I understand why more and more people care less and less about what the church has to say.
I understand what it feels like to listen to the same people who claim to have the inside track on righteousness find ways to sidestep so many of the things that ail the world today. I’ve been guilty of the same at times.
I recently encountered a meme that suggested that many people are hoping that the Church will cosign sin. It said that the Church was happy to recognize that people were free to do as they pleased, but that the Church was supposed to call sin out for what it was. I sat with that argument and reflected on it. I suspect that if that were what the church was actually doing, we might inhabit a much different world.
Often, our churches preach messages of personal piety. We encourage people to believe, say, and do the right things, so that we do not “fall into sin”. The problem with that is that, too often, when we refer to “sin”, we’re thinking of sex stuff. I find that a bit ironic in that many of us base our understanding of sin in the Genesis account of The Fall in the Garden of Eden. You Know? The story where it was shame at their naked bodies that alerted God about the transgression of Adam and Eve?
I should be clear: there is such a thing as sexual sin. Yes, even in the Bible. Take what David did to Bathsheba out of sheer lust, for instance. Or how Abram and Sarai treated Hagar as a means of breeding. And of course, there is the infamous story of the people of Sodom plotting to take Lot’s guests and have their way with them. When sex is used as a means of controlling people, the results tend to impact a sphere far greater than that of the survivors. It creates a culture in which people are dehumanized. And that, Beloved, is the true danger of sin.
When our idea of righteousness is relegated to policing how our siblings in Christ and Creation use their genitals, we miss the full gravity of what sin is. When personal piety alone is the key to discerning and overcoming sin, we have missed the plot. If sin was merely a matter of correcting individual behaviors, then why would anyone ever be persecuted for preaching a message that speaks of overcoming it? Are we to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for preaching a message against people pleasuring themselves?
When we fail to think of sin as something that surrounds us in both individual and communal ways, we have failed to grasp the fullness of the gospel. It is one thing if Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection were a means to teaching us self control. That news is not as good as we have been led to believe. It is an entirely different matter if Jesus’s execution (having been declared by the cooperation of a religious establishment that had begun to work in concept with an imperial state) was nullified by His Resurrection and began a movement of people who would no longer accept the status quo peacefully.
Sin is bigger than sex.
Sin is bigger than how we govern ourselves on a personal level. In truth, the sins that we are prone to committing individually are often a result of the sinful systems and environments that we have been born into. In that way, we are products of our environment. This truth is affirmed by the Psalmist who acknowledges being born and shaped in sin. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that we do not have to stay that way.
I recognize that me saying many of these things may cause some people to question my sexual ethics and theology of sex. If that is you, I’d like to encourage you to push through your discomfort and wrestle with what I’m saying, as is our task in dealing with the words of the same Jesus who found his ministry among the disreputable and “unclean.”
In following Jesus, we can speak truthfully to and about the traditions and practices of both our religion and whoever may be governing our homeland at the time. We can say “you do not get to determine your freedom at my expense.” The way of Jesus says that wholeness is the goal, and not control. Jesus, being the Good Shepherd speaks to a flock that recognizes that, yes – sometimes our wholeness requires us looking beyond our individual desires so that our gain does not come at the cost of someone else’s loss. Liberty is not a zero sum game. Jesus speaks in a way that acknowledges the shortcomings of many current traditions (even as practiced by those with “orthodox” theologies) because the way of Jesus recognizes that traditions that do not serve the Beloved of God do not serve the God of the Beloved.
So, when I think about sin, I try to think about more than just the things we feel shame about and desire to hide. I think about the society we live in, and the many broken people it creates.
I thank God that Jesus didn’t stay dead, and that we do not have to accept such a reality as “the way things are”.
I thank God that, through Jesus of Nazareth, there is victory over sin.