Our popular culture seems to love sin and hate sinners.
Face it–we live in a scandal-mongering society. The same media that celebrate so many sins also love to devour the sinners who commit them. Sympathetic portrayals of homosexuality, prostitution, shacking up and adultery pervade our entertainment media while public figures caught engaging in such celebrated pathologies are often crucified by the media. National elections often teeter and totter on the latest outrage over someone’s sin, depending on who the self-righteous media choose to destroy. Ruining reputations, shattering careers, shaming the “guilty,” are specialties of our national media. And we eat it up.
Speaking of loving sin and hating sinners, Lady Gaga, a pop-culture entertainer with some 21 million Twitter followers, calls her fans “little monsters.” I fully realize it’s a term of alleged affection (and a marketing tactic) for people who are seen as nerds, freaks, weird, queer or rejects. They apparently love being called “little monsters” and she loves getting rich off of their “love.” This label does not apply to her fans respectfully as individuals but as a category defined by traits she wants to glorify. Her song, “Bad Kid” (from her Born This Way CD), celebrates monstrous traits with terms like “b-t-h,” “loser,” “jerk,” “brat,” “twit” and “degenerate.” Reveling in her badness, Gaga croons, “I’m so bad and I don’t give a d-mn, I love it when you’re mad.” Turning from herself to her fans, she sings, “You’re still good to me if you’re a bad kid baby.”
She’s gaga over blatant badness and I can’t spin this as respect or genuine affection.
Long ago, the prophet Isaiah saw through such spins. He sang of those who “call evil good and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20). Gaga glorifies badness as goodness and celebrates the alienation that can come with being bad. Her evil-glorifying influence tightens the shackles that sin has on the hearts of the fans she belittles as “monsters,” at the expense of their dignity as human beings. The fact that so many revel in this and idolize Gaga does not make it right.
Christianity turns all this right-side-up! The life-changing ministry of Jesus to struggling marginalized people bears no comparison to the sin-glorifying destruction that pop-icons like Lady Gaga bring to them. God showed a harrowing hatred of sin and an incredible love for sinners when He executed His plan for Jesus to die on our behalf and then rise again. The maxim, “hate the sin and love the sinner” is rooted in the cross of Christ where God demonstrated His holy hate for sin and divine love for sinners at the same time. Christians see God’s dynamic posture toward sin and sinners as marching orders as we take up our cross to follow Jesus. The Bible contains countless calls to hate evil. And though our neighbors (like us) are sinners, we are commanded to love them.
In the Christian classic, The City of God, St. Augustine wrote:
That is, he should not hate the man because of the fault, nor should he love the fault because of the man; rather, he should hate the fault but love the man. And when the fault has been healed there will remain only what he ought to love, and nothing that he ought to hate.
Over a millennium later, the ever articulate poet, Alexander Pope (1688-1744) said, “Love the offender, yet detest the offense.”
This motto, however, is a crippling cop-out if you claim both sides of it (hating sin and loving sinners) but only practice one side. The principle reflects the gospel at its core, but if we pay it lip service to both sides but still hate sinners in actual practice, we are without excuse. And if we say we love sinners while “lovingly” excusing sin, this is an equally ungodly stance.
The Christian gospel has always turned the world’s values on its head. It humbles the exalted and exalts the humble. It puts the first last and the last first. It transforms our love of sin into repentance and our self-righteous disdain for sinners into sacrificial love. Isn’t grace amazing?
The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.