Sermon: Trouble In Lake Wobegon

“Trouble in Lake Wobegone”
Luke 10:25-37 and Romans 14:1-18
Seventh  Sunday After Pentecost
July 10, 2016
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Listen to the Sermon.

 

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The sign says, “I could be next.” The photo was taken by yours truly on July 7, 2016 in front of the Governor’s mansion in St. Paul.

It could have been me.

That is what I thought early Thursday morning, as I groggily woke and checked Facebook.  There were some news reports of a police shooting near St. Paul.  As I became more conscious I started to realize this was big news.  It was another member of the police shooting a black man.

It was then I saw a post from Daniel my husband. It was frieghtening post.  He was already up reading the news and penned a heartfelt post…about me.  He wondered if this morning would be the last we had together.  He wondered if the cops pulled me over for a busted taillight, would I be next.  He wondered what might happen in the last few minutes of my life if I had been shot.  He ends the post saying he dreaded sunrise.

That woke me up.  It also left me helpless.  There was no way I could tell Daniel, that he was worrying over nothing.  As I read more and more about Philando Castile and his work at a local Montessori elementary school, I saw that if someone who seemed to be a good guy could get killed by the police, then there was no way I could tell Daniel that this odds were low that such a thing could happen.  Because they could happen.  Because I am black and because people see me and millions of other black men as a threat even before we open our mouths.

The thing that is so maddening about this is that for all intents and purposes, Philando was a good man.  He had worked for the St. Paul schools as a cafeteria worker.  He became a supervisor two years ago.  He got to know the kids of the primarily white elementary school where he worked.  This wasn’t someone with a questionable record, but someone trying to make a life, a good life. Yes, we are not the nation we were 50 years ago. Yes, we have a black president that was elected twice.  But even despite all of this a good man can get killed just after he honestly told a cop that he had a permit to carry a gun.  He had a constitutional right to carry a gun and did so according to Minnesota statutes.  But when that officer shot four bullets into Philando he made a mockery of those laws, telling us that you have a right to a gun, just as long as your’e white.

As I left for work Thursday morning, hearing the news of what happened in Falcon Heights and another police shooting in Baton Rouge a day earlier, I was fearful of being pulled over and that is a first.  I can remember being a kid in the 1970s and having the police come to school and teach us how to be careful around strangers.  Now, forty years later, I have to be careful around police.

And we haven’t even talked about what happened Thursday evening in Dallas. As protestors were ending a peaceful protest, one that where the police were there to ensure saftey, an angry man started shooting, killing five police officers- the most officers on duty dying at once since 9/11.

It could have been me.  It also has been me.

I’m not going to go into a long story, but there have been times when I was treated differently by the authorities because of the color of my skin.  I could talk about my experience with the American border guard at the US-Canadian border in Niagara Falls.  And I’ve shared my experience at a credit union in Flint where some folks suspect thirteen year old me was going to cause trouble.  I don’t want to be known as the pastor who just talks about race, and I don’t want to make the pulpit a political platform, but you all need to know how African Americans are treated in this society and as a your pastor, I feel I need to let you know and together find out how we as followers of Jesus Christ should respond.

But it’s not just black men suffering, it’s also black women and children.  Did the officer realize he was shooting someone at close range with women and children present?  How many of us saw that video by Philando’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds as she calmly explains to viewers on Facebook how her boyfriend was gun down.  And why did a four-year-old have to witness this horror?

Racial inequality is still a problem 50 years after the civil rights movements.  African Americans still face unequal treatment in employment, in education and in the criminal justice system.  Minnesota has a reputation as a state with a good standard of living, but life for many black Minnesotans is terrible; in some aspects worse than Mississippi. There is trouble in Lake Wobegon.

Our texts today in Romans and Luke have to deal with how we treat others.  In Romans, Paul urges the church in Rome to respect the beliefs of others in the congregation and live lives for that other person and ultimately to God. “Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too. 7 We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God.”  We don’t live for ourselves, but for God and the other.  We don’t dismiss their way of looking of things, but respect where they are coming from.

In Luke we hear the well known story of the Good Samaritan.  A man is on the highway and beaten up by robbers left for dead.  Two Jewish religious leaders come by and they pass him by, fearful they might become ceremonially unclean.  Finally a third person comes by.  The audience might think he was another Jew, but no, he is a Samaritan, a people not well liked among Jews. The Samaritan comes near, bandages him, brings him to hotel to heal and then gives a substantial amount to the innkeeper to pay for the room and any expenses the injured man should incur. The important aspect of this tale is not who is the neighbor, but who is the neighbor.  

As good neighbors, we are also called to seek out those who are in pain.  The Good Samaritan sought out the injured man.  He sought out the injured man, not simply because it was the right thing to do, but because it was where God was.  We know of God’s love for us because of Christ’s death on the cross.  Where there is pain, God is there and as Christians we must be there as well.  If anyone has seen the images or the video taken by his incredibly calm girlfriend , we see him groaning in pain in his blood-soaked shirt.  As he takes what might have been his last breaths, God is there…and it is where we have to be as well.

But some of us need to be there more than others.  Because the only way these police shootings and other examples of racism will stop is when white Christians, white Americans step up.  This is not simply my problem or Lisa’s problem or my mother’s problem, but it is all of our problems.  I’m not trying to guilt-trip the white members of this congregation, but this is a problem that affects us all and no one can afford to sit on the sidelines.  I don’t know what that means for you, but I implore you to figure out what you can do.  We cannot have a nation where a good chunk of the public is fearful of those who are suppose to keep the peace.  In the vein of the Good Samaritan, white Americans people can’t just go over to the other side of the road, you have to stop and help your sister or brother who is facing threats and more.

This means that there is more to this than being nice to black people.  Being a people of grace means that we must enter into the pain of others, understanding and seeking to remedy the ways African Americans and others have been held back because of who they are.

This week, there was trouble in Lake Woebegone.  We learned that it is not as idyllic as we thought it was.  The mask has been ripped away revealing the ugliness beneath.  But even as we have now seen the darker side of Lake Wobegon, there is also a light of hope.  If you were able to watch the video following the shooting of Philando Castile, you see Diamond Reynolds talking and then at some point a small voice says something.  The voice said, “It’s okay, Mommy. I’m here with you.”  Those were the words of Ms, Reynolds 4 year old daughter, a child barely out of being a toddler and having to grow up way too fast.  But those words are important because it tells us that racial reconciliation is a difficult thing to do and that God is with us in this hard work.  This is not something we do by ourselves, but we do it with God and through God, the one who came to earth as a human to repair the breech between humanity and God.

Things can change to bring wholeness and healing in our fragmented world. May we as the church find ways to bring healing and wholeness.  May work for the day when no one will ever say, “It could have been me.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

An Anxious Time

I’ve been wanting to write something about some problems my own denomination is facing, but I’ve never been able to focus on that.  I think the reason is that my brain is stuffed with anxiety about several issues.  One thing you have to understand about me is that anxiety has long been a part of my daily life.  Past experiences have made me feel anxious about the world around me.  At some moment, when I least expect it, something will happen that will throw me into the unknown.  Most likely than not it is the news that my job has been cut that put makes me anxious about the anxiety.

Since I deal with depression, I think anxiety comes with the package.  It means that I act like a scared animal, ready to leap at the slightest sound of danger.  It is not unusual to feel this sense of freight all the time.  At some point, something or someone will do something that will alter my life.

Mixed in with this is a sense of depression, a feeling that no matter what you do, the reality is you don’t matter.  It’s the feeling of not being wanted or feeling like the last one picked to play softball.  I know those thoughts are false and medication keeps them at bay.  But they are there.

The thing that has been in knots right now is looking for work.  As most of you know, I work very part-time as the pastor of a church and part time as the Office Manager of another church.  Both jobs together isn’t enough to pay the bills, so I look for a third part time position or freelance work or a position that could replace my current weekly job with more hours and pay.  I’ve been basically looking for work since I was laid off two days before Christmas in 2014.  Over the last year, I’ve had several interviews and it seemed like things went well, but in the end, the job didn’t happen.  The worst was having someone call me from a local nonprofit, noticing my ad in a church bulletin board.  From that phone call to an interview, took two months and it took another to tell me that they chose someone else.  It was quite maddening to have to be on hold for three months when you didn’t know if the job was happening or not.  (Please employers, don’t leave someone holding for more than a month.  It’s thoughtless to keep them in limbo.)  The other frustrating thing is trying to talk to other graphic and web designers for pointers and they never bother to respond back.

So, you keep looking and keep sending your resume and keep sending your portfolio in the hopes that someone will at least see budding talent.  But so far, no one seems interested and it leaves you wondering if there is something wrong with you.

Looking for work seems to be a constant in my life.  I hate being laid off because it means that it will probably take 2-3 years to find something close to what I was doing. I chalk it up to being African American; I know it’s going to take longer because I’m not the first thing that comes to people’s mind when they think communications or technology.

This job anxiety also makes it hard to do ministry.  It’s hard for me to focus on church when I feel I have to constantly keep looking for work.  I want to have time to focus on worship planning and outreach, and I’m focusing on tweaking my resume again.

And the job anxiety then leads to anxiety (and shame) about barely being able to keep up my share of the house bills with my husband Daniel.

The anxiety and depression can lead to a feeling of despair.  Not a despair like I’m going to take a bunch of pills, but despair that I have to give up on what I really want and just accept something, anything to pay the bills.  I don’t know how many emails and phone calls I receive about going into sales (something I am terrible at doing) or customer service (which I’ve done and consider something akin to the 10th circle of hell).

I will keep plugging away looking for work.  Something will come about someday.  Until then, I have to remember to take my medication, see my therapist and most importantly, talk (but mostly listen) to God.  It’s the only way I’m going to deal with this time of anxiety.

When Does Grace End?

Social media is abuzz in the recent trial that convicted former Stanford student Brock Turner of the rape of a young woman.  What has everyone talking is the fact that the judge gave Turner a six month sentence and he might get out sooner for good behavior.

To pour more gasoline on the fire, Turner’s father wrote a letter urging for leniency for what he considered “20 minutes of action.”

Facebook is aflame.  Memes are going around with the young Turner’s photo calling him a rapist, others put him side by side with a poor white man who received a harsher sentence.  The pitchforks are out even among Christians.  Brock Turner is the most hated man on the internet.  There is no love for this person.

Part of the anger is that he ticks off all of boxes of privilege: he’s white, he’s an athlete and he seems well to do.  He is the perfect enemy.

All of this leads me to one question: where does grace end?

Yes, yes among liberal Christians we talk about grace all the time, about the fact that God loves us no matter what.

But we don’t really believe that.  I don’t care if you are a tough-on-crime conservative or a bleeding heart liberal, there are some sins we feel are beyond redemption.

A few months ago, there was talk in my church about a convicted sex offender that would be moving into the area.  People were up in arms and wondered why this person couldn’t live with a relative or something, just not near them where their children and grandchildren play.

These weren’t the kind of folks who were tough on crime, most were liberals.  But the fact is, crimes involving sex can make the meekest person into a fire-breathing zealot waiting to lock them up and throw away the key.

Brock Turner will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.  His “20 minutes of action” will stick with him.  If you think as most do, that he got off easy, know that he won’t escape what he did ever.  It will follow him when he seeks a place to live, when he applies for a job and so forth.

But this all means that he will be in the public sphere. I don’t know if he ever went to church, but what if he decides to visit a church- supposed he decided to visit YOUR church.  What would you do? What would you say?  Would say yes, as long as there are safeguards? Would you say no, fearful for your daughter?

Where does grace end?

Another question following this: Where does God’s judgement begin?

Does God judge the guilty, those who commit crimes like this?  What is that punishment like?

It’s easy for mainline/progressive Christians to talk about how we should love everybody and that grace is for everyone, but I don’t think we really are good when it comes to living this out.  It’s easy to love someone that is part of your in group.  It is hard to love someone who is someone you wouldn’t like anyway.

Sexual crimes can put our theology of grace to the test.  Where does mercy fit in?  What about justice?  What is justice?  Is justice only for the victim or also for the perpetrator?

Brock Turner is not a sympathetic person.  His excuses, as well as the excuses of those around him are sickening.  But I am wary of how this has become the outrage of the moment on social media, because there are some important issues to deal with here that demand more attention than a few minutes on Facebook.

In our theology Turner is also a child of God.  And that should bother us.  Because, how many of us want to see him forgiven?  His victim has to live with the trauma he cause for the rest of her life.  Why should he be seen as one loved by God?

Maybe this is why the cross is called a scandal.

But we also believe in a God that believes in justice, one that gets angry when justice is denied.  God gets angry.

Can God be graceful and also one that establishes justice?  And what does that mean of God’s people?

I don’t have any easy answers.  In fact, all I have is questions.

Where does grace end?  Where does judgement begin?

I leave you with a snippet from a post from Zach Hunt in response to the martyrdom of 21 Christians by Islamic State:

It’s easy to talk about loving our enemies when their greatest crime is stealing your parking space or voting for the wrong candidate. It’s a lot harder to love enemies who would gleefully broadcast your execution to the world if they only had the chance.

It’s easy to embrace the radical grace of the gospel when you’re sitting in a warm sanctuary filled with well-dressed people who clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and care for the sick. It’s a lot harder to swallow the fact that that same grace extends to cold-hearted criminals who thrive on executing the innocent…

Now, if you’re reading this and you’re angry with me for talking about extending grace and forgiveness to those monsters in the black hoods, believe me I get it. It’s not just rhetoric when I say I recoil at even the possibility that God could forgive, redeem them, and make them my neighbors in heaven.

That sort of grace seems so unjust to me.

And appalling.

So, I struggle.

I struggle with my own sense of justice.

I struggle with the idea that as a Christian, I must leave space for forgiveness even as I rightfully demand accountability for my enemies’ actions.

I struggle to accept the fact that believing in the radical transforming grace of God compels me to believe that grace abounded on that beach in Libya in ways I don’t comprehend or want to accept.

I struggle with the boundless depths of God’s love and forgiveness.

I struggle with the gospel.

Repost: Grace and Race

A post from 2013.

32695-01I sure loves me some Maria Dixon.

Dixon is a Methodist and decided to share he thoughts about the whole Paula Deen affair and decided to take Progressive Christians to task for their selective grace:

When it comes to discussing race, progressives have little tolerance for intolerance–past or present. We throw labels around as easily as the Pharisees threw stones at adulterous women. How dare someone not have OUR enlightened view on the world! How dare they not have been born with the innate view of justice, righteousness, and soul that we have!

So when Paula Deen’s transcript was leaked to the press last week, the script was already in place. The media would report that she used the “N” word–everybody would gasp–then the outrage would begin. She would be crucified by the New York Times, Facebook pundits, and of course, her fellow chefs. She would be tried by the court of public opinion who would judge her entire life’s work and character by the use of the “N” word in a private conversation. RACIST! we would yell. She would cry. Her business would be destroyed and progressives would declare victory.

Yet, here is the reality: Deen told the truth about her past. Knowing everything: her empire, her contracts, and sponsorships were at stake–she told the truth. She was more honest under oath than at least 3 US Presidents, several dozen Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Non-Denominational preachers and countless business leaders. Unlike the Pope, Joe Paterno, or Donald Trump, she acknowledged she hadn’t always gotten it right but that she and her company was committed to doing it better and were doing better.

Dixon isn’t done yet:

Progressives Christians love to talk about grace except when they have to extend it to someone who has offended their political reality. The grace that we proclaim that washes us clean and entitled us to a new life is for everybody as long as they have not offended our politics. A cursory look at the progressive schizophrenic (and hypocritical) view of who deserves grace bears this out. Anthony Weiner shows his weiner to someone other than his wife–Grace abounds. My beloved Bill Clinton gets a handy j in the oval office–Grace abounds. Barney Frank shacks up with a male prostitute–Grace Abounds. President Obama–doesn’t close Gitmo; listens to our conversations; and uses drones to kill civilians–Grace Abounds. A woman uses the N word AND admits it knowing that a great portion of her clientele is African American (I’d say Paula probably has used it more than that)–our verdict: Off with her head, her show, and her ham.

What really angers me is the fact that most of the people really tripping about Deen’s past are from the North. That’s not to say that Southern African Americans are passive about the use of racial slurs but we are also aware of the reality that mindsets don’t all change at the same pace and that if we judged every white southerner over the age of 50 by what they said in the past, we could never buy a car; house, or eat in a Waffle House ever again. Perhaps the reason that much of the civil rights establishment, the men and women who got their heads beat in on the regular, have not condemned Paula Deen is because they know the complexity of the human heart on matters of race. Moreover, they are also aware that someone’s past doesn’t predict their present. Perhaps they remembered that the same George Wallace that stood in the door at the University of Alabama saying that Blacks would never be welcomed, returned in 1985 to the campus to crown and kiss that year’s Black Homecoming Queen, my sorority sister Deidra Chestang at a time when our campus was threatening to boil over in racial turmoil. That kiss silenced the bigots that day and his words begged all of us to embrace a new South. Though we lost that game to Vanderbilt, that kiss symbolized the magnificent change that God’s grace can make in a man’s heart. Many African Americans are standing by Deen, especially those that through the years she has launched into business because they are judging her actions as well as her words.

When I first heard about this, my thoughts were: and this is shocking because….

Like Dixon, I don’t condone the use of the N-word or any racially insenstive word for that matter. But I don’t expect a nearly 70 year old woman from Georgia, who grew up in a very different South where the N-word was used a lot to somehow be a paragon of virtue. She told the truth of a past slip-up. PAST.

Having relatives and friends in various states in the South, I know it’s an odd place to a Northerner. People from South, can be friendly and caring to a fault to a person of a different color and yet still harbor some racial amimosity. To outsiders, it makes no sense. But the South is a place of contradictions and they don’t have a problem living with those oddities.

I remember Mrs. Martin a well-to-do white woman whose husband owned the local paper mill in Pineville, Louisiana. My dad and uncles did a number of jobs for her and whenever we went South, we would visit her. I remember one time she gave us a gift- a figurine of a black kid eating a watermelon and sitting on a bale of cotton. The porcalain figurine had a square hole that contained and acutal piece of cotton.

Now, this gift was offensive. I mean total racist. But she gave it to us, not out of spite, but out of love. So, while it was horrible, I understood the intent. So did my Dad.

The other thing to remember about Deen; she told the truth when asked. So, this is how we treat people who do the right thing? What this is telling people is that when it comes to having a “conversation on race,” it’s best to lie or just say nothing at all. When it comes to race, we expect perfection. Anything short of that makes you nothing more than a Grand Dragon.

Part of the condemnation of Deen has to do with the South. It’s always surprised me how many folks up north really, really hate the South. They see it as a backwards region, filled with stupid racist bumpkins and in their minds, Deen is the exhibit A.

What we seem to forget is that racism didn’t stop at the Mason Dixon line. Here in my adopted state of Minnesota, I learned shortly after I moved here that back in the 1920s, three black men were lynched in Duluth. Mind you, I said Duluth, Minnesota NOT Duluth, Georgia.

If we really care about racial reconciliation, then we have to have some grace for old Southern white women and men who may sometimes say the wrong thing. Not all of them are part of the Klan. Some of them are trying their level best.

Paula Deen said a horrible word a long time ago. I’m dissapointed by that, but I’m not going to judge her. And neither should the court of public opinion if they looked into their own hearts.

It’s Been a Privilege

There is one word that has been batted around lately that I would like to see being used less.  That word is “privilege.”

white-privilegeActually, what I want to see used less is a more specific application of privilege.  It has been used in issues dealing with race to talk about the invisible ways that whites tend to be privileged because of their race.  It is important to talk about privilege and devise ways to lessen it in our lives.

But lately, I’ve started to see people abuse the word.  Instead of talking about privilege as a way to help us become a more authentically diverse society, the word is being used to attack anything that people don’t like when it is told by the “oppressor” meaning mostly white males.

As I’ve said, privilege is something that happens in race relations, issues involving gender and other areas.  We all have an inherent bias, something that needs to be addressed and corrected.  As Christians we should be able to do that lovingly.  The person showing privilege is most of the time not an evil or hateful person, they just need to be made aware of their bias.

But more and more, the use of the word has become a weapon to shut people up.  Instead of restoring a fellow child of God, it is used to shame them. It is being used in ways that divide more than heal.

A fellow pastor recently told me that he couldn’t speak on a topic because he would be criticized as being privileged.  So, this man could not share his viewpoint because he would be dismissed as an unenlightened white male.

The problem with attacking others as privilege is that it also exposes the arrogance of the one calling others privilege.  They see themselves as having made it.  They are enlightened.  They love everybody (except Republicans and evangelicals).  They don’t see that they too are flawed, that they might have biases of their own.  They are so busy shaming those with specks of wood in their eyes to ignore the tree in their own eyes.

As I’ve said, I think privilege is real.  But I think as Christians we have to use it to help us as a church and a world, not as a way to dismiss or disrespect others.  If you don’t like someone, fine, just don’t hide behind the rhetoric of privilege.

Yet More Thoughts on “Hate the Sin…”

love-covers_by-robg

My post last night bothered me a bit, partially because I don’t think I did a good job of explaining myself.  Chalk it up to lateness of the hour and dealing with a cat that was trying to use my laptop as warming pad.  So, I wanted to offer another post to share some thought on “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” and why there is a good reason to chuck it  and a good reason to keep it.

On using it selectively Most people who object to the phrasing say it is used for only certain sins (ie: sexual sins).  Other sins never have anyone saying this out loud.  If people use this phrase to condemn a sexual minority, but never say it with other sins, that’s a telltale sign of hypocrisy and should be called out for it.  Either it is used all the time or not used at all.

Words and actions As I said last night, my own mother has lived an ethic of loving the sinner.  Here it is used out of love for the wayward soul.  Pointing out someone’s sin is something that needs to be done from time to time, but it has to come from a place of love, not condescension.

What Ever Happened to Sin- The big reason that I am always a bit wary of chucking the phrase is because we in American society don’t really want to talk about sin.  We don’t want to talk about the sin of others and most certainly don’t want to talk about our own sin.  Most of the time when preachers talk against this phrase, there is no caveat about dealing with sin.  We live in a culture that wants to feel good about themselves and others- they see religion more often than not as too judgemental.  I agree that this is a problem.  But there is still the matter of sin.  How do we be truly honest with each other and not use words to condemn?  Sin happens; how do we talk about it without being judgemental jerk?

About 15 years ago, I met a gay man in his 50s.  I knew he had a boyfriend what I didn’t know is that he had another boyfriend as well.  It was a threesome. This was new territory for me.  I didn’t want to appear judgemental, so  I said nothing to the man.  I don’t know if that was the right thing, but it’s what I did.  A few years later, the gentleman left to accept a job working for a religious organization in California.  I found out that he lost his job for issues related to the threesome.  His position was one that took place in the public and for that charity it was just too much to deal with.

Should I have said something earlier?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that for most of us in mainline/progressive churches we would rather not deal with sexual issues.  Like many liberals, we want to believe all things are possible as long as there is consent.  But aren’t Christians supposed to aim a bit higher?

Love Is All You Need- If you look at the image on top, you can see that the last panel has someone saying “love covers a multitude of sins.

There is something unsettling about that.  Is that to mean that we should just ignore whatever sin is going on?  Did Jesus really ignore sin when he was on earth?  Did he only focus on the Pharisees, but everyone else was okay?

Growing up I did have a more strict upbringing that I ran from..kind of.  I don’t want to head back to it, but isn’t just saying love is all we need nothing more than cheap grace?  Does our faith require us to be better people?

So yes, criticize how people use that phrase.  But if that is all we talk about, then we are sending the wrong message to people in the pews.  I want to close with what I said in 2012:

Is there a way we can hold each other accountable and yet not be judgmental and condescending?  I’d like to think so, but how do we practice that?  Christian Piatt is correct to bring up that Jesus told folks not to worry about the splinter in our neighbor’s eyes and ignore the plank in our own.  But does that mean we never to talk about what might be going on in another person’s life?  What did Jesus mean when he said this?  When is it right to “butt in” and when is it right to stay out?

Can we use this phrase in a way that doesn’t beat LGBT Christians like myself?

More Thoughts on “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner”

A recent online conversation has led me back to the old debate about the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner.”* As I said back in 2012, I’ve never had the reaction that other mainline/progressive Christians seem to have about it. Blogger Ben Godsen shares why he feels we need to kick this phrase to the curb:

See here’s the thing, you can’t “love a sinner” without getting to know the person. But you can hate the sin without ever knowing the person. So if we don’t really know a person but we do think you know about their sin, then we’re just trying to find a “bless their heart” way of saying we don’t approve of whatever it is we think their sin is. That way the real guilt remains on the other person and not on our judgmental view of that person. It’s a phrase that gives us the right to declare what’s right and wrong with the world without ever having to invest in the lives of another person and especially a person who might be different from us. It’s a phrase that gives us permission to guard ourselves against encountering the grace and humanity in others and thus preserving our own sense of superiority.

I’ve been wondering why I don’t have as much a problem with the phrase that others seem to have.  As I mulled it over, I came to a conclusion: I saw this practice lived out in the life of my mother.

Mom has always been someone that seems to balance sin and grace in a way few do.  I remember Mom talking about her two younger brothers who at the time were living with women without being married.  She thought that was sinful, but she never stopped loving them.  She never stopped helping them out when they needed help.  Contrary to the belief of some that this phrase is used to express moral superiority, Mom never saw herself as better than her brothers.  She had her belief that what they were doing was in her eyes sinful but it didn’t keep her from loving her brothers. Love, not counting sin was what mattered.

Mom showed this same love of sinners and hating sin in other occasions.  Mom used to see homosexuality as sinful, but that would never stop her from caring for people no matter who they were.

This new conversation has me thinking more about sin in American society, namely how much we don’t talk about it.  A lot of the discussion around “hate the sin…” is focused on telling people to focus on their own sin and not the sins of others. That makes sense to a point, but here’s the thing: we don’t really focus on our own sin. We really don’t want to focus on our sin, let alone the sins of others. How many churches really do confession and forgiveness on Sunday mornings?

Maybe that’s what bothers me about some of the criticism; it doesn’t talk about sin in our own lives and the lives of others in our communities. The alternative vision offered seems to look like cheap grace more than anything else. I might be wrong, but it feels that way.

I’m not advocating that we start acting like Puritans and placing Scarlet Letters on people. I don’t doubt that there are people who want to offer backhanded comments that put down people instead of lifting them up. But I wish that when we think about this phrase, that we be more thoughtful about how it is used.

*The funny thing about “hate the sin…” is that I’ve never, ever heard anyone utter those words. It doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, just that I’ve never heard it in my own life.