Not All Sin Is Equal

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Photo: Edu Bayer/The New York Times/Redux

By now you have heard what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. By now you have seen how your friends and neighbors have responded. How the media responded, how the president responded, how the president re-responded, and how he re-re-responded.

We hear lots of accusations, but mostly a pointing out of the problems on one side or the other. We hear there were “many sides” to the conflict. We hear there were fine people on both sides. We hear that rights were violated, but just whose rights has come into question.

I personally addressed only one side of the conflict. Then publicly and privately received questions and comments like:

“Why don’t you condemn the counter protestors who were using violence?”

“The Nazis were assembled peacefully, Antifa is in the wrong.”

“We should be against any hate and violence, not just the one side.”

“Black people hate white people too, why do you only address white people?”

I don’t think the “what abouts” and the “many sides” arguments hold much water. I don’t think they are morally equivalent. And I don’t think it is remotely helpful to suggest they could be.

Not all sin is equal.  

The Bible certainly does not define all sins as equal. Jesus talks about varying degrees of judgment, even mentioning one sin that is unforgivable. He compares one person’s sin to a speck of dust and another’s to a plank of wood. He says it is too easy to pay attention to the little (and easier) stuff while ignoring “the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith.” Paul lists particular sins that will exclude a person from God’s Kingdom. Proverbs lists seven sins God specifically hates.

The idea that all sin is equal is not scriptural. This doesn’t mean that all sin is not serious or without consequence, just that all sin is not the same. Not in its impact, not in its origins, not in its destruction.

Our experiences teach us this as well. Would you rather be lied to or murdered? Would you rather someone gossip about you or burn down your home? It is no contest.

How we respond to the events of Charlottesville (as well as past and future situations) needs to be taken in this light.

As a follower of Jesus, I practice non-violence. I agree that hate cannot drive out hate and I believe with all my heart that loving our enemies is the way of true transformation. I stood in the pulpit on Sunday and said that all people, even white supremacists, are made in the image of God.

As such, I hold that punching an unsuspecting person in the face is wrong. Even if that person is a literal Nazi.

But I believe it is more wrong to be a Nazi.

Both are wrong. One is worse.

There were various things that were wrong in Charlottesville. But the first wrong, and the worst wrong, was people showing up in the name of white supremacy.

Rallies of people carrying Klan flags and chanting Nazi slogans and hoping to intimidate other people should not be met with, “but whatabout” excuses, exceptions, or distractions.

There is no “yeah but.”

White supremacy is wrong. Full stop.

It was the worst kind of wrong this weekend. Not only did it lead to injury and death, it was the cause of all the trouble in the first place.

White supremacy carries with it the weight and repercussions of our history.

White supremacy has systemically oppressed people of color in our country since day one.

It enslaved, it segregated, it lynched, it dismissed, it intimidated, it wounded, it terrorized. White supremacy elected officials and passed laws and waged war and built an empire.

And I realize I just used past tense here as if this is only a thing of the past. It still goes on doing most of these same things today. It is not locked away in history books. It is alive and well and marching down the street in broad daylight.

It is unjust. It is ungodly. It is evil.

So when you show up under that banner, your sin is the greater one. You don’t get to “yeah but.”

To do so attempts to level a playing field that is not remotely level. It seeks to eradicate painful abuses that have been suffered at the hands of one side of the conflict for centuries.

It does not matter to me who threw the first punch. It doesn’t matter to me that you had permit. It doesn’t matter that you supposedly didn’t plan to use the bricks and bats and guns and vehicles you brought. 

You hate people because of the color of their skin or because of their religion. You applaud and fight for the oppression of human beings. You use fear. You seek to eliminate. You incite. You have and continue to make life miserable for people who are different than you.

Whatever other wrongs may have transpired, you are the problem here.

Even if there had been no violence or death or counter protest, you and your behavior should be loudly opposed by those who have any moral fiber. Just because it is legal doesn’t make it right. 

Any response to your vile hatred is not comparable to the vile hatred that you have chosen.

All sins are not equal. And this weekend we saw deep and tragic sin.

This is incompatible with the things that make our country great. And it is completely incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To my white sisters and brothers, let us reject this kind of thinking and behavior. Let us examine our hearts and root out any hate and prejudice that lies within. Let us educate ourselves on the struggles of those who are different than us. Let us learn in humility and be moved to action.

Let’s stop the “whatabout” nonsense and get down to business addressing our problem with race as a nation, as a people, as a church.

Not all sins are equal and this is one of our worst.

To my sisters and brothers on the receiving end of this and other forms of racism, my heart breaks for you. You do not deserve this. I am praying for you. You belong here and you are not alone.

“Justice is a joy to the godly, but it terrifies evildoers.” Proverbs 21:17

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Who to Blame for Orlando. 

In response to the vicious attack in Orlando this weekend a lot of voices have been quick to blame somebody.

Blame Obama. Blame the NRA. 

Blame Muslims. Blame “the gays.” Blame Christians. 

The common thread is that we all like to blame other people. People unlike us. Those people.

Surely there is some blame to go around and there are things that need to be addressed in the coming days…

BUT…

The struggle for me is I can spend a whole lot of time blaming other people without ever addressing my complicity. How have I contributed  to a world where a young man decides to take this course of action? How I have failed to prevent this behavior from happening?

Have I loved my neighbors as myself?

Have I promoted violence in my words, actions, or ideologies?

Have I contributed to the idea that the LGBT community is somehow less valuable?

Have I neglected the need for sound mental health resources in our country?

Have I refused to learn about people from different worlds or who have differing opinions?

Have I driven a wedge between myself and people of different faiths?

Maybe those things can’t be traced directly to the shooting, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t contributed to the culture that led to this horrendous act.

I contribute to this type of brokenness when I close my mind and heart to others. I contribute when I dig in and draw lines in the sand. I contribute when I spend more time talking (or yelling) than listening.

I am a part of the problem when I let our differences weaken us rather than make us stronger. I’m the problem when I perpetuate “us vs them” thinking. When I reduce complex discussions to simple pat answers. 

I’m to blame when I fear other people because they have a different skin color or religious practice or orientation or political opinion or hair cut. 

I’m complicit when I misrepresent  what other people believe or do. And when I get all my best arguments from memes. And when I allow the loudest voices at the polar ends of the spectrum tell me what to think.

I’m guilty if I only listen to people who tell me I’m right. Or if I take offense to the fact that other people think I’m wrong. Or if I’m ridiculous enough to believe  I’ve already learned all there is to know about all the subjects the rest of humanity can’t agree on.

I may never pull a trigger or detonate a bomb or even throw a punch but I know how to be incredibly divisive. I know how to be arrogant and how to exclude and how to belittle others. I know how to be a bully and I know how to run my mouth and I know how to post inflammotary and dismissive things on Facebook.

When I do those things I am contributing to a world hell bent on being right and in control at all cost. A world that becomes divided and exclusive at the expense of others. A world that leaves people feeling unheard, alone, and out of options. A world where shooting people who are different too frequently becomes an option.

And when I do those things I am to blame. It is way easier for me to be part of the problem than to be part of the solution. And it is far too easy for me to point fingers at all those people who are wrong and neglect to examine my own self. 

Jesus said before we go about trying to get the speck of dust out of our neighbor’s eye we should remove the wooden plank from our on eye. Maybe before we go around blaming all the other people who are at fault we could stop and ask how we have been adding rancour and discouragement and anger to the world around us. Maybe we need to ask how much of our behavior we justify when it is the very same behavior that the Orlando shooter (and countless others) demonstrated long before they ever killed a person.

Hate doesn’t start with a bullet or a bomb. It starts in the heart. I want no part in that. Not in my heart or yours. So I’m asking myself: am I stoking the fires of division and hate and fear? Or am I working for peace, spreading love, and offering hope? For all peope? Even those people?

That’s the world I want. That’s a world worth working toward. 

So. Much. Hate.

So. Much. Hate. We have all heard the outrageous statements ISIS and their sympathizers have made against Christians. They range from specific threats to general disdain for the people of our faith. Here is a brief sampling:

“I hope there is a backlash against Christians because Christianity, as practiced by most Christians, is not a religion of peace, and all of us who do live in peace should do whatever we can to defeat Christianity.”

“There is no such thing as a good Christian.”

 “We could end those Christians before they walk in… Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Add to these many others statements that call for the destruction of Christians, the deportation of Christians, and the general mocking of our faith. It is disgusting.

There are two major problems with these statements:

1) They are dismissive, destructive, uncivil, and I’d say evil.

2) They actually weren’t said by ISIS types. They were said by Christians, about Muslims (not just the radicalized ones), and I just changed the words to disguise that fact.

If we would be horrified hearing these statements about our faith coming from terror sources, we had best take pause when our own people are saying this about another faith. It isn’t okay for ISIS and certainly is not okay for a Jesus follower.

Many will protest that this is all in self defense. Or that it is just the truth (I address that here). After all, we haven’t committed any acts of terror so we aren’t nearly as bad as they are. They are worse.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says difficult things like, “You think you are good because you haven’t killed anyone, but if you hated them in your heart or cursed them or called them names, it is just as bad as murder.” And “You think you are pure because you haven’t physically had an affair, but when you lust after a person you are just as guilty.” (Those are paraphrases, read the real thing here.)

Jesus desires more from us than simply following the letter of the law. Sure, we haven’t killed anyone, but we’ve hated them and degraded them, and these things are not compatible with a Kingdom life. Hate may not be murder and lust may not seem like adultery, but we have devalued people made in the image of God and we are taking steps in the direction of the thing we wish to avoid and steps away from God.

So when we say things like were mentioned at the beginning (regardless of who it is about), we may not be terrorists in the physical sense, but we are guilty in our heart. These are hard words to write and hard words to live, but this is the way of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God seldom works like the kingdoms of this world.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. And Jesus is all about our heart. We may never cross the line into terror, but when our words cross the line, when our attitudes toward others cross the line, we have missed the point.

Jesus calls us to a radical love and a radical way of life so dedicated to God that even our words and our thoughts are godly. He calls us to such surrender that we don’t even speak or wish harm on our enemies. He calls us to a something so much better than the ways of earthy kingdoms.

Scripture says both fresh water and salt water cannot come from the same spring. Too often we want to be able to turn the fresh and salty on and off as we please. It cant work that way. If we are followers of Jesus our words are to be full of life, not venom. Peace and reconciliation, not discord and strife.

Let’s leave the destructive rhetoric and hateful hearts for the terrorists. These things have no place in the life of a Christian. Let’s not succumb to hate. Let’s not allow fear to drive us to unfaithfulness. Let’s be more like Jesus than like those who wish us harm.

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source: iStock via theweek.com