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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Love and Sin and Questions

This thought-provoking post, Westboro Baptist teaches that Jesus failed, has me asking all sorts of questions. Go read it.

The writer of the post, Fred Clark, points out the similarities between Westboro Baptist Church (the ones who are always yelling "God hates fags") and mainstream evangelical Christianity. Both stress "the idea that people are sinners, and that therefore the most loving thing we can do for them is to tell them the truth about their being sinners." Clark discusses what love is, as presented in the bible, and concludes that Westboro Baptist's obsession with sin means they don't believe in Jesus' power over it.

My questions:

First, let's talk about the difference between Westboro Baptist Church and evangelical Christianity.

Because there's a huge difference. And nobody likes to be compared to Westboro Baptist. Seriously.

I believe the biggest difference is how they view God's love. Westboro Baptist teaches that "God hates fags", but evangelical Christianity teaches "hate the sin, love the sinner" and is generally horrified at the idea that people are wandering around shouting "God hates you". No, God loves people- and Jesus was all about that. But we still need to warn them about their sin.

(BUT I have a lot of concerns about how this message of love is being communicated. I have no doubt that the evangelical Christians I know really do love others... but the church needs to do more to fight the anti-gay stereotype. And I no longer believe in "hate the sin and love the sinner.")

So, what's up with this idea that "the most loving thing you can do is tell people about their sin"? Is that valid?

The way I always understood it, people need to repent from their sin and follow Jesus, and Christians should do what they can to help people get to this point.

And if you go yell at people that God hates them, that's not helpful at all. If you confront people about their sin, well, maybe it's true that they are sinners, but that's still not helpful. If you're talking about an abstract idea of sin, and how "everyone is a sinner" that's fine, but to point to a specific, very personal thing in someone's life and say "This is a sin!" ... well... put some serious thought into whether or not that's a good idea.

Most of all, you have to be a friend and treat people with love. And hopefully you'll never even have to confront them about supposed "sin" in their personal lives- if it really is harmful, then God can tell them himself.

I also believe in being humble and knowing that I don't have all the answers. It's not my place to tell someone "that's a sin!" if I don't understand the situation. I'm certain that doing good and helping people is a good thing. Calling someone out on their sin... well, what if I'm wrong?

Under what circumstances should you call someone out on their "sin"? I think if you can see harmful effects, and you're close enough to them that they'll probably listen to you, then you should bring it up. Readers, what do you think?

Also, there are several different definitions of "love" floating around here...

Westboro Baptist Church claims that they are loving people by yelling at them about their sin.

Some Christians are suspicious about "love" which is warm and fuzzy and doesn't really mean anything. As if love is the opposite of truth.

But Jesus showed love by sacrificing himself. That wasn't easy, it wasn't "warm and fuzzy" and it wasn't about being offensive and accusing people of sin.

And that's how Christians should love people. The way that Jesus did. By sacrificing, by giving and caring, even when it's hard and people don't "deserve" it.

And I really don't think that means being "easy on sin". Instead, it means focusing on different sins. Instead of being so concerned over who's having sex with whom, we should fight against systems which oppress the poor. Etc.

If people need to be warned about their sin, does that mean Jesus failed to conquer it?

Clark claims that the logical conclusion of this line of thinking- that in order to be loving, we need to confront people about sin- is that Jesus' death did not defeat sin. Jesus failed.

I definitely can't agree with this. Yes, Jesus has power over sin and death (can I get an amen?). But sin is still active in the world, and it affects people's lives. We can't just pretend it doesn't matter.

Because of Jesus, my sin does not have the power to control me. Jesus gives freedom. So Christians don't have to be afraid of sin. BUT we still have to be aware that it exists and that sometimes we ARE controlled by our sin, and we need Jesus to save us. I mean, don't be paranoid about it, but don't be naive.

Discussion questions:

What is the connection between loving people and warning people about sin? Under what circumstances should I confront someone about (what I perceive to be) their sin? Does it depend on what sin/ who they are/ etc? What is the purpose of "warning" someone about their sin anyway- to save them from hell, or to stop them from doing something that harms themselves/others?

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