Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bumper Sticker Watch

If you come here often you know that I have a soft spot for bumper stickers. In fact, I've written on my love of bumper stickers (even if that "love" is a bit facetious) more than once. [note: check out these three posts to catch up on the subject]

Today while I was driving my son out to visit with his "Me Me" (my mother-in-law got that name because every time she leaves a message on our answering machine, she starts with "Yeah, it's me...") I saw a bumper sticker that was so good, and so appropriate, that it merited some kind of mention. It read:

I'm in Favor of the Separation of Church and Hate

Conservative Christians love to say that they "love the sinner, but hate the sin." And, perhaps they really think that they do, but you'd have a hard time convincing anyone that they identify as sinners of that. While I was being railroaded by the conservative congregation that a pastored, for instance, they certainly did not communicate (by and large, though there were some wonderful exceptions who I will treasure forever) the love that they professed to have for me. They identified me a sinner not because of any moral or immoral actions on my part, but because I preached a vision of God with which they disagreed. They could not reconcile their religious views to the messages they received from the pulpit, so they decided that I had to represent some kind of demonic conspiracy to get them to abandon the one true faith.

But the phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin" is most often used on the subject of homosexuality. Conservative Christians for some reason have identified sexual orientation (as opposed to, say, war mongering) as the most pressing moral issue of our day. Because of this they have made it the centerpiece of their Culture War. Perceiving some sort of liberal conspiracy to undermine their moral values conservatives have launched a campaign against homosexuality, and in doing so they have in effect launched a campaign against homosexuals.

When homosexuals, as a group, are denied equal protection under the law; when they are beaten and killed for their sexual orientation; when they are discriminated against in almost every level of our society; when their most formative relationships are denied legal recognition and when the law allows for the families which disowned them to have precedence over the life partner who loves them unconditionally; and when the church not only supports but demands this, it is no wonder they do not feel loved by us.

The very structure of our society has bound the gay community together against a common oppressive enemy in such a way that homosexuality is no longer a matter of sexual behavior, it is a matter of ontology, of being. You cannot, in the issue of homosexuality, separate the sin from the sinner (and not just because I don't believe that homosexuality is inherently sinful). You cannot separate the actions from the actor. This is because the actions - as they stand over and against mainstream society - have come to identify the actor.

This is the greatest ill done by our society to homosexuals. Too often they are, because of our obsession with sexual orientation, defined by their sexuality. They are not individuals who happen to be attracted to members of the same sex. They are now gays; they are now lesbians. As such one aspect of their lives takes precedence over all of the others. When you attack the moral value of that aspect you attack their very being, their identity in the world. You cannot attack someone's self-identified fundamental nature and claim that you love them, if you expect the word "love" to hold any meaning.

This is why, morally speaking, it is so important for mainstream society to recognize homosexual relationships. As those relationships (whose moral value I addressed here) are legitimized in our eyes the people who are in those relationships will no longer have to constantly fight for our (as a society) recognition of their love. Then they can worry about other things, and no longer have that one aspect of their being so completely dominate.

It is, in this case, impossible to "love the sinner" and "hate the sin" and like the bumper sticker says:

I'm in Favor of the Separation of Church and Hate


Pete said...

Chris, is there any way to saparate Church and hate short of condoning sinful behaviors? It just seems in your example that the only way the Church cannot be "hateful" is to condone their behavior in spite of what some would consider the clear teachings of scripture. I don't want to debate homosexuality, I just want to know how I can show love without abandoning my convictions. E-mail me a response.

Squirrelly said...

Chris, I've always envied your clarity of thought. Thanks for putting such an important concept, one that I already felt was true in my heart, into words.

By the way, my email address is

Sandalstraps said...

Here is the email which I sent to Pete in response to his question:


That's a toughie, and I've wrestled with it, too. If you believe that homosexual acts are sinful and that it is important to take a stand against them, then you ought not contradict that conviction, though you should critically analyze why you feel that way - I, for instance, spent most of the time I was serving in churches believing that homosexuality was inherently sinful, and only recently changed my mind for the reasons that I have outlined in my blog.

The problem with homosexuality is, as I said in the post that you responded to most recently, that homosexuals are - because of our obsession with sexual orientation - identified by their sexual behavior. For you to be able to authentically love a gay man or a lesbian you must be able to see them apart from their sexual orientation.

I know of one conservative minister who is very good at this. He spent a great deal of time with homosexuals while he was in college (not because he sought them out, but because a friend of his came out of the closet and he wanted to maintain that friendship so he spent time with the friends of his friend). As he got to know these people he got to know them as people, not homosexuals. As such their sexual behavior was not the way in which he identified them, so he came to love them apart from their sexual orientation.

That is a very difficult thing to do. It was difficult for me, for instance, to (having been raised in the racist south) get to know my friend Lee as Lee rather than as a black person. We had to find what we had in common, and bond on those things, before I could see past his color. You have to be able to do that with homosexuals. Bracket their sexual behavior off for a moment, and find what you have in common with them. Then you can get to know them as authentic people as opposed to merely being homosexuals. It isn't easy. While I don't believe any longer that homosexuality is inherently sinful, as a straight man I don't have any gay friends. I haven't been able to cross that bridge yet. There is some latent bias holding me back.

I hope that you will be able to love everyone for who they are, and show them the love of Christ. That is what we've been called to do. It is a difficult calling, and I can say with the apostle Paul, "not that I have already obtained all of this..."

Thank you for your sincere desire to serve the Lord. You are a credit to conservatives.


Phil said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for acknowledging that I am an individual first...and that the sexual/romantic part of me that happens to be attracted to my same sex is just a part of the whole me who is a child of God. I long to hear more loving, understanding, thoughtful voices like yours within the Christian community...of which I consider myself to be a member...but get so terribly disillusioned that the nature of my sexual orientation (which I DID NOT choose) makes me such a despised figure in many conservative Christian's view. So, I can't thank you enough for putting your voice out there!

Michael said...

After 54 years of living, I've learned that the only way to relate to anyone (including myself!) is non-judgmentally and non-categorically. Put another way, live by grace, not by any other way! Chris, sounds like you've delved deeply into grace! Keep it up!