It’s no secret that Christians, of various flavors and stripes, are all over the board on how we deal with sin and Sinners. Though most of us have all sort of grudgingly agreed to “hate the sin and love the sinner,” the actual implementation of Gandhi’s admonition hasn’t always been pretty. Some more liberal Christians are not comfortable with the “hate the sin” part and some more conservative Christians are not willing to admit that Jesus ever entertained the presence of sinners. This, of course, has put a crimp in the love part.
And all this is before we even try to create any kind of weird mutually-agreed-upon “sin list.”
Still, there are a few things to which most Christians can agree:
1. Hate the sin, love the sinner. (Gandhi, not Bible)
2. Jesus dined with tax collectors and other sinners.
3. “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’” (Mark 7:15, NIV)
4. That Jesus spent time talking with an unmarried Samaritan woman, living with a man, certainly doesn’t mean he condoned her sin. Obviously.
5. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, NIV)
6. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being a Samaritan, drunkard and glutton because he spent his time among sinners. Not all of it was witnessing.
7. The first miracle recorded in Mark’s gospel is Jesus healing a demon-possessed man who wanted nothing to do with him. (Mark 1:22-28, NIV)
8. “You know what has happened…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. (Acts 10:37-38)
9. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV)
10. “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” (Abigail Van Buren)
Despite our powerful proclamation, though, our behavior—the way we spend our time, money and energy—and our relationships—the people with whom we spend the time, money and energy—aren’t always matching up with what our mouths are saying. Too often, we have behaved according to a weird operating manual that has very little semblance to the actual person of Jesus.
1. Because a holy God hates sin, God cannot tolerate the presence of Sinners.
2. Non-sinning Christians ought also to keep a safe distance from Sinners.
3. Being among Sinners puts the Non-sinner at a greater risk of sinfection.
4. Being among Sinners implies one’s endorsement of the sin.
5. Toward the loving end of repentance, Sinners’ sin should be condemned.
6. When absolutely necessary, interact with Sinners only to witness to them.
7. Deal only with Sinners who are repentant and eagerly looking for salvation.
8. Mercy—feeding, healing—should only be extended to Sinners if there’s a likely chance of a conversion.
9. Salvation may be extended when the Sinner has stopped sinning.
10. Only then does the Ex-sinner become eligible for acceptance, friendship and church membership.
“Oh come on, Margot. Do you really think that’s fair?”
Ummm…yeah. I do. And I know this will come as a surprise to many and disappointment to some, but I’m not just referring to ultra-conservatives. I’m talking about me. I’m talking about you. I’m talking about the way most of us deal with those we’ve deemed to be Other.
“But Margot…that’s because we’re right. We read the Red Letter Christian blog! And when we signed an online petition this summer to dissuade Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz from speaking at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, we did it in the name of all that is just! Surely you don’t expect us to put one more piping hot Starbucks mocha latte to our lips if Howard Schultz is going to be gallivanting about the world promoting nutty conservative politics by actually speaking to these people?!?!”
And there it is.
So just humor me for a moment. If you consider yourself more progressive, substitute the word “fundamentalist” for “Sinner” (in PROCEDURES, above), and the word “Me” for “Non-sinner.” Then see if the shoe fits. I think it might.
If you don’t take yourself too seriously.
Margot Starbuck is a speaker, volunteer and author of The Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail. Her new book, Small Things With Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor, with a foreword by Tony Campolo, will be released in January 2012.