A rather extraordinary suggestion has been made by a leading theologian in the Church of England.
In an essay entitled Sex, Sense and Non-Sense for Anglicans, Prof Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, writes: "The church needs to get past its judgmental and nonsensical mantra, 'love the sinner, hate the sin'. This simply won't do."
This strikes me as rather startling. After all, the idea of loving the sinner but hating the sin is seen almost universally as a pithy saying which sums up the heart of much of the Christian gospel.
I don't want to be unfair to Dr Percy, who is also vice president of the liberal organisation Modern Church. He is writing in the context of a long article about homosexuality, as reported by Christian Today. You can read his item here and, in the interests of balance, for a different perspective, you can visit the website of the organisation Living Out – the leaders of which have recently been elected to General Synod.
But even read in the longer flow of Martyn Percy's argument, his dismissive comment on "loving the sinner and hating the sin" seems both a non-sequitur and a fairly random hand grenade to throw in.
So here's why I feel more than a little uneasy about it:
1. We are all sinners.
The fact that we all "miss the mark" when it comes to living up to God's standards is fairly basic Christian doctrine. As the New Testament puts it, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). It's why Anglican services generally start with a confession that we have "sinned in thought, word and deed" or similar words.
2. God loves sinners.
God is love (1 John 4:8), and he "so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" as John 3:16 puts it.
3. God hates sin.
The Bible explicitly states that God hates various sins (Proverbs 6:16-19) and elsewhere other equally strong language is used. Sin spoils human beings and separates us from God. Sometimes people struggle with the language of "hate" but with God it is no capricious whim – rather, it is his settled opposition to evil. When we feel outraged by the atrocities of so-called Islamic State, we perhaps get a glimpse of how God feels about all sin.
4. Jesus models loving sinners but hating sin.
For example, when a woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus by religious teachers hoping to trap him, Jesus challenges them: "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7). As they slink away, he tells the woman: "Neither do I condemn you." But he then also adds: "Go now – and leave your life of sin." The gospel is always inclusive – but also always transformative.
5. The New Testament encourages us to do likewise.
Jude, writing in a letter warning about those who "pervert the grace of our God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ" encourages Christians: "Have mercy on everyone who needs it. But hate even the clothes of those who have been made dirty by their filthy deeds" (Jude 1:23, CEV).
Perhaps the most startling aspect of Dr Percy's article is that while there are nine references to Justin Welby, there are no references to Jesus that I can see. Indeed the word "Christ" only occurs once – in referring to Dr Percy's college, Christ Church.
Love the sinner and hate the sin? So far as I can see, that's why Jesus came.