even though we (christians) know the bible teaches that a sin is a sin is a sin, and there ain’t no point in ranking them, we can’t stop. we’re blindly obsessed with creating a helpful little system for god: here you go, god, we put this in order for you, from worst to ‘not that big of a deal’. we’re not sure you’re clear which of these sin things really need your judgement now, and which ones should just get that general covering of forgiveness that we think has something to do with the cross.
this has always really, really, really bugged me. not that i don’t do it also — but that’s a different subject! this self-righteous position allows me to get really pissy about those “god hates fags” people, and, frankly, about how 90% of our churches have and do respond to gays. at the same time, when someone uses hitler or osama as an example, saying that god loves even them, and would quickly forgive them if they turned to him; and i think, well, ok, at some cognitive level i can go along with that, but not in my gut.
and today, my bluff is being called. i’m squirming in my own shift-able conviction about not ranking sins.
years ago, in the middle ages, i heard about a youth pastor who was about 20 minutes away from my church, in another part of the country from where i now live. and everything i heard about him made me know he wasn’t the kind of youth worker i wanted to hang around: naturally gifted and charasmatic in personality, arrogant and self-promoting, cocky about everything. he was positioning himself as a rising star on the youth ministry speaker circuit. i’d never met him, but i didn’t like him.
then it came out: he’d been having an affair with one of his high school girls. and this wasn’t a 21 youth worker making a bad choice with an 18 year-old senior. it was much worse than that. and it had been going on for some time, with lots of cover-up. at the time, all i had space for, in terms of “feeling sorry” was for the girl, for the youth worker’s wife, for the other kids in the ministry, and for the church (this story became news all over that region of the country at the time). his new wife had their marraige annulled, he was prosecuted for statutory rape, convicted, and spent some amount of time in prison.
end of story, right? big bad sin, big bad consequences. mix in a bunch of years (well more than a decade — probably almost two), and all is forgotten.
until he emails and says he now lives on the west coast, and he knows we’ve never met, but he’s in san diego on business a couple times a week and would love to have lunch sometime, just to share our stories and get to know each other. another friend emails me and tells me i should accept this lunch, that this ex-youth worker has been living in shame for years and years now, and maybe i could encourage him.
that lunch is today.
[[update, after lunch]]
interesting discussion in the comments on this post. good stuff — making me think.
i really enjoyed the lunch. he’s a good guy who doesn’t offer one speck of excuse for what he did so many years ago. and he fully knows that the repercutions he continues to face every single day of his life (truly – every day) are of his own doing. he’s not asking for sympathy. the only things he seems to desire are:
a. life. some way to live — even to the extent of being able to earn a living for his (new) family.
b. ministry. he would love to be able to prevent even one case of his story being repeated. he doesn’t want to become a celebrity for his wrong-doings, and he’s not willing to take his family through that. but he knows what got him to a place where his sin was possible; and longs for a day when he can be involved in steering one or more people away from such a choice.
i’m encouraging him to write an anonymous article for our website, and for us to offer a confidential email address that would re-route directly to him (so people know it’s not going through MY desk!).