Love the sinner, hate the sin: or, Truth vs Love
A few people know I’m here now, but "Weekend Fisher" was the first person to respond on site. Which felt a bit like something else happening for the first time. Ye-e-s! Affirmation!
I e-mailed him and promised I’d deal with one of his issues. He thinks I tend to demonize, or as I would spell it demonise (he’s American, but someone has to be), fundamentalists. Hm.
My beef is with fundamentalISM, not fundamentalISTS, and within that category the particular variety: YE creationists, who may be lovely people, but lovely people with views I believe to be mistaken, dangerous and unChristian. I hope I’m generally open-minded but this is a sticking point. Defending it is part of my current raison d'être.
Weekend Fisher wasn’t suggesting that I literally demonise creationism, but oddly enough I think that’s just about what I do. I regard its influence on the Church as malign; a source of division, a distraction from our real business. It leads to the devaluing of Scripture, tells us nothing new about Christ - notice how much creationist literature is about challenging evolutionary theory and how little it has to do with Jesus. Does creationism build up the body of Christ? Does it make us more effective disciples? Does it equip us for service to the poor and needy? Does it commend the Gospel? No, no, no, and no. Does it drive intelligent people screaming from the Church saying if that’s Christianity you can stick it? Does it give Christianity’s critics a target so big they can’t miss it? Does it make us a laughing stock? Does it make some of us think: with friends like these who needs enemies? Yes, yes, yes, and YES! Perhaps I should go into deliverance ministry. Spirit of creationism, come out of the Church! In Jesus’ name!
Well, that’s how strongly I feel. Given that, I find it hard, in attacking creationist ideas, not to give offence to those who hold them. Nor do I find anything in scripture that says it’s wrong to give offence; and yet, I find myself duty bound to extend love to my brothers and sisters (fellow Christians); neighbours, AND my enemies. I can’t see that leaves anyone out. Under whichever heading I might put creationists, there is no get out. If I’m trying to correct their ideas I must do so lovingly. On the other hand, I believe myself called to preach the word of God, in and out of season. That’s in my ordination vows. I must be faithful to the truth as I see it. How do I keep the two duties in balance?
Let me put it like this. If a man breaks into my home and attacks my wife, I have some duty of love towards him as an enemy: I must seek his good. But my primary and most urgent duty is towards my wife, on two very obvious grounds - first, she’s the woman I care about more than anyone else in the world, which is why I married her; second, she is a victim here and as such I would still go to her aid even if she were a stranger. I will love my enemy only if and when I have seen my wife out of danger; even then, he must realise that to love him and and let him have what he wants are not the same thing. Loving him must include helping him to restrain his violence and teaching him it will do no good. I am not a violent person (and as a tyical Brit - American visitors please note - do not have a gun nor the least desire to possess one) but in such circumstances I could not rule out grabbing hold of something sharp and/or heavy if that’s what it takes to protect what I must protect.
In ministry terms, my first love must be the Church - the body of Christ - and the essential truth of his Gospel (which is not the same, not even slightly, as the human doctrine of inerrancy). It is through serving the Church that I serve Him; plus, the Church houses me and pays me a salary. We’ve been through a lot together. I am under some obligation, part of which entails seeking to protect the Church from its enemies. In my perception, creationism is then the intruder seeking to harm that which it is my duty to defend, and defend it I will. That done, I will consider my duty of love towards the enemy who has threatened to destroy what I am called to protect. I will try to reason with him, give him chance to repent, try at all times to distinguish between the sinner and the sin; but I’m not going to say that a mistake isn’t a mistake, that heresy is good doctrine, that rubbish theology is the wisdom of God, just for the sake of fellowship and unity.
Creationists are trying to make a fight out of this and the Snake is fighting back, not venomously (I’ve had the operation to remove my poison sacs) but in the name of truth. Does that get the love/truth balance right? Every Christian minister has to struggle with that one.