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sin

One of the disappointing things about the Michael Voris confession was the reaction of some people – one on-line journal (to which I refuse to link) even taking it so far as to talk about an opponent of LGBTI people who was gay himself – as though there were some level of hypocrisy involved. I doubt it would have taken that view had it been about gambling or alcoholism – so why this particular sin? If you see the reaction of some gay people to this, you will get a better understanding. Just about all of us can see why alcoholism or a gambling addiction is bad for you – but even to seem to put sexual preference in the same bracket – especially for those who feel it is not a ‘preference’ but the way they are born – as something so obviously harmful as alcoholism – can seem offensive. You get something of this is the common counter-argument, which is “if I am doing this with another consenting adult whom I love and who loves me, and am harming no one, what is wrong with that?” To those outside Christianity, Judaism or Islam, the answer to that question is far from clear; and, of course, in some churches and mosques and synagogues there are those who would take the same view, with the Christians explaining away the prohibitions as either culturally conditioned, or as applying to cultic ceremonies. On this issue those who take that view are usually as closed to argument as those who take the traditional view – precisely because our society finds even talking about sin a problem. It is easy enough – and so common – to talk about things which damage your health or which cause harm to others, and to see – and say- why they are bad for people – most of our public health campaigns pivot around this widely shared assumption; but when it comes to our private lives, the modern consensus is that – reality TV stars apart – they are just that – private.

I may be wrong here (I often am) but it seems to me that there is a set of things here which either hang together or which fall apart. So, if one takes the view that sexual activity should be confined to marriage and is for the creation of new life (where possible), then it is easy enough to understand why adultery is wrong and divorce something to be avoided and, if it happens, something which is bound to cause problems if you want to marry again; it equally explains why abortion is wrong. All of those taken together provides a context in which to explain why homosexual activity is contrary to God’s will. So, for Roman Catholics, where the Church takes all of that seriously, at least rhetorically, there is at least a coherent – if unpopular position. But what happens when you play pick and mix?

When I was dating the man whom I married, I don’t recall anyone saying anything about fornication (and most of my friends thought my insistence on not doing it was just odd), neither do I ever remember a sermon mentioning the subject. When he committed adultery, the reaction of my close friends was to be sorry for me, but neither his friends nor our acquaintances thought there was anything too awful in it – yes, he had ‘cheated’ but there was an attitude of ‘it happens’ mixed with some scarcely veiled comments wondering what I had done to provoke him to ‘look elsewhere’. So, from my own experience, there seems to be a gap between what the church teaches and how even Christians react to it. The Anglican Church, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, takes a permissive line on things like contraception and divorcees remarrying, although from my own experience, most of my Roman Catholic friends act as though they were Anglicans.

It is very far from clear to me that the language we use and even the concept of sin is much understood by even many Christians, let alone the wider society. If we are not getting our message across we can blame everyone else and carry on talking to ourselves, or we can rethink how we communicate. Successful companies do the latter, unsuccessful ones blame their (former) customers. The whole language of what one might call theological anthropology seems to me to need to be updated to engage properly with gender studies and medical science in these areas. Are there Christian scholars doing this? It would be interesting to know. My own sense is that if there aren’t, and we don’t find ways of speaking to people that they can understand, and that if we insist they understand things in our way as we currently express them, then the chasm between theory and practice in areas of human sexuality will continue to grow.

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