In the 1955 movie, Night of the Hunter, Robert Mitchum plays a self-appointed preacher who believes he is God’s instrument to punish “lustful women.” On the knuckles of his left hand the word HATE is tattooed, with LOVE in tattoos on his right knuckles. At one point he tells the children, who he suspects of having some money that he wants, that the tattoos signify the conflict between hate and love that has existed since the fall of man, but that love will always triumph. Although he has a twisted concept of love that includes murder while singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” his explanation that love always triumphs is a valid one.
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. … But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (Lk 6:28-29, 36-37)
This is true in a generic sense, but it also has great meaning for those who would try to save those who are lost. We won’t win converts by hating them into the church.
Back around the 1950s a common approach to try to teach the gospel was to ask a person, “If you died today would you go to heaven or hell?” Or, to be more blunt, “You are a sinner and are going to hell. Let me tell you how to change that.” Those who approached others with these statements usually did not get very far. They were likely to have a door slammed in their face. Over time people realized that a better approach was some variation on “I am happy that I am going to heaven, but I sure would love it if you would go with me.” Of course, this approach only worked if the person using it showed that they really meant both parts of the statement. If they didn’t seem interested in heaven themselves, it was difficult to convince anyone else that it was worth looking into. If they didn’t show a genuine interest in the person to whom they were talking, they came across as liars or hypocrites. (Door-knocking campaigns may have their place, but nothing beats a good relationship over time to convince someone of your love.)
Unfortunately, some people in America have gone back to the 50s in their attitudes. From the political stage and social media, you hear stories about how certain people (usually labeled Liberals) should comply with Christian principles, whether they agree with them or not. In business we should, apparently, hit the unbelievers over the head with the Bible rather than serve them with love. (For example, if you don’t believe in selling liquor, stay out of the grocery store business in many states.)
We don’t need to make enemies of people we consider sinners. They are already inimical to God; there is no need to reinforce that. A good quote is going around, saying, “don’t look down on someone because they sin differently than you.” Our approach to friends who are still in sin should not be “I am right and you are wrong.” We should acknowledge that we have been wrong, too, and have changed for the better.
When Jesus said, “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5:16), he didn’t mean for us to burn the sinners’ houses down.