Op-ed: Hating the Sin Is Hating the Sinner
BY Annie Hollenbeck
August 11 2014 4:00 AM ET
The Baltimore Ravens’ assistant director of player development, Harry Swayne, may find himself in trouble with LGBT people and allies after tweeting a questionable (and somewhat confusing) message Friday. It is unclear whom Swayne was addressing when he said, “No no you’ve got that wrong we’re the ones who love the homeless, poor, drunks, prostitutes, homosexuals, tax collectors, and abusers.”
Swayne would appear to be invoking the overplayed “hate the sin, love the sinner” reconciliation for Christian judgment. This argument is sadly where homophobia has landed the Christian right, and it presents a stance arguably more dangerous to the LGBT community than the vitriolic garbage spewed daily by extremist groups like the infamous Westboro Baptist church.
While some may appreciate Swayne for offering acceptance rather than condemnation, the message is far from a call for equality.
In this blanket list, Swayne lumps gay people in with groups exhibiting immoral behavior (prostitutes, abusers, the like) and groups that aren’t necessarily guilty of moral wrongdoing but rather just exist in unfortunate economic statuses (poor, homeless), and makes a dated biblical reference to a profession once frowned on (the tax collector). By grouping all of these together, Swayne shows a lack of genuine consideration about his words as well as an ignorance about biblical historical context.
As a Christian, I am floored when I hear people like Swayne claiming that while they are taught to love and accept everyone, Jesus Christ teaches against homosexuality. Anyone with any sort of theological study in their background (or quite frankly, with a third-grade level of literacy) can tell you that dissect the Gospel as you may, but you simply will find no instance where Jesus Christ looks a gay person in the eye and tells him that he is going to hell. If anything, Christ was a man who embraced the outsider, who took in the poor, who had a tax collector among his assembly of apostles. Never once did Christ get up on his pulpit and claim his acceptance of these specific groups as a manifestation of compassion and love. He just simply lived a life of compassion and love.
Swayne is more than entitled to his opinion, and he has the right to practice his faith as he sees fit. However, considering the times, and particularly the state of affairs this season with Michael Sam in the NFL, this message isn’t as innocuous as Swayne and others may try to claim it is. His acceptance, when lumped with the acceptance of debauched and immoral groups (and not to mention some should-be angry, misunderstood tax collectors), is muddied with judgment and condemnation. If Swayne had said “I love that man even though he’s Chinese” or “I love her despite the fact that she’s a woman,” his comments would not go without reaction and without consequences. Why should this be any different?
The trouble with “hating the sin but loving the sinner” is that you don’t love the sinner. To a young person growing up in the Bible Belt, that “sin” is still something inside them. And while someone can tell a lie, commit murder, disrespect their parents, or commit any number of sins and then ask for forgiveness, it’s not quite so easy with gay people. Being gay isn’t something you do. It’s something you are. This distinction is such an important rebut to those who think they are preaching compassion.
Reparative therapy, or the notion that one can “pray the gay away,” comes from this fundamental belief. It is a practice that has been banned in certain states, and psychiatrists across the globe have pointed to the destruction it can cause and has caused. People are killing themselves because they feel like they are not good enough, strong enough, or Christian enough to fight this sin that is inside of them.
Swayne’s comment may seem innocuous, but it’s the snowball effect of his words that is the most malignant. He says that he is speaking of his personal sentiments of love, and the love he feels for his fellow humans. He and others on the Christian right have tried to justify their opinions with love, which Christ himself said is the greatest of all things. With this way of thinking, those who have been called bigots and homophobes are trying to fight love with love.
His love, however, is not true, not even according to his own religion. If you don’t believe me, you can read it right there in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” You may love the homosexuals, Mr. Swayne, but love with judgment isn’t love at all.
ANNIE HOLLENBECK began her career in sports journalism at ESPN, not long after graduating from the University of Notre Dame. She is an avid runner, a New York sports apologist, and a self-proclaimed cinephile. Annie currently resides in Los Angeles, works as the production manager at Outfest, and covers sports for Advocate.com