Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Problem With "We're All Sinners"


Throughout my life, I have heard (and I am sure you have as well) the phrase "hate the sin, love the sinner" bandied about as though Jesus said it, which He didn't--apparently, that phrase was originated by Saint Augustine nearly 1,600 years ago.  It, like many cliches, became a crutch, a trite, Hallmark-y expression of Christian compassion couched in accountability.

I also stopped using it years ago.  I got on the wagon of recovering from using "I used to say 'hate the sin, love the sinner'" and haven't looked back since.

Why?

Because saying "hate the sin, love the sinner" still implies a certain moral superiority of the person saying it, an almost patronizing sense of paternalism, sort of how you still love your dog even after he has peed on all of your furniture.

(I don't know that from personal experience or anything...)

Perhaps because of that--or because of any number of reasons--what I instead hear now from Christians, and doubly so after the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court last Friday, is, "We still love GLBT people...after all, we're all sinners."  Or, "the Bible says all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  Or, "We all need grace."  Or...well, you get the idea.

And on a theological level, yes, all of those are absolutely, 100%, completely true.  We're all sinners in need of grace because we all have fallen short of God's divine glory.  I still maintain and believe in the premise of sola gratia, that we are saved by God's grace alone--there is nothing that we can do or say to earn that grace.

But here's the thing: we can all confess our own individual sins, whatever they may be.  It's barely 10:00 am and already today I've cussed twice, honked at another driver once (unrelatedly), and double-parked in the Home Depot parking lot.  But it's perfectly legal to cuss (except on television, and even then, only certain four-letter words) or honk your horn.

Similarly, divorce is legal, adultery is legal, and frankly, far bigger (in order of magnitude of the number of lives affected) like the exploitation of the poor and the immigrant are either legal or turned a blind eye towards.

So if we are going with the "we're all sinners" tack, why aren't we all trying to make our different individual sins illegal?  If we cannot abide by the government endorsing and enabling sin, well, let's start with us.  Make my inveterate cussing illegal.  Make irritability, sarcasm, and the maintaining of a messy office illegal.  I'd add my imbibing of scotch to the list, but the United States already bought a ticket to that particular movie, and it sucked.

Let me try to put it a different way--I have Christian friends and colleagues who love to remind me that when faced with the woman caught in adultery in John 8, Jesus didn't just say "He who is without sin, cast the first stone," He also said to the woman, "Go, and sin no more."  But that sort of "Go and sin no more" transformation doesn't happen overnight for anybody, even after conversion or repentance.  Often, our struggles against sin are exactly that--a struggle.  And if you view same-sex relationships as a sin, why do you require gays and lesbians to remain celibate while you are free to continue struggling with, say, your anger management, even though the Bible even goes so far as to say an easily-angered person should be disassociated with (Proverbs 22:24), just as we have taken it upon ourselves in our churches to disassociate ourselves from same-sex couples?

Do you begin to see the double standard we have erected all over again?  Instead of "hate the sin, love the sinner" and then "loved" GLBTQ people by actively trying to relegate them to second-class citizen status, we now say, in true Animal Farm fashion, "we're all sinners, but some sinners are more equal than other sinners."

To borrow from the Christian author Rachel Held Evans's recent Searching for Sunday memoir, "'Let's not forget that Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more," some like to say when they think the church is getting too soft on other people's sin.  To this I am always tempted to respond, So how's that working out for you?  The sinning no more thing?  Because it's not going so well for me."

If the sinning no more thing isn't quite in your wheelhouse, do you want your particular sins and peccadilloes to be made illegal?  Would you want to be denied the right to marry or adopt children based solely on your predisposition towards selfishness or conceitedness, snobbishness or shallowness, even though all of those things may well have a larger effect on your marriage or parenting skill than your sexuality?

If not, please, I beg of you, ask yourself why, truly why, you are continuing to resist, in the wake of this most recent Supreme Court ruling, the tides and turning of history towards the equality and justice of a people who for decades have wanted only that.

Yours in Christ,
Eric

Image courtesy of tribute.com.pk

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