A while back someone who left the church in recent years made a comment on Facebook to this effect: "I don't buy the idea of 'hating the sin but loving the sinner' because you can't meaningfully separate the person from the things they do and how they live their life." She said this mostly in reference to the church's position on gay marriage, but with broader application, and it sat in the back of my mind for a while until I got thinking about it the other night and made a note to ponder and write some thoughts.
First I wanted to see if there was scriptural verification for the phrase. I went through the Topical Guide under the heading "hate," and here are a few pertinent passages:
Ye that love the Lord, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked. Psalm 97:10
I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. Psalm 101:3
These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. Proverbs 6:16-19
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate. Proverbs 8:13
Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins. Proverbs 10:12
He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24
He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 1 John 2:9-10
If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness. Doctrine and Covenants 95:12
Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:10
A few things I noted as I studied:
There did indeed seem to be a distinction between "hating your brother," which was roundly decried, and "hating sin," which was wholly encouraged. This phrase seems to be borne of the ever-necessary attempt to do both.
I also got the feeling that the injunction to hate sin isn't so much a command to look for it in everyone else, but to hate it in ourselves, to cast it away from us so that it doesn't "cleave" to us, in the words of the Psalmist. This does require us to avoid society that would draw us in, but doesn't require us to seek to find it in everyone around us.
Love was spoken of as a cure-all, as we see in Proverbs 10:12 and 1 John 2:9-10, but that latter scripture was cross-referenced to Doctrine and Covenants 95:12, making clear that the kind of love that covers sins and keeps us in the light is charity, the pure love of Christ, and requires that we keep God's commandments if we want to possess it. It is more than just a happy feeling towards our neighbors, as Christ so poignantly showed in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
In that parable, we learn that love means helping and binding up the wounded and not walking by mute. Perhaps if the traveler didn't think that he was in need of help, he would have seen the Samaritan's actions as offensive or hateful, but the Samaritan saw a wound and strove to bind it, and his loving motivation wouldn't have been changed by the interpretation of it.
The thought that originally prompted me to study the topic was this: To me, hating the sin doesn't seem to mean only that I hate that a person does something wrong in my opinion. That is not what it is about. I hate sin because I love people. I hate that it separates them from the God that I know and love. I hate that it binds them and keeps the Spirit of truth and light at bay. I hate that it robs them of joy and of becoming the person God could make them into. I hate that it is a struggle that we have to go through. I hate that for some reasons, certain sins present especial trials for certain people. I hate that it breaks hearts and causes heartache. I hate it because I wish that all could see and feel the truth and light and joy that I've found, and sin stands as a barrier that must be overcome.
And finally, as we are all sinners, I think a simplification of the phrase clarifies my feeling towards it somewhat:
Hate sin; love everyone.
I think I will probably be studying more on this topic, since hate has become such a catchword these days.