The thing about about clichés is they make sense to us in a folksy way but they don’t apply to every corner of real life. Imagine how someone from a different culture might interpret:
“Just read between the lines.” (I can’t – there’s nothing there.)
“Cat got your tongue?” (No, my tongue is right here in my head and you don’t see a cat, do you?)
“Kiss and make up.” (It seems like a good idea until you get arrested.)
“We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you” (No, actually you are laughing at me.)
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” (I’m judging you but don’t want to seem judgy.)
“Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a uniquely christian cliché that seems generous on the face of it but is seldom generous in practice. It’s a way to tell people we disapprove of them without getting our hands dirty.
The National Hockey League (like most sports) have asked their teams to host an in-season Pride Night in support of “everyone’s right to play hockey”. This is in response to revelations of a toxic hockey culture where gay athletes have suffered discrimination and had potential careers stifled. Typically players participate with rainbow hockey tape, specially designed warmup sweaters and other symbolic gestures.
Earlier this season James Reimer, by all accounts a sincere christian, declined to wear the colourful, love-themed sweater for the Sharks Pride Night. Eric and Mark Staal of the Panthers took the same approach a couple of weeks later.
In each case the players issued statements with clichéd “love the sinner hate the sin” language that emphasized how they respect and welcome gay athletes. Then they spun around and used their christian faith to justify not participating in the event. Reimer’s explanation also spoke directly to the authority he ascribes to the Bible.¹
To be clear, I agree these players were involuntarily pushed into the situation and I also agree they technically had the right to decline. This blog is not about the emotional debates in the christian community on subjects of gender and sexuality.
This is about how easy it is to craft words that seem to care for others when our actions show that we really don’t. And using God as our excuse.
But can you imagine the reaction if the players refused to wear olive green warmup sweaters on Armed Forces Night? (Answer: they would get Colin Kaepernicked.)
Using the same logic, they should support a person’s right to be a soldier but refuse to wear camouflage sweaters because war is against their faith. Of course that wouldn’t happen because christians forget that Jesus said more about loving our enemies than the nothing he said about sexual orientation.
Anyway, this blog isn’t about hockey culture or sexual preference but about how beautiful and life-giving it is when our actions walk with our words. When we choose to be with others instead of just for them.
A biblical story being re-told these days is found in Luke 24. Simply, it recounts how two men were walking along the road to Emmaus, discussing the mysterious events surrounding Jesus’ death and disappearance, when they were joined by a stranger. They invited their new friend for supper, which was when they realized the guest was actually Jesus himself.
It is a favourite bible story of mine and it resembles another favourite which appears at the end of the book of John. In each case Jesus was pictured walking, eating, chatting with various people – a familiar pattern for him because, after all, he was ‘God with us‘.
Jesus was constantly ridiculed for the ‘unsavoury’ people he spent time with and even his own disciples were regularly embarrassed by his associations. Yet it is striking how fully he lived out the principle of being with. He was comfortable with any person and took no notice of occupation, health, wealth, sex, or accomplishment.
Jesus showed us that the love of God is very, um … inclusive. It’s an idea so radical that we wrestle with it continually and so difficult that the church has always had trouble applying it. In fact, a case could be made that recklessly associating with all kinds of people was the scandal of Jesus.
As I said earlier, this isn’t about rainbow, camouflage, or rainbow camouflage. It’s a gentle reminder that dignity, equality and love mean nothing if they are only pleasant platitudes.
The irony is that many who claim God’s love and presence aren’t so generous at passing it on to others. We’re very good at creating our own lists of sins and then ostracizing people who commit them.² Good ole John Bunyan said it straight: “A self-righteous man is but a painted Satan, or a devil in fine clothes.”
It feels empty to say you care about people while refusing to show it publicly. It reminds me of the book of James where the writer asks rhetorically, What good is faith if our actions don’t match our words? Saint Paul described such a person as a clanging, out-of-sync cymbal that makes loving noises but accomplishes nothing.
“Consider this: there is not a single word in [the Sermon on the Mount] about what to believe, only words about what to do. It is a behavioral manifesto, not a propositional one. Yet three centuries later, when the Nicene Creed became the official oath of Christendom, there was not a single word in it about what to do, only words about what to believe!”³
Have you ever been shunned, ignored, pushed aside, othered? It’s painful at the best of times but especially difficult even when it’s done politely by someone who should care about you.
The Easter season is a reminder of the creator’s unconditional love for the world. God saying, “I’m for you, and I’m with you”. In real time, in real flesh.
With has great power to heal but it can’t be done from a distance.
Because with is godly.
~ ~ ~
¹ I’m sure he believes what he is saying (Reimer’s statement) but many would dispute if his position is either christian or biblical
² Nearly every well known politician and media-preacher uses this technique of ‘sin shaming’ – not to care for hurting people, but to justify their own goodness and relevance
³ Robin R. Meyers, Saving God from Religion: A Minister’s Search for Faith in a Skeptical Age