Even Love and Hate Need to Be Clarified

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 04/13/2018

“We just need to love gays and lesbians,” she told me. After a short pause, she added, “It’s wrong that some people hate them.” Since she had asked what I had recently covered in one of my talks and discovered it was homosexuality, she thought she would give her two cents about the subject.

I thought to myself, I have no idea what she means. Maybe it’s just me, but after hearing the words “love” and “hate” used in this context for years, I’ve realized that different people mean different things by those words.

When I think of loving people, I think of my feelings, attitude, and behavior towards others. I feel amiable toward them and I desire to know them. I ask about their life, family, and friends. I want to know what they do and what they enjoy. I speak to them kindly and treat them with respect, even though I may disagree with their worldview, religious convictions, or behavior.

I differ from a large number of people I interact with. That’s partly because I travel a lot. I’m in a different state every other week. I visit about three different countries each year. I ride in taxis and talk to hotel staff. I visit mosques and sit in on services of other religions. I meet new people all the time—people who are different from me in very significant ways. I can honestly say I love these people and enjoy spending time with them and getting to know them.

Do I have the same love towards gays and lesbians? Of course. I don’t even countenance the thought of not loving them in the same way. It’s a non-question for me.

Do I think it’s wrong that some people hate them, as the woman I spoke to said? Absolutely. The way I understand the word “hate” would be the opposite of how I define love. When I think of hating someone, I think of my feelings, attitude, and behavior towards them. I have negative feelings about them, I want to avoid them, I don’t care about who they are, what they do, or what their thoughts are about anything. I never want to do anything for them and long to see them suffer. You get the picture. It’s nasty. To be honest, I don’t have that feeling about any person I know, even those who have hurt me in the past. I do hate Satan and I hate my sin. But I don’t even use that word to describe those who oppose what I do (I don’t even say I hate cats even though I’m very allergic to them).

If the woman I spoke to defined love and hate in those ways, then I’m on board with what she said. But as I suspect you know, some people have a different meaning in mind.

Love is often equated with moral agreement in the context of homosexuality. To love gays and lesbians entails upholding homosexual behavior, speaking in terms they approve, and voting in favor of public policies they support. If you don’t do that, you don’t love them. You hate them.

But when is that definition of love ever applied to anyone else or any other group? If I must maintain moral agreement, give religious approval, or vote consistently with the thousands of people I meet so that I can qualify as loving them, it would make loving them impossible.

Consider that I go to the Middle East often. I stay in Muslim neighborhoods. I attend mosques services. I talk to a lot of Muslims. I hold very different religious beliefs from theirs. I don’t share their moral convictions. I vigorously disagree with their theology. I don’t support their laws. I love them, though, and they respect me even though they know we don’t see eye to eye on the very things that define each of us. Moreover, they don’t claim I hate them.

But because love and hate are often redefined, it’s often said (and believed) that Christians hate homosexuals. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly many things the Church has done towards the LGBT community that have contributed to that impression. I’ve met Christians who are genuinely homophobic. Some have told me that they hate (in the traditional sense of the word) homosexuals. But this is a minority of the believers I meet and speak to across the country. The majority of them love (in the traditional sense) their family and friends who identify as gay and lesbian.

Unfortunately, we need to be mindful when “love” and “hate” are used in this context. Even these words, which you’d think are obvious and need no clarification, often need clarification.