Warning: This is a vent, a rant, a yawp and a tantrum. I received an email today that had me shaking while I read it and has been a distraction all day. I seek the catharsis of putting my thoughts in writing so I can let it go. The gist of the email was a chastisement that I criticized people who are bothered by “sin”. In the writer’s opinion, Christians aren’t “crybabies” when they are opposing real “evil”. She queries, “Don’t you believe sin is evil? If not, you aren’t much of a Christian.” I can emphatically say that I am not her kind of Christian. You see, the “evil” she was pointing to — evil that “forced” her to leave the Methodist Church — included Harry Potter, Katy Perry, churches that host Halloween activities, “loving faggots and queers”, letting women preach, giving money to “abortionists and feeding the children of rapists and terrorists”, Rap and Hip-Hop music, “little girls who wear make-up like whores,” those who opposed George W. Bush in any way, those who support Barack Obama in any way, and “global warming environmentalist Nazis.” She reminded me multiple times that “these sins are evil.”
I wasn’t going to dignify such utter narrow-mindedness with an answer, but here is what I woulda/shoulda/coulda said — and I hope she reads it.
First, no, I do not think “sin is evil.” I think sin is sin — a condition of brokenness and separation from the intention and will of God. It is sad. It is unfortunate. It is tragic in many ways. And it is the human condition in which each and every one of us finds ourselves. Sin is. And it is much more than the individual “sins” we can commit as acts of disobedience, pettiness or cruelty. We, a sinful people, have reduced a condition of ostracism from God to a list of unacceptable and condemnable actions and behaviors. Shame on us. Sins aren’t the things we do; the things we do emerge from the sin that is part of our nature. It is why we need redemption. It is why we have a Savior.
Second, evil is evil, and evil is sin. I have seen evil; not all sinners do evil. Even fewer sinners are evil, though the sanctimonious among us choose to treat them as such. I think of my time on earth, and these things come to mind:
- I visited a child in an Intensive Care Burn Ward whose mother doused him in lighter fluid and set him on fire because he refused to go to sleep. This is evil; this is more than sin.
- I met two young Puerto Rican women whose father had hooked them on drugs so that he could prostitute them so that he didn’t have to work. This is evil; this is more than sin.
- I testified in a court case where a birth mother strangled her three-year old with the electrical cord. The child had been removed from the home of a lesbian couple who provided safety, comfort and love, because the judge felt “it was not a healthy environment in which to raise a child.” This is evil; this is more than sin.
- I stood near corpses in Africa of men, women and children who starved to death within sight of storage silos filled with food impounded by the government. This is evil; this is more than sin.
- I listened to a young woman who told of the way she and her brother were sold into slavery to human traffickers by her parents because her younger siblings were healthier and would cost less to raise. This is evil; this is more than sin.
- I shared in a funeral for a thirteen-year old cognitively disabled boy beaten to death by four “Christian” boys who saw him wearing a Barbie t-shirt, thought he might be gay, and wanted to teach him a lesson. This is evil; this is more than sin.
- I know a young woman who gave up on church because three times during her teenage years she was molested and forced to have sex by two different youth pastors. This is evil; this is more than sin.
- A man in a church I once served poisoned his wife and three children so that he could “be free” to marry a woman he met and fell in love with. This is evil; this is more than sin.
- Another man in another church I served had sex with his two daughters for years, while his wife stood by doing nothing. This is evil; this is more than sin.
As long as there are such things in the world, I can’t get too upset about a boy wizard, styles of music, Halloween parties, and women preachers — not that I actually think any of these things are “sins”. And you know, I can’t get too frothy about two people finding each other and forging a lasting bond, of love, respect, admiration and joy who just happen to be the same gender. And I think name-calling is a lower form of engagement than the subjects of said calling. It is evil to think of others less kindly than one thinks of self. When we live in a world of life and death, torture and abuse, sexual and psychological enslavement, starvation and violence — why do we waste time worrying about such trivia as make-up and music? Our values are all out of whack.
Somewhere along the way we reduced “faith” into a set of “right beliefs,” and made a way of being together in the world into a set of “right behaviors”. The challenge of including everyone in the project of finding their God-given place in the body of Christ degraded to arbitrary criteria to determine who “belongs” and who doesn’t. Judging and condemning are cornerstone pursuits for a significant number of people calling themselves Christian. I can understand this because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but where is the humility? Where is the desire for reconciliation and wholeness with those judged and condemned? Where is the grace, the mercy, the compassion, the forgiveness. I don’t want to be part of any “faith” that sees disrespect, indignation, contempt, self-righteousness and superiority as basic tenets. The venom, bile and hatred disguised as “religion” is reprehensible. Sin is sad, unfortunate, often pathetic, and universal. But it isn’t evil. Evil is something much, much worse, and all too often those who cry out loudly against it are its origin and source.