather than a condemnation of same sex behaviour…quirky humour follows……….. I mean turning up at someone’s house and yelling ‘Bring out your guest! We fancy some action!!’ is just plain wrong!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. although there’s a basic difference between slavery that is a “right” and homosexuality that is a “prohabition” punishable by death, a right can be subjected to costums and timeframes a commandment cannot because then it would mean that the whole bible is irrelevant. (the explanation given that it is only rape, no honest Jewish translation will tell you so, just like it’s absurd to say that the Torah only prohibts incest or adultery when it is rape or pagan ritual.) I don’t know why christians are so defensive about Leviticus [not in a condesending way or offensive, i respect everyone that is honest] the bible prohibits pork and lobsters, work on Sabbath and Jewish holidays and another 600+ commandments that chritianity left behind. Why is this different?
    the concept of love the sinner hate the sin, i think is very beautiful. most people can apply that in some area in life, like a conflict with sibling or parent. the sin is wrong and terrible but you love the person. the main thing is, we are all brothers and sisters and we should treat eachother that way no matter the circumstances…
    enjoyed you blog, love to check out more of it…


    1. I don’t subscribe to the ‘house of cards’ model of faith: that if one part of the Bible is not completely factual, be it the story of creation or the understanding of homosexuality, then the whole thing is useless. The Bible is a collection of different books that each reflect the culture and values of the time in which it was written (not to mention that each has its own literary style) and it’s important to keep that in mind when interpreting (clearly I’m not an inerrantist).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. i hear that, but it’s ironic to believe in a bible that writes “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. (Deuteronomy 12:32)” and pick and choose…


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