Rolf Harris – Hate the sin, Love the Sinner

With more Facebook inspiration from my previous post Rolf Harris is a Dirty Word, I have come to some new conclusions about why we must harden our resolve in rejecting Rolf’s works, at least for the time being.

We all know the phrase – hate the sin but love the sinner. Christians might be surprised to know that this is not a Bible passage at all but something that Ghandi is known for saying. The Bible does actually say something of this sort in

Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

However the less religious version is the oft repeated one.

Hate the sin but love the sinner carries with it the belief that all sin is equal. That lying to your mother is equal to the sexual molestation of a minor. That murder is the same as stealing a loaf of bread. That abortion is the same as sex before marriage. That being a sociopath is the same as acting in anger or yelling at our children. Somehow we like to think that if the grievousness of a sin could be measured, God would deem them all the same. Perhaps it is just my humanness coming through, but I don’t believe this for one minute. Yes it is true that God died for all sinners, and for all their sins, but the next step is always this – that we accept that love, that we accept our sins and their consequences, and turn to God for help to overcome that sin. Due to the nature of some sins, this can be practically impossible.

Harris’s sexual crimes against young people is one example of such a sin. His molestation of at least 12 minors, and sexual penetration of a trusted family friend were not just one off incidents, but a pattern of behaviour. Having had many opportunities to reflect upon his behaviour, he must have deemed them acceptable enough to repeat them. Not only this, but decades later on the witness stand to have the resolve to deny they even happened, and to label his accusers as liars. Victims of abuse are often quoted as saying that the first step towards forgiveness of their abusers is when they admit they have done something wrong. How can we expect a victim to feel free from their abuse if the perpetrator continues to deny it even happened? Harris’ denial must be particularly stinging due to the public nature of the trail and Harris’ public profile.

God too requires us to acknowledge our sins, big and small. For how can we accept that we need God’s help if we believe ourselves to be sin-free? The nature of some sins makes acknowledging them much harder than others. For instance, it is much easier to acknowledge that the lie we told our friend was damaging to the friendship than it is to acknowledge that we have ruined a person’s life due to our sin. But God requires us to take this step for each and every sin. In the meantime, the distance between God and ourselves grows. Similarly in our human relationships, the distance between us and the sinner grows until the sinner acknowledges the wrong they have done. Yes, we can continue to love the person, but love does not mean pandering to them. Love is challenging. We like to skip over certain words in our favourite love passage

1 Corinthians 13:4-6 – Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

There are a few things in there that we need to point out. The first is that love is not “easily” angered. It does not mean it never gets angry. It just saves its anger for those moments that are justified, like for instance, when a trusted member of society sexually molests a number of young victims.

The second part to remember is that “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth”. We must not delight in the works of Harris due to the access it gave him to his young victims. Simply put, we must not continue to revere the works of a man who continues to abuse and damage his victims by denying the occurrence of the abuse. The truth for those victims is that their lives were irrevocably changed by the abuse, and it is that which we must consider, and not the man himself. We must rejoice in their lives, build them up and support them as the heal from the damage caused by the abuse. The best way we can do this is to stop the revelry associated with his works.

God requires of us certain steps in order for our sins to be cleansed. It is the same for all sins, the big and the small sins.

The first step is to acknowledge that we have sinned.

The second is to acknowledge that our sins has caused trouble to other people and to God.

The third is to turn to God or our victims for forgiveness.

Lastly, we must continue to turn to God for help to overcome the presence of that sin in our lives.

If Harris had been able to do this, with or without the acknowledgement of God in the process, he might have had some more sympathy from his fellow Australians. Until he is able to take this steps, we must harden our resolve and distance ourselves from him and his actions. Pray for him, but do not glorify him. Love him as a human being, but do not dismiss the crimes he has committed. Do not give him fuel to continue his denial.


  1. An interesting take on this sad story.

    A few questions: you wrote, “But God requires us to take this step [acknowledgement] for each and every sin.” Where does this understanding come from? I ask because I’m sure there is sin in me that I don’t even recognise as sin, much less acknowledge. My understanding is that God’s grace is big enough even for these… if it’s not, I’m stuffed!

    Also, if all sins are equal, why is it necessary to revile Rolf’s works because of his unrepentant sin, but unnecessary to do the same for any number of other unrepentant performers? (e.g. all musicians who have sex outside of marriage) Or do you think we should reject their creative output too?

    • Luke – welcome to my blog and thank you for commenting!

      Your questions are legitimate. I suppose as a Catholic, every Sunday at Mass we have a small part of the service that acknowledges our sinfulness. We say, “Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy”. Perhaps we are not recalling each and every sin, but we are acknowledging our sinfulness before God and seeking forgiveness. Perhaps my wording is not quite right, but certainly I believe that we cannot ultimately be forgiven if we cannot acknowledge that sinfulness. We may not remember all our sins, but we know they are there!

      I think I said that NOT all sins are equal. The only equal thing is that we have to turn to God for all our sins, or for our sinfulness. As a general rule, though, I am often turned away from an artists work if I consider their lives less than moral. Perhaps I’m a bit of a prude, but I mostly listen to pretty wholesome stuff!

  2. Great post Anneliese! I agree with most things you’ve said; it also irks me that people often mistake “love” for kindness and forgiveness when in fact real love is so challenging it allows us to confront our weaknesses and remedy our mistakes.

    But there are two things I disagree with.

    First, sin is sin. Sin is sin because all sin – regardless of how big or small – removes us from the grace of God. How much we are removed is impossible for us to determine; only God can really know the state of anyone’s heart and how much any sin can affect him/her. What we can judge is the practical ramification of one’s actions based on what we deem to be criminal and unjust, but let’s face it – the legal system is flawed. And while our legal system seeks to serve justice, often people aren’t seeking justice, they’re seeking vengeance. The legal system, and our methods for dolling out sentences aren’t going to appease that need for vengeance, especially when the crime – like Harris’ – are so abhorrent.

    Secondly, I think there is a flaw in judging the product Harris’ works (eg his music) to be inherently evil because they were made in an environment or circumstance of sin. Based on that logic, I shouldn’t rejoice in the birth of a child that was produced as a result of rape because by doing so I would be condoning rape, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    I believe God always (and I do mean ALWAYS) is both just and merciful, and I also believe he is able to create good out of anyone’s evil (isn’t that one of the key messages of the Passion and Resurrection; that out of the murder of an innocent man came redemption for all of humanity?).

    • Hi Joy and thank you for your response, it has made me think a bit more about what I am really trying to say.

      Sin is sin, and separates us from God is right. But I don’t believe that all sin separates us in equal measure. Some sin has the potential to push us further and further away, and to create more and more sinfulness. Sexual abuse of a minor leads to denial of actions, which leads to more damage caused to the victim, which leads to more and more denial, pushing the perpetrator further and further away from God. The original abuse was enough to push the perpetrator a significant distance, further than say, lying to a partner about that $100 you spent on shoes. The subsequent furthering is due to the denial and lack of acknowledgement.

      Your point about a baby produced out of rape is a good one. I suppose I want to reiterate that I don’t believe ALL sin is the same, or at least should not be treated by us as such. A baby produced from rape is a very different outcome to a man’s tirelessly produced art. By their very nature they are different and must be treated as such. We are called to treat every human being with dignity and respect regardless of how they came to be, but we are not called to treat music or art in the same way.

      Yes, God IS just and merciful, and will ultimately judge Harris accordingly. I do not believe that judging his work so harshly is unfair or wrong. Afterall, if we stripped his work away from him, what sort of humbleness would ensue? Is he using his fame and position as a crutch holding him up in justification of his crimes/sins? Knocking that from underneath him is a clear message that he is and should be treated as any other person who has committed those actions. God humbled us all by dying on the cross.

      You say God makes good out of bad which I also agree. Do we truly think that Harris’ work is what will be made good here? Isn’t God more interested in people than art/music? Isn’t the good that will come from the bad more related to changing hearts? God made the death of Jesus into a good thing for humankind as you say, but this is a far distance from saying that Harris’ works are made good by God despite the sinfulness behind it?

      My subscript here is that I don’t know all the answers. Any or all of my writing is just my flow of thoughts. I am always open to be challenged about them!

  3. Wonderful and thought provoking series of blogs on Rolf Harris… I suppose how to deal with him didn’t really enter my mind because I don’t have kids of my own and my nieces and nephews aren’t really interested in Rolf.
    But I was thinking about it in light of the removal of Bishop Mulkearns’ name from the lecture theatre at ACU’s Aquinas campus. It has been said that Bishop Mulkearns knew about but failed to act on child sexual abuse.
    And a similar question arose in my mind… what do we do about the legacy of people like Bishop Mulkearns? Is his name removed from other public places (eg Church foundation stones)? What happens when he passes away? Do we mourn him in the same way as other bishops?
    I don’t know. I don’t know how the Church will respond. But seeing as how your blog was so thoughtful, I wanted to pose the question 🙂

    • Absolutely! The biggest challenge of the church is what to do about abusing priests, and those Bishops that fail to report the abuse. Bishop Mulkearns is not the first to be named as a protector of abusing priests for the sake of the reputation of the church. Certainly a defrocking is in order which covers what to do when he passes. However the legacy is harder. Whatever we do, though, the question should always be “Is what we are doing honouring the pain felt by victims, or protecting the dignity of the perpetrator?” If we do nothing, we are protecting the perpetrator. Something has to be done, but the victim must always be who is considered.

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