The old Christian adage goes that we're to 'love the sinner but hate the sin'. Recently I've been reading the excellent book Walking with Gay Friends which has helped me see how difficult this sometimes is.
I've found the book immensely helpful not just in terms of thinking about best loving and engaging homosexual people with the gospel, but also in helping me to reflect on how I must welcome those people who are believers but who are working through issues of lifestyle.
In one section, author Alex Tylee writes a very powerful (and true) case study. In it, a Christian has a gay friend. However, their friendship has stalled. In the name of 'loving the sinner but hating the sin', the Christian has ended up hating elements of her friend's character. She had began to think that the 'sin' was her friend herself, because her sexuality seemed to permeate every aspect of her life. Her friend had begun to think that the friendship was conditional.
Here's a quote from the book:
'I had to ask Karen [the Christian] whether there was any truth in what Louise [the non-Christian] was saying. Was it in fact true that Karen loved only the 'ideal' Louise, with her sexuality removed? If this really was the case, then there was something wrong. When we witness to our straight non-Christian friends, do we honestly believe that we will really be their friends only once they are 'saved and sorted'? I hope not! I hope that they are our friends and we would love them even if they were never saved, though it breaks our hearts to think of it. There is a delicate balance here. God loves us as we are; yet it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for the ungodly. Yet his love always tells us the truth and will not leave us as we are, no matter how hard it is to change. He loves us too for what we will be, when he has finished working on us and we are perfect in Christ, totally conformed to the image of Jesus. That is our ultimate destiny and our completed identity.'I find this a very helpful passage. Not only has it drawn me to repentance in terms of how I have sometimes been guilty of treating my gay friends, but I have also been made to realise that there are others people with major 'lifestyle issues' that I've been guilty of not loving. There's one friend in particular who is very promiscuous, and I now realise I've at times ended up hating him rather than just hating his sin. And this (worryingly) shows that sometimes I've lost sight of God's grace, and been dangerously close to becoming a Pharisee.
God help me.