Saturday, June 14, 2014

Little Sins

Image source.

[trigger warning: rape, sexual abuse]

Okay, a little context for this post:

On Monday, June 9, Leadership Journal (which is associated with Christianity Today), published a post called "My easy trip from youth minister to felon," written by an anonymous author, currently in jail for sexually abusing a minor. Basically, the article is his account of how he was a successful youth pastor, and then he started not feeling so close to his wife, and then he started texting one of the students in his youth group, and then one thing led to another, and they had an "affair" and now he's in jail.

Seemingly, the purpose of the article was to warn its audience that sin starts small but can overtake any one of us and ruin our lives if we "let the devil have a foothold."

Or, in other words, if you're not careful, maybe you feel a little far from your wife and OH DEAR the next thing you know, you've raped someone and you're in jail.

Obviously, the Christian feminist blogosphere (and other related blogospheres) had a problem with the article- how it described an adult having sex with a minor as an "affair" instead of rape, how it blamed both the victim and the abuser for "giving in to sin", why the heck we're even letting a rapist publish this kind of thing on a prominent Christian website, etc.

So, well, Perfect Number lives in China so she was sleeping (or possibly at work without access to a vpn) when all you Americans were on twitter talking about it- I missed most of the action but hey, I did find these posts very good, so I recommend them:

because purity culture harbors rape & abuse
Leadership Journal, Christianity Today, and #TakeDownThatPost
Evangelical Narratives, Sexual Predators, and Safe Places
My Innocence Was Stolen From Me
On How the Church Discusses Abuse: Denying the Endorsement
A Cautionary Tale About Rape Culture In The Church

And then, seemingly on the night of June 13 but I sometimes get a little confused on what day it is in America, the post got taken down and in its place is a fantastic apology.

Like, a real apology, you guys. "We never should have published this post." Wow.

Image source.

So that's what happened, and here's my take:

Is there something about Christianity which makes it easier to "accidentally" rape someone? (Or perhaps, makes it easier to believe someone who claims to have "accidentally" raped someone?)

Or rather, let's talk about the idea that you have to be very careful to stop yourself from doing little sins because if you don't, you'll lose control and suddenly you'll be committing some big horrible sin.

That offensive post was originally titled, "My easy trip from youth pastor to felon." See that? "Easy." Apparently, once you've done some small and maybe-slightly-questionable things, like becoming sort of friendly with a female student in the youth group, it's so easy to become a criminal that it will probably happen without you even noticing. So we have to be really vigilant about little things.

The idea is, there are certain scenarios where, because you are naturally a sinner, you will be unable to control yourself and you'll do something awful. Your mistake, your real sin, is putting yourself into that situation. That's the real sin- because once you're in that situation, you can't control yourself.

And I've seen this idea in Christianity a lot. Don't believe me? Well have a look at some examples:

1. Purity culture. Oh geez, purity culture is basically FOUNDED on this idea. You can't ever be alone with a member of the opposite sex because you will probably end up having sex with them (and also nobody is gay). Don't hold hands with a boy, because next thing you know, you're having sex and you're ruined and you have no idea how it even happened- but of course, it was your fault for starting down that path.

(Incidentally, this philosophy can also be very victim-blamey.)

(Also, I remember a few years back, I read on a feminist blog that if a man and woman are making out and fooling around and the woman says she doesn't want to have sex, then the man HAS TO STOP. And I was COMPLETELY SHOCKED. Because I always heard you shouldn't do that stuff with a guy if you don't want to have sex, because guys just get so turned on and they can't stop. You know, you put yourself in that situation and basically that means the question of whether or not you're going to have sex is out of your control. And suddenly feminists were saying, "No, men CAN stop- and they MUST, in order to be a decent human being and not a RAPIST.")

2. "Nobody wakes up one day and decides, 'I'm going to have an affair.'" I've heard Christians say that many times. The idea is that going from a good marriage to an affair is a gradual process. And yeah, I think that would be true. But I no longer buy the idea that it's such a gradual process that once it starts, you have no opportunity to notice what you're doing and make a conscious decision to stop it.

I wrote about this a while back, in my post Hedges for Monsters. "It's almost like there's an assumption 'I'll probably cheat on my wife if given the chance,' so one must make sure to never get that chance."

3. Hanging out with people who are "a bad influence." You know, if you have friends who *gasp* think it's okay to drink and have consensual sex, then after a while you might start thinking those things are okay too! You get desensitized to sin! Oh noes!

And you know, be careful what kind of sources you read and listen to- I mean, just look at me, I started reading some stuff about gay people and how they're like, real people deserving of love and respect, and now my views have changed and I *gasp* support all the gay rights.

Yep. That's how you get led astray, right?

4. There's even a song about this! "Slow Fade" by Casting Crowns.


So anyway.

I don't doubt that when people commit horrible sins, the process of getting to that point is full of small steps. However, I believe that there are many many conscious decisions being made along the way. Yes, that person has every opportunity to realize just how bad their actions are, and they absolutely have the power to stop. 

Nobody accidentally rapes and sexually abuses a child.

I think another factor in this "slippery slope" philosophy is the definition of sin. One view defines "sin" as "this is a sin because God said it's a sin" (or, rather, their interpretation of the bible says it's a sin). And it's bad to sin because it makes you a bad person, far from God. And also, all sins are equal.

Like in the aforementioned article written by a sex offender. His view seemed to be that his actions were bad because he ended up getting arrested and losing his wife and kids, and now he's a registered sex offender. It was so focused on himself, and seemed to be written as a warning to others- be careful about "letting the devil have a foothold" in your life- be careful about little sins, or else these bad things might happen to you too. (I don't recall seeing anything about the harm he had caused to his victim and his wife.)

And when we just focus on ourselves, it's easier for our harmful actions to seem reasonable.

(Which, of course, in no way excuses those actions.)

But I define a sin as "this is a sin because it hurts someone." I hope that thinking in this way will make me more aware of the consequences of my actions and how they affect others- and therefore make it harder to make excuses for sin.

(Let me point out that there are totally other ways to view/define sin besides these two. I don't want to create a false dichotomy here.)

And you'll notice, in the examples I listed above, the thing they have in common is that these 2 different definitions of sin would view the situations quite differently. Like the example of having an affair- is it bad because God said "do not commit adultery" or is it bad because it hurts one's spouse?

If it's about rules and exact definitions, it's easier to find a loophole.

But if it's about "are my actions hurting someone?" then ... not all "sins" are equal anymore, are they? (I've heard it said "Everyone is a sinner. Not everyone is an abuser.")

Didn't Jesus say, "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me?"