hen I was a quasi-religious person I remember going to a church in a town in Eastern Iowa. In this church they had their own political quarrels and topics. The regular “who did what and when and how” and all the normal scandals you’d associate with any kind of small town organization. One thing in particular stands out to me when I look back upon those days of church going. There was a woman that was very active in the church, about her mid 30’s or so. She was obviously very devout and enjoyed leading singing during services, which is no big deal right? Well one day I noticed she was no longer leading services. She wasn’t up there the next week or the week after that. Finally I asked someone, “why isn’t such-and-such leading singing anymore? She was good at it, and enjoyed it.” The response was that she was guilty of something that the church group did not approve of-she had had a kid out of wedlock and had yet to marry. Every week her son would sit in the front row and enjoy her mother leading the group in singing, but now he was relegated to the back of the church along with the other children. He was about 4 or 5, definitely been around long enough for them to know about it. I guess the group thought enough was enough of this vile sinner and cast her down from her high post.
The reason I bring this story up is because we often hear of the forgiveness of the lord and the powers of compassion he has when we look at the Christian dogma. However, when we look at Christian scripture we see several passages that claim that all sins are equally wrong and if this is the case, we have a problem.
James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
So we return to our story of the church goer that was very excited to lead the church in prayer, but had broken one of the rules of the church. If all sins are equal and god is forgiving, should she not be subject to the same reprieve as any other sinner? Let us compound this question and compare the sins to a supposedly “worse” sin of that or murder. There are several reformed murders and criminals in our society that claim to have found god and become quite devout. Often times there are even religious leaders or activists that had troubles in the past but have since reconciled with their specific church groups. I wonder what this group would think of allowing a murderer to become their new Pastor? A thief? A coveter of….goats or something? The answer is surely to be no, especially if they would not allow a woman out of wedlock to even lead their church in prayer.
Now at first this sounds like a criticism of that specific church for not adhering to “good” principals, but it goes further than that. The way I see it the church has three ways to deal with this situation, and all other situations pertaining to the Christian faith for other churches.
First, they can stick to their guns and remove anyone that does not live a completely biblical life from their position of respect. Murderer, you’re out. Thief? You’re out too. Looked at the pastors’ daughter with covetous eyes? Back to the back row of pews for you. Worked on a Sunday? Friends with atheists? Used the lords name in vain? Get outta town. So you can see the problem there, they wouldn’t have anyone qualified to be in the church since all sins are equal and everyone is a sinner. It’s not very productive, but it’s consistent with the dogma of the faith. Otherwise they have to let everyone in because Jesus has forgiven their sins, correct? There should be no differentiation between the murder and the housewife jealous of the Jones’ new SUV.
Second, they can break the rules and lay claim that some sins are worse than others. Stole from the supermarket when you were 20? That’s alright; you’ve repented so you can hold a post. Had a kid out of wedlock? These things happen, go right in. However, as noted by scripture this is breaking the rules. It seems like a more realistic approach to the rules, as we all know; there are several criminals and less scrupulous people that run religious organizations today. The problem with this is that its breaking scriptural rules. How can you lay claim to be a religious organization and then toss out most of the scripture pertaining to sin and the penalties there of? You can’t without admitting that at least in some part the scriptures aren’t true and that the rules of day to day life take place over Bronze Age mythology. This is actually the path that most churches use today; else we wouldn’t have any church goers. Often appeals to Jesus are made to except everyone from judgment, but why some and not others? Everyone would be sitting down in the back row like in the example with the singing lady above, so they have a tacit, and inconsistent, understanding that some sins aren’t THAT bad and we can skip over some parts of the bible we don’t like.
The last, and best option, is to look at the scripture, look at daily life and conclude that none of those things really makes any sense. You had a kid out of wedlock? So what, as long as you are happy and can sustain the family there is no reason for anyone to poke their nose in at all. Stolen things in the past? You’ve done a horrible thing, but as long as you own up to you mistakes and never do them again there shouldn’t be any beef once you’ve repaid your debt to society and the victims. We aren’t going to issue a maximum punishment for every single transgression because all crimes are not equal as sins are supposedly to be. We deal with these things in the methods we have today here and now and not in some superstitious rule book where we tally up your faults and render judgment on what you can do in your spare time. When we look at the other two options the only consistent and really fair thing we can do is to dismiss the scripture for what it is, unrealistic and invasive rules that prohibit anything approaching a normal human life. In the example above a woman has experienced more suffering because of some action she did that was arbitrarily decided by people much older than her to be unfit for leadership in their group. If the group was to be truly consistent, they should cast her from the church all together because she is a sinner, and thusly on par with someone like Adolf Hitler or Jarod Laughner, unless Jesus saves people like that too. This is a shining example of why this arbitrary morality shown in scriptures has to be refuted at every step.
So next time someone begins to discuss how much of a sinner each individual is, remember, that even within religious groups there is judging, inconsistency, and downright meanness based on individual members’ interpretation of certain rules. Remind them that if all sins are supposedly equal, why haven’t they thrown themselves in jail or banished themselves from their church group. If they belief in the bible be sure to remind them what is written in Galatians 5:19-21
“fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like . . . “those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” -Galatians 5:19-21
In short, they’re just as screwed as anyone else, Jesus or not.