Four Things I Hear When You Say ‘Hate the Sin, but Love the Sinner’
It’s not as comforting a response to me coming out as you might think.
When I came out as transgender to my friends and family on Facebook, I was met with support and an outpouring of love. In fact, I have been very privileged in my coming out story as I have not had any incitements of violence or anger. Mixed in with this love, though, I did receive veiled judgment and criticism.
I expected some of this. I graduated with a degree in biblical studies from a small, conservative college. I spent most of my life growing up within southern Christianity. I attended a private high school and went to church three times a week. I even taught middle school and high school bible classes for a year after college. I knew that this announcement would welcome shock and surprise.
Many of those responding to my letter came with good intentions. I’ve since wanted to craft a single reply to the many who have given the same sentiment: “I hate the sin, but I love the sinner.”
To those who responded, or are tempted to respond with the same phrase, here’s what I and others hear when you say that:
#1 You Believe It’s A Sin
Accusation of sin does not bode well for a relationship. You may believe I’m living in sin by living as a transgender woman. If that’s true, I believe that you’re not taking this sin seriously. If you believe that being transgender leads to hell, your behavior should change. Either you should be evangelizing me so fervently that I renounce my identity and orientation for the sake of your belief system. Or you should be praying to god that he changes his mind about his admissions standards to heaven.
If you were to focus on a particular sin, why pick something that’s so irrelevant to you? Do you convict other friends and family members about their gluttony? Their laziness? Their racism? Are you willing to argue that I’m sinning in the same way?
Many churches and traditions still believe that homosexuality is a sin. These usually equally condemn transgender identities, intersex conditions, asexual people, pansexual people, nonconforming gender identities, roles, and expressions, and orientations other than heterosexual too. Many churches, religions, and denominations are affirming more and more of the LGBTQ+ community. You might be within the minority soon.
While I understand the sentiment, that you love me in spite of my sin, you are still saying that I am sinning. If you believe that I am wrong to be transgender, that tells me something else…
#2 You Haven’t Thought That Much About It
The fact is, a very limited number of ‘proof-texts’ at your disposal in the bible support this point. This is not the place for a lengthy response arguing that being transgender is not a sin. But it’s worth mentioning that our current understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation would have been unknown to the writers of the bible. And that ‘homosexual’ is one of the most problematic textual interpretations in the entire bible. And that being transgender isn’t actually mentioned in the bible at all.
I’d be glad to point you in the direction of studies and theologians about transgender identities. But it is not my responsibility to figure out your theology for you. If our relationship and your faith is important to you then it’s worth reconsidering some of your beliefs. But a change in belief is what’s required, not a single exception for our friendship because …
#3 You’re Treating Me As An Exception
If you are suspending your belief for the sake of our relationship then the fundamental issue hasn’t changed. You still think of being transgender as a sin. Our beliefs matter because what we think tells us how to act. Those who act make culture, legislation, and society that influence us. Hearing that you love me but don’t like gay culture or the greater LGBTQ+ community does not console me. Don’t feel bad if you have an impulse to look away from queer lives, but pay attention to why you do it.
We have an ingrained response to displace those we see as a threat to our tribe. However, we’re meant to overcome our initial reactions and our upbringing. We can mature. I understand that gay culture isn’t for everyone, but I am challenging you to not view me as your token transgender friend. I do not and cannot represent the whole of this community — but I am indebted to them.
#4 You’re Exacerbating Our Differences
You say that you’re loving me the sinner but not the sin. I’m hearing that my entire identity is a sinner. By making this statement, you’re exaggerating the already problematic “us vs. them” mentality. You’re stepping up on a pedestal when you view me as the sinner worthy of love and you as the one who loves sinners.
I’ve heard this sentiment expressed this way too: “I’ll respect you, but I just don’t agree with you.” For casual disagreements in life, I think it’s okay to agree to disagree. However, disagreeing with a fundamental aspect of who I am is not respect. You’re fundamentally misunderstanding what respect means. If you value me as a person, who’s equal to you, then my gender, partner, and rights, are as valid as yours. To say this phrase is to say, “I can have something that you can’t.” That’s not respect, and it’s definitely not love. All I hear is that your person-hood is more valid than my womanhood, that your marriage is holier than mine, that your right to use a public restroom is more important than mine, that you’re better.
I understand where you’re coming from. I once felt said the same thing. I encourage you to continue in your conviction, but I want to share why I changed my view. It became personal. When I realized that I was a member of the group I loved/hated, my convictions and theology changed. Even if you’re not transgender or questioning or even an ally, at some point it will become personal to you. For many of you, I hope that I am that person to help you navigate a transition in your thoughts and actions. And I promise to continue having conversations that are edifying, respectful, and progressive.
This post originally appeared on Medium February 22, 2018