Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Love the Sin, Hate the Sinner

(Or is it the other way around? I can never remember.)

In any discussion about homosexuality and the LDS church between believers and nonbelievers, the following exchange has a 95% chance of occurring in some form or another:

Nonbeliever: I'm tired of your church hating on the gays.

Believer: No, you misunderstand. We love the gays, we just disapprove of their sinful actions/lifestyle.

Having been on both sides of this argument, I recognize and respect the distinction between actions and people. I question the appropriateness of an individual or organization judging the actions of other people that affect no one but the "sinners" themselves, particularly when the act in question is every bit as personal and meaningful to the people involved as the same act is between any husband and wife, but still I recognize the distinction. In all my criticism of the church I am meticulously careful to maintain this distinction. I have said that I find the church's political stance regarding Proposition 8 anti-family and more recently that I find the decision made by some church members to vote against their conscience in order to be obedient unethical, at best selfish and at worst cowardly. I have not once said that the church is anti-family or that the people who make that unethical decision are selfish or cowardly. I make selfish and cowardly decisions all the time but to say that I am a selfish or cowardly person wouldn't really mean anything, because every human being is selfish and cowardly by that standard.

It's extremely frustrating, then, that several times in the past few months I have been accused by friends and family members of being hateful toward the church and its members. I do not hate Mormons, else I would hate the majority of the people who are most important to me, and I do not hate their church. I have noted on several occasions the good that the church does. This doesn't change the fact that the things they do to harm other people make me furious, and I reserve the right to express that anger. If it is hateful of me to express indignation when I see people hurting other people, then it was hateful of Christ to throw the moneychangers out of the temple. Hate and anger are not synonymous.

I understand that those of you who are faithful Mormons hold very high opinions of your leaders, your church, and your God. I assure you I hold very high opinions of some of the other people I've criticized. Accusing me of hate every time I express anger at the unjust actions of these people serves only to send the message that you wish to invalidate my opinion. Which doesn't make me feel particularly loved, sinner that I may be.


Craig said...

I find that most find it difficult to really have any love for the "sinner" while they hate all over the "sin", especially a "sin" that is not a crime or seen by many in our society as harmful at all.

B.G. Christensen said...

I find that appears to be true for many people as well. I don't want to ignore, though, those who do sincerely make the distinction between sin and sinner, nor those who don't seem to really hate the sin so much as recognize it as a choice that differs from their personal worldview and leave it at that.

Scot said...

Seems people on both sides want to be the hated in this debate. It's good PR, as no one likes a hater (even the Phelps clan tell the press they love the gays that God hates).

Anyway, I feel similarly. It's far too clear very good people can end up voting for stuff like Prop 8 and even worse throughout history.

I may be analyzing this too much, but what exactly does it mean to hate the actions of another person here? As you allude to, it's not really the action that an anti-gay rights activists hates; they have no problem with men courting, romancing, and having physical intimacy with women. But change the anatomical shape of one of the bodies and the same actions becomes a hate-worthy sin. When you hate it when Person A does something, but not Person B, what does that say about your hate for the action?

It seems a hate for an action in most real world cases is actually for the harm caused to people's freedoms and rights. But that's not the case here with hate for homosexuality, or many of the other sins humanity has greatly ditched like eating shrimp and breaking menstruation or slavery laws. My hate for the sin cannot be the same sort of hate for the sin expressed by the other side, can it? Confusing.

Craig said...

I don't want to ignore, though, those who do sincerely make the distinction between sin and sinner, nor those who don't seem to really hate the sin so much as recognize it as a choice that differs from their personal worldview and leave it at that.

Oh, I agree, and I find those who really do realise that difference are rarely the problem. However, I don't think that "Hating" a sin enough to legislate against it (when it does no demonstrable secular harm), fits in that category.

Recession Cone said...

I question the appropriateness of an individual or organization judging the actions of other people that affect no one but the "sinners" themselves

I'm interested to hear more of your opinions on this particular point. If S-Boogie & the Little Dude didn't exist because you had made different choices in the past, do you think that would have no effect on the world? Your current life choices, seen from a distance, would seem to contradict the idea that sexuality is a private affair.

Sorry for being so personal, I'm just interested in your opinion.

B.G. Christensen said...

Scot--I don't know for sure, but my guess would be that the hate people have for your "sin" is at least in theory hate for the harm you're causing yourself. Because they love you and know what's best for you--or at least believe in a God who does. Which is entirely condescending and wrong in the context of a pluralistic society, but I can actually kind of see how it makes sense in the context of their worldview. The problem, I believe, comes in the inability (or refusal) to set aside one's personal worldview in order to play nicely with everyone else in the sandbox.

Craig--Going along with what I've just said in reply to Scot, I think the key here is what you've said--demonstrable harm. Which comes into play in an interesting way, I think, in RC's question.

RC--I'll forgive the personal nature of the question because I find it so interesting. I like What If? stories and speculating about how a single decision might change the world.

I've thought before about what my life would be like had I chosen to leave the church at some point before I married FoxyJ. At the time there were pretty much two options that existed within my mind--either a married family life within the church or a life of sin and debauchery without. Considering my social skills, though, that life of sin and debauchery would most likely have taken the shape of spending all my free time at home looking at porn rather than the wild gay lifestyle of night clubs and one-night stands. Eventually I would have figured out that there are other options, that my lifelong desire to have children and a nice family life was still a possibility. I would have found a guy with similar goals, settled down, and had kids either through adoption or surrogacy. FoxyJ, likewise, would have married someone else (perhaps with a nicer smile but surely not as charismatic as me) and had children of her own. None of those children--hers or mine--would have been S-Boogie or Little Dude. From a purely humanistic view, S-Boogie and LD simply wouldn't exist, which is surely more tragic (at least from our perspective) than the LDS view of things, in which their spirits simply would have been sent to other families, possibly even mine or Foxy's.

Someone viewing our world from that alternate reality, though, would surely mourn just as much the absence of those other children who might have been. To give a more real-world example, my friend Scot (who you can link to above) and his husband, Rob, have two boys just a year older than S-Boogie. To be clear, their boys are genetically theirs--not adopted. Had either Scot or Rob chosen to marry heterosexually rather than to marry each other, those boys would not exist.

Now you might say that Scot and Rob's children would be better off had they been born to a straight couple (actually, I hope you wouldn't say that, but some have, even to their faces), but others would argue that mine and Foxy's children would have been better off had they not been born in a mixed-orientation marriage. To be honest, the latter argument has more statistical evidence to back it up, though I would venture to say that the data is skewed by the fact that most happily married MOMs don't present themselves publicly to be included in the data. That said, I can't say that my life of the past two years does much to refute the available evidence. Yes, we're happily married now, but in the process of getting here I put Foxy through a hell that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

So does my decision of who I have sex with affect other people? Yes, you're right, it does. But the effects are so far off in the realm of the hypothetical that they're impossible to demonstrate, and therefore, in my opinion, not really valid in a way that justifies one person telling another what she or he should or shouldn't do. The fact that same-sex couples do bring children into the world prevents us from making any kind of sweeping judgments about which kind of pairing will have the fewest potential negative consequences.

Rebecca said...

Mr. Fob - that's a really nicely stated response to recession cone (not dissing rc here - just saying I think your response is well-worded and thought-out).

As for your post, I think those accusations of being a hater also goes the other way - those on the other side accuse us of telling them they're haters, and they get pretty indignant about that. It seems like each side thinks they should be able to express their anger - totally valid - but then both sides get accused of hating.

For the record - those of you on the right? Haters. Totally.

B.G. Christensen said...

Thanks, Rebecca. I'm trying to think of something clever to say in response but have nothing so I'll just say amen.