Dialoguing with a Gay Activist Who Hates the “Hate the sin but love the sinner” distinction


Peter Kreeft recalls a conversation he once had:

 My teacher was an articulate homosexual activist who was arguing, at Boston College, that “Catholic” and “gay” are as compatible as ham and eggs. I respected the clarity and intelligence of his mind and the openness and apparent goodwill of his heart, so I hoped that our conversation might open and clarify both our minds and teach us something new. (This almost never happens when these two sides argue about this subject.)

I was not disappointed.

I shall try and reconstruct our dialogue with a minimum of additions and polishings, as I like to believe Plato did to Socrates in his early dialogues. For purposes of anonymity, I shall call my dialogue partner “Art.”

PETER: Art, I’m really curious about one point of your argument, one part I just don’t understand. And I believe in listening before arguing, as you said you do. So I’m not trying to argue now—that’s not the point of my question—but first of all to listen and to understand. OK?

ART: Of course. What’s the point you don’t understand?

PETER: Well, to explain that, I have to ask you to listen too, to where I’m coming from.

ART: And where’s that?

PETER: Just the teachings of the Bible and the Church, all of them. I know you don’t believe all of them, only some. But I do. So from my point of view, what you do, and what you justify doing, is a sin. That’s the label you reject, right?

ART: Right. So what don’t you understand?

PETER: Please don’t take this as a personal insult, or even an argument, but I know of no other way of phrasing it than with biblical language, which you will probably find offensive. My question is this: Why are you guys the only class of sinners who not only deny that your sin is sin but insist on identifying yourself with it? We’re all sinners, in one way or another, and I’m not assuming your sins are worse than mine, but at least I think I’m more than my sins, whatever they are. I love the sinner but hate the sin. But you don’t do you?

ART: No, I don’t. What I hate is that hypocritical distinction.

PETER: Why?

ART: Because when you attack homosexuality, you attack homosexuals. It’s that simple.

PETER: But alcoholics don’t say that the Church attacks alcoholics when she attacks alcoholism. And cowards don’t say that they are their cowardice. And murderers don’t say the church is hypocritical for condemning their sin but no them, the sinners. Adulterers don’t deny the distinction between the adulterer and the adultery. The only group of sinners I’ve ever heard of who do this is you. And it seems to me you all do that, you always say that. All gays say that. Don’t they?

ART: Yes, we do. And I forgive you for being to insensitive that you don’t realize that you’ve done right now what you defend the Church for doing: insulting and rejecting me, and not just what I do.

PETER: Wait a minute here! You’re saying that when I make that distinction between what you are and what you do, when I accept what you are as distinct from what you do, I’m rejecting what you are? How can I be rejecting what you are in accepting what you are?

ART: That’s exactly what you’re doing. In fact, you’re trying to kill me.

PETER: What? That’s crazy. Now you’re being paranoid.

ART: No, listen: In trying to separate what I do from what I am, you’re trying to separate my body from my soul, my sex life from my identity. That’s what you’re doing by insisting on that distinction. Your distinction between what you call the “sinner” and the “sin” is really death to me; it’s the separation of body and soul, deed and identity. I’m holding the two together; you’re trying to pull them apart, and that’s death.

PETER: That’s sophistical. That’s an argument that just doesn’t fit the facts. Look at the facts instead of the argument. This is what the church believes about you—what I believe about you: you can be a saint! You have dignity. The Church thinks more highly of you than you think of yourself. She loves your being more than you do; that’s why she hates your sins against your being. We believe your self is greater than your deeds, whatever they are. But you don’t.

ART: The Church and the Bible will tell me I’m an abomination to God.

PETER: No! Not in your person, only in your sins, just like the rest of us, like all of us. That’s Paul’s point in Romans 1. He’s condemning hypocritical condemnation of pagan homosexuals by straight Jews just as much as he’s condemning pagan homosexuality.

ART: The Church is my enemy.

PETER: The Church is your friend. Because the Church tells us two things about you, not just one, and she will never change either one, she never can change either one, because both are matters of unchangeable natural law, based on eternal law, based on the very nature of God. She can’t ever say that what you do is good for the same reason that she can’t ever say that what you are is bad. She defends your being just as absolutely as she attacks your lifestyle; she hates your cancer because she loves your body. It’s the same authority for both. The authority you hate when it condemns what you do is your only reliable ally in defending what you are. You want the Church to change her teaching on what you do, and you’re trying to put social pressure on her to do that, but if she did that, then she could change her teaching on what you are, too, for the same reason, under social pressures. I’m sure you know that the old social pressures to hate homosexuals are far from dead. You know what happened in Hitler’s Germany. You know how changeable and fickle mankind is—and how dangerous. When the last bastion of absolute moral law is compromised, when even the Church bends to the winds of social pressure, what shelters will you have then?

ART: I’m not worried about the Left; I’m worried about the Right.

PETER: Today, maybe, but what about tomorrow? Today the fashion is the be Leftist, but just a short time ago the fashion was from the Right, and tomorrow it may swing to the Right again, like a pendulum. You can’t rely on fashionable opinions to protect you. That’s building sandcastles. The tides always change and knock them down.

ART: I’ll take my chances, thank you. I don’t know what will happen in the future, I grant you that. But I know what’s happening now, and I can’t take that. We just can’t take your “love the sinner, hate the sin” distinction. That much we know.

PETER: You still haven’t explained to me why. I began by asking that question, and I really want an answer. I want to know what’s going on in your mind.

ART: OK, I think I can explain it to you. You say I shouldn’t feel threatened by that distinction, right?

PETER: Right.

ART: You say the Church tells me she loves me, even though she hates what I do, right?

PETER: Right.

ART: Well, suppose the shoe was on the other foot. Suppose you were in the minority. Suppose what you wanted to do was to have churches and sacraments and Bibles and prayers, and those in power said to you: “We hate that. We hate what you do. We will do all in our power to stop you from doing what you do. But we love you. We love what you are. We love Christians, we just hate Christianity. We love worshippers; we just hate worship. And we’re going to put every possible pressure on you to feel ashamed about worshipping and make you repent of your sin of worshiping. But we love you. We affirm your being. We just reject your doing.” Tell me, how would that make you feel? Would you accept their
distinction?

PETER: You know, I never thought of it that way. Thank you. You really did make me see things in a new way. You’re right. I would not be comfortable with that distinction. I would not be able to accept it. In fact, I would say pretty much what you just said: that you’re trying to kill my identity.

ART: See? Now you understand how we feel.

PETER: Yes, I think I do. Thank you very much for showing me that. But do you realize what you’ve just said? What you’ve just showed me?

ART: What do you mean?

PETER: You’ve said to me that sodomy is your religion.

Originally posted at The Gospel Coalition

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9 thoughts on “Dialoguing with a Gay Activist Who Hates the “Hate the sin but love the sinner” distinction

  1. ” You’ve said to me that sodomy is your religion.”

    No.

    He’s said that loving another person, regardless of their gender, and acting on that love is comparable to a religion to some people.

  2. “God thinks you are an abomination – but he loves you so much!” You have to be an insensitive creep to say this anyone, and I think Peter is a big one .
    Also, I think a better example for Peter would’ve have been his identity as a heterosexual – how would he feel if he was in the minority, if his attraction to the opposite sex was called an abomination, and he had to pretend to like men, just to be called “moral” in the eyes of god? How would he like someone telling him to be something he is not?
    Can anyone be themselves in religion? Not with these extreme beliefs.

  3. Both sides have made wrong conclusions. Art is wrong in his conclusions because Christianity always says we hate what you do, but love you. The whole you’re worthless, a worm, a dirty sinner thing applies to every person. It ‘s mindset that frustrates me greatly. Peter doesn’t understand that to Art what he’s doing isn’t black and white wrong. Many Christians even believe that the Bible has been wildly misused in this discussion.

    Honestly though, why is this being lifted up as progress???

  4. I think one of the main reasons why most homosexuals react so badly to that statement (“love the sinner and hate the sin”) is that, in practice it doesn’t really seem to mean “love the sinner”.

    At least, the people I’ve heard use it communicate with their manner that the phrase actually means “hate the sin and dismissively condemn the sinner”.

    From the dialogue, it seems that you avoided that trap. Still, I think all Christians need to address this problem whenever the issue is raised, and give homosexuals good reason to think that we actually mean the first half of that statement.

  5. “PETER: But alcoholics don’t say that the Church attacks alcoholics when she attacks alcoholism. And cowards don’t say that they are their cowardice. And murderers don’t say the church is hypocritical for condemning their sin but no them, the sinners. Adulterers don’t deny the distinction between the adulterer and the adultery. The only group of sinners I’ve ever heard of who do this is you.”

    That’s because being gay is nothing like being a murderer, or a coward, or an alcoholic. What a bizarre point Peter is trying to make there. That’s like saying to someone in an inter-racial relationship: “I don’t hate you, I just hate the fact you’re married to a black person”, and not expect them to see that as a stupid position to take. And then to defend that position, you then compare the ‘sin’ of that relationship to being a murderer.

    Obviously you don’t see inter-racial relationships as being the same as being gay, but that is how poorly your argument will come across to anyone who doesn’t already see gays in the same way as you.

    And yes, it’s pretty easy to win an argument when you get to write the dialogue for both sides!

  6. “PETER: You’ve said to me that sodomy is your religion.”

    No, he made a metaphor to help Peter understand something, one that Peter willfully misunderstood. It’s Peter who reduces every romantic relationship Art ever has to ‘sodomy’, suggesting he’s the one who’s seeing everything in terms of sex, not Art. And that’s leaving aside the fact that not every gay man practices anal sex and many straight couples do.
    Anyway, here’s an alternative conversation for you:

    PETER: You’re a Red Sox supporter with a Boston accent – both of which I see as sinful. Why are you guys the only class of sinners who not only deny that your sin is sin but insist on identifying yourself with it?
    ART: Being a Red Sox supporter with a Boston accent isn’t sinful. And sure, both are part of who I am.
    PETER: See, you’re still denying it! But alcoholics don’t say that the Church attacks alcoholics when she attacks alcoholism. And murderers don’t say the church is hypocritical for condemning their sin but not them, the sinners. The only group of sinners I’ve ever heard of who do this is you. Oh, and gays. Every single gay in the world says that. Why is that?
    ART: Right, but being a Red Sox fan with a Boston accent is nothing like being a murderer.
    Peter: I think it is!
    Art: Right, but you asked why I deny it, and why I say you’re attacking me when you attack something that’s important to who I am. So the answer to that question relates to how I view those things, not how YOU view them. Anyway, are you saying you’ve spoken to every murderer, alcoholic and gay in the world?
    Peter: Yes.
    Art: Really?
    Peter: Er… no.
    Art: So you just made that up?
    Peter: Yes. Sorry.
    Art: How old is your wife?
    Peter: She’s 35.
    Art: Right, well you’re in your forties, so what if I told you that I completely reject your relationship with her, and see it as perverted and disgusting?
    Peter: We’ve been married 12 years, we’ve got two kids, we love each other. She’s a very important part of my life. How dare you call me disgusting!
    Art: Hey! I’m not calling you disgusting, just your perverted relationship. You see your marriage as part of who you are, and yet cowards don’t see being cowardly as part of who they are. How come people who have sex with animals accept that they’re doing something wrong, but you don’t?
    Peter: Because I’m not! How dare you compare my marriage to bestiality!
    Art: See, you’re in denial too. We’re all sinful …
    Peter: Sure, I’m sinful, but my relationship with my wife isn’t one of my sins.

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