“Love the sinner, hate the sin” conservative Christians say. This is their way of saying they don’t hate that you’re not straight, they just hate the sin that you’re doing, and that’s different. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard Christians lament about the world distorting the idea of hate – some even going as far as to claim persecution that others dare call them bigoted for simply having a disagreeing opinion. Because that’s it, according to them; all they’re doing is disagreeing and disagreement isn’t hate – you see, it’s really love because homosexuality is a sin that will hurt you, so their just expressing their love when they tell you how wrong it is.
But it stops being “just an opinion” when someone assaults you.
Last Thursday, Caylee and I were subjected to some of that “Christian love.” Walking hand-in-hand to the library, we were passed by some Christian dude who found it appropriate to grab our arms, pull our hands apart, and stand between us, refusing to let us continue, telling us that “this was a Christian nation” and he “couldn’t let us do that.” And when Caylee began insulting him, he responded with an offended “that’s low” – because this was love, you see, and he clearly was experiencing some of that Christian persecution of being called names for his behavior. Caylee wrote up a more detailed account of our experience here.
This is what “love the sinner, hate the sin” language does. It’s not that I’m saying that every person who espouses it would do this. In fact, I bet that the vast majority would be horrified by this, or at the very least, not the loving way to live out the “loving the sinner” part.
But the very nature of “love the sinner, hate the sin” allows for all kinds of behavior to count as loving. While conservative Christians claim that “the world” is turning “just disagreeing” into hate, they are the ones asserting that they, and they alone, are allowed to define what counts as “loving the sinner.”
This is something you learn growing up in an abusive family. How many times have abusers used the line “I’m doing this out of love”? How many times was their definition of love the absolute authority on whether or not they loved us? And how many times was their love used to tell us that because they loved us, they couldn’t be abusing us?
And that’s the problem when conservative Christians claim that what they’re doing isn’t hatred or is “just” disagreement. Because it’s predicated on the idea that they are the ones that get to decide what their behavior is. That because they don’t see it as hateful, it can’t be. Conservative Christianity gets to define love, and then they get to put all their opinions, behavior, attitudes, expressions, etc., all within that category so that it can never be questioned. And this is made even worse when you think about the fact that we are not children where something like eating your vegetables might be considered cruel and unusual punishment from the child’s perspective. We are consenting adults being told that other adults know better what we need.
See, the dude that assaulted us didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. In his mind, he was treating us well. When Caylee insulted him and he complained “that’s low,” he really meant it. He saw Caylee’s behavior as wrong, insulting, hateful. He saw nothing of that in his own. In the same way that Christians will spout these opinions and think that oppression is when they’re labeled a bigot. And “love the sinner, hate the sin” allows for this because it says that the definition of love, the definition of their opinions and behavior, is in the hands of the person doing the “loving.”
“Love the sinner, hate the sin” is (to use a very Christian phrase) a slippery slope. There’s nothing in what this man did that is inherently wrong under that rhetoric: he stopped a queer couple from holding hands. His methods might be considered bad, but the outcome is exactly what Christian culture is aiming for – the disproval and constant delegitimization of all relationships outside of heterosexuality. The method that conservative Christianity employs may not be assaulting, yelling, and threatening people on the street – but when it’s just the method that’s the problem, there’s spacious room for behavior like this.
As I’ve learned as a survivor, it doesn’t matter what your abuser calls their actions. It doesn’t matter what your abuser feels. It doesn’t matter if they think what they’re doing is right. The most hateful actions can be motivated by the belief that it is love. But that doesn’t make it love. The most hateful actions can be done by people who actually love you. That doesn’t make their actions love. Hate can be nice. Cruelty can be polite. Violence can be well-intentioned.
But asking others to see your behavior on your terms is abusive. And that’s what makes this all the scarier. Because as I said, this was a person who saw nothing wrong with his actions. Who expected that Caylee and I should see nothing wrong with his actions. And conservative Christianity gave him that right, because in the “love the sinner, hate the sin” culture, he’s allowed to decide that. He’s allowed to claim his actions are love, and us as the ~sinful gays~ can’t possibly have a valid perspective on what this does to us.
So when conservative Christians talk about “loving the sinner, hating the sin,” when they denigrate others’ sexuality outside of their own, when they decide other people’s love is sinful, wrong, depraved, and gross; even when they couch it in nice terms like “loving the sinner” or talking about how they “just disagree” with homosexuality, this is what becomes justified. This isn’t even the worst of what is justified.
And it’s not that these are some rare exceptions that are being unloving while the rest of conservative Christianity is. This is what happens when others’ sexuality is branded as sinful.
When conservative Christianity argues that society is trying to strip them of their rights to free speech or to have an opinion, what they want is the freedom from the consequences of their speech and opinions. They want to be free from people protesting back. They want to be free to pretend their words and beliefs don’t cause the harm and violence that they do.
And I find it most interesting that conservative Christianity’s fear of the “gay agenda” is that we will turn their “love” back onto them.
Christians can couch their opinions in whatever soft, flowery, “loving” language that they want. They can say it’s not the person, it’s the behavior. They can talk about how it’s a sin “just like any other” and believe that that makes them separate from the violence and hate that queer people receive. And the man that harmed us will believe the same thing about himself. And people who harm queer people in more violent and abusive ways will believe the same thing about themselves. Because all of these opinions, attitudes, and rhetoric continually fuel the hatred, dehumanization, and violence of queer people – no matter how loving the Christian is in their belief of “the sin of homosexuality.”
It doesn’t matter the feelings and intentions behind these words and actions. An abuser doesn’t get to define away their abuse.