August 31, 2015

How to Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin

by Clint Archer

Every church has its problems. There are no perfect churches. But there are some churches that are so bad that they make atheism look appealing. Anyone compiling a list of worst churches in the world would need to consider, as a top candidate, the notorious Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.westboro

Founded in 1955 the church began with promising doctrinal standards. They called themselves Christian, Biblical, Baptist, and even Calvinistic. They took a strong view on inerrancy, the need for repentance, and the Lordship of Christ. But it soon became evident that the church lacked one virtue vital for anyone who bears the name of Christ: the church has no love. I realize that’s my opinion, but let the evidence help you decide if they show love.

WBC has been officially categorized by a number of organizations as a hate group. They are most known for the abrasive slogans used when protesting homosexualty. The members picket funerals of homosexuals with signs declaring “God hates fags,” God hates you,” “God hates America,” and “You are going to hell.”

They don’t only hate homosexuals. They also vocally express hatred for Jews, Catholics, Nelson Mandela, the US Army, the Swedish, and countless politicians. And just to toss their wet blanket of prejudice over billion or so more, they host a website called GodHatesIndia(dot)com.

I’m not saying they express disagreement with these groups. I’m saying they express hate.

In an investigative documentary the interviewer asked Shirley Phelps-Roper (the founding pastor’s daughter) if she thought this technique might put people off the gospel. Her response: You think our job is to win souls to Christ. All we do, by getting in their face and putting these signs in front of them and these plain words, is make what’s already in their heart come out of their mouth. She admitted that the money they spend flying to funerals is spent “to spread God’s hate.”

Every major denomination has denounced them, including the Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Anyone known for hate rather than love doesn’t deserve to be called a Baptist or a Church.

Ps 15:4 …In whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord…

We all agree that God hates sin and that believers should hate sin (Prov 8:13). The question is, whether it is acceptable to hate the sinners who commit the sins? Advocates of this view may cite the rare verses that seem to legitimize hating sinful people (e.g. Ps 15:4). Most notably, David’s declaration of fealty to God’s cause in Ps 139:21-22 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.

Bear in mind David was a king anointed by God’s decree, given prophetic capabilities, and a divine military commission to wage war against Israel’s enemies. If that’s you, perhaps you could make a case for stirring up a bloodlust to fuel your grim responsibility to kill the men of war God instructed you to exterminate. (There isn’t really a loving way to disembowel a guy with a sword on a battlefield).

But we are not told anywhere to be like David. We are called to imitate Christ’s example (1 Cor 11:1).

Jesus never expressed hatred for sinners. He ate with tax collectors and other moral bottom feeders. He told the woman caught in adultery that he didn’t condemn her. He allowed a prostitute to publically wash his feet (Luke 7:37-38). He prayed that God forgive his murderers (Luke 23:34). He taught explicitly that God loves the world (yes, including the sinners in it; John 3:16). He modeled grace, mercy, and compassion for those who were wicked. The sternest words in Christ’s repertoire were always reserved for religious unbelieving hypocrites; but even then he targeted their deeds and attitudes.

So what does it look like to love the sinner and hate the sin? How could Westboro Baptist show love for homosexuals without condoning the sin of homosexuality? Ask Ray Comfort. That’s what the Kleins did.

kleins cakesMelissa and Aaron Klein, bakers from Oregon, declined to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. And they were successfully sued for discrimination. The case is being appealed, but in the meantime the Kleins approached famed evangelist Ray Comfort who has shed a beam of solace on the situation. At his suggestion the couple baked and sent cakes to ten gay rights organizations. They included a gift certificate, a gospel message, and decorated the cakes with the words “We really do love you.”

No one could misconstrue the Klein’s gesture as approving of homosexuality. And yet no one can dispute that the Kleins are doing a better job at showing love to homosexual people than Westboro is.

I try remind myself that God loved me while I was still his enemy. He didn’t love what I would one day become when I repented. He loved me first. And that love changed me.

Rom 5:8,10  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …

It is my prayer for our flock at Hillcrest Baptist Church that we never derail into a dissonant congregation of clanging cymbals. I hope we build a reputation in our community of people who love the truth and sinners, but hate sin. And hatred.


PS. you should really check out Jesse’s encounter with the picketers at his church in DC. It’s worth the price of admission.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Johnny

    Part of me wants to think that Westboro is just some kind of fake secular organization, that exists only to obnoxiously slander and present a false image of the church and of baptists, but from what I’ve heard from people who know about Westboro that this is/was once a legitimate church? I really don’t get it, and their tactics seem to be completely illogical or counter-productive if they are protesting a church simply for meeting in a building…?

    • They were a church plant from a legitimate church. The pastor, Phelps, was a nutcase though. Nutcases breed nutcases, and most of the church is related to him.

  • pearlbaker

    “There are no perfect churches. But there are some churches that are so bad that they make atheism look appealing.” To who? Did you mean the world, the unbeliever?Surely not true believers, and probably not even weaker brothers. Forgive me if I sound critical, and I know most readers of the Cripplegate know this is sarcastic humor, but to me it was cringeworthy due to the seriousness of rejecting the Lord.

    • Just hyperbole. Like when Paul says he wished he was accursed (going to hell) for the sake of the Jews. But point taken. Thanks.

  • I didn’t know WBC began so seemingly orthodox. The WB people are obviously the extreme example, not hard to miss the problems there (!) and as you intoned (with tongue firmly encheeked), the atheist “church” would be preferable among a watching world.

    But we are not told anywhere to be like David. We are called to imitate Christ’s example.

    Well stated, this puts alot of things in thier proper perspective as we continue striving to be more like Christ while at the same time coming upon more and more opposition to the Truth-in all its many flavors. Our flesh does want to “hate” the person but the Spirit that abides in us doesn’t operate that way, at all.

    Incidently, it was the WBC and thier hatred displayed at a military funeral in Kansas that birthed the Patriot Guard Riders organization. I think the activities of the PGR are a great example of God’s common grace in this world.

  • -Oh! and what a neat story about the bakers reaching out to Ray, and the ensuing Christ-likeness that came of it. :))

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    What a contrast to Spurgeon when he said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

    Clearly, Westboro knows nothing of Calvary love.

    • That’s one of my favorite Spurgeon quotes. I can’t believe I didn’t think to use it! Thanks!

    • Ira Pistos

      Thanks Jane. That’s a fantastic quote.
      Amazing is that I encountered it for the first time earlier today. And now I come across it again.

      As I don’t believe in coincidence, I’m sometimes left not knowing what to think.

  • tovlogos

    Lightness and Darkness — I like John’s profile of these realities. If I am conscious that my anger indicates darkness is seeping in, I remember John’s words which immediately affect me, immediately changing my course like a bridle. It’s not that darkness creeps up — it’s everywhere; but God is light.

  • HC

    Hate the sin – love the sinner. I guess you can love that sinner but that unrepentant sinner still goes to hell and not the sin. Mind you I hate my sin too!

    • Yes, but see Jane’s quote of Spurgeon in her comment. They go there against our efforts.

  • Busdriver4jesus

    So since “all Scripture is… profitable” for us, even those pesky, numerous (Wikipedia counts 17!) imprecatory psalms, what do we with them? Surely we can’t just flush them all. Were they all meant just for Israel’s monarchs?
    And how do we interpret the verses that express God’s hatred (instead of a human being… Ps. 5:5,6, 7:11, 11:5, etc.)? Jesus is God, after all; so can we select the areas of Christlikeness that are PC, and quietly denounce those that would be misinterpreted by our godless culture as discriminatory? I’m no fan of Westboro; I am sure they seek to sanctify their ungodly hatred with misuse of Scripture. I really am curious how you would expositionally preach and apply this substantial category of divine truth for present believers.

    • Perhaps the solution to that tension is that there is a difference between praying to God what you feel, and telling unbelievers what you feel. Picketing a funeral is not the same as praying for justice. That’s my 2c.

  • Clueless

    This topic has always confused me. When God condemns a person to hell does he tell them he Loves them ? Is it inaccurate to say The wrath of God abides on all who reject God and his Son Jesus Christ ? How can a person on one hand say God died only for the elect and loves only his elect and also quote the universally applied John 3:16 ? I am not implying we should hate the non-elect, but do believe it is important to accurately portray God’s hate those who reject him.