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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Love the Sinner

Maybe you have heard this expression. It is usually offered up by someone trying to navigate a challenge to their religious principles without suggesting that they harbor a personal animus toward those whose beliefs or lifestyle differ from their own. “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” I do understand the intent. It is particularly hard to reconcile what appear to be contradictory injunctions: to be loving and forgiving; yet hold that certain actions are sinful and must be condemned. Theologians wrestle with apparent religious contradiction often and they don’t always get it right either. So, I am not quick to call those who invoke this phrase to account, but in good conscience I cannot say I support the sentiment. It is not left to me to decide who is a sinner, that judgement is reserved for a higher authority. The point is, I do not get to pick and choose which actions are sinful and, therefore, it is not up to me to condemn or excuse those whose beliefs differ from my own.

Lately, I have been hearing an analog from those who wish to separate themselves morally from those they support politically. Here at least all pretense is unmasked for what it really is; naked self-interest. Those who attempt to excuse the conduct and moral corruption of a political leader by saying that they are “doing a good job” have asserted a judgement that moves far beyond any religious doctrine. Where does the line get drawn, and who gets to draw it? What violations of faith, humanity, or decency must be crossed before we can say—this person is unfit to lead regardless of how effective we may believe they are in doing their job.

It seems, that even for those who hold an exceedingly high standard of moral conduct, violations of those standards are equivocal. If the policies advocated by a leader echo the views of some individuals, they are prepared to excuse everything else. Pick the issue, whether it is about right to life, gun control, immigration, marriage or any of a dozen other contentious points of disagreement. Hiding behind pious statements arguing greater good or lesser evil is a deeper and darker sentiment. I don’t buy the rationalizations. Nor for a moment do I think that the majority of those who adopt extremist positions fail to understand the inherent contradictions in their stance—they simply dismiss them. The outcome is all that matters, and if they must hold their nose so be it, anything for the cause.

The cynicism of those who indulge in the sophistry of selective conscience knows no limit. Endorsing or turning a blind eye to the character of those who lead us forfeits everything. We can and will disagree on policies and we have a mechanism for debate, even if it is rancorous at times. But we all must agree that only those whose essential character is trustworthy, transparent, and grounded in moral decency have the right to govern us. If we permit individuals lacking these traits to assume power, up to and including the highest power in our land, we have made it clear that we lack self-respect and have abandoned the integrity of our own beliefs.

I seldom quote scripture because I do not wish to impose a particular faith upon those who subscribe to others. But I was struck by a passage in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians in which he implores the members of the early church not to assume their deliverance is at hand. He says that day will not come until there is a rebellion and “the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction.” Who is this lawless one? The one who opposes and exalts himself above all others, who declares himself to be the exalted. There are those in office today who epitomize this description. Is judgement at hand? Perhaps not the final day, yet, but a reckoning is upon us and there is no middle ground on which to stand.

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