Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Throughout history, theologians, professors, pastors, and priests have debated the nature and definition of sin in the Christian tradition. Some have focused on a list of acts. Others have chosen to point at specific people and professions as “sinful.” Still others have chosen one or two “sins” to deem as worse than all the rest.
In reality, when Jesus taught about sin, he took it a step further than all of these. Christ taught that the intention to cause harm counts as much as any act. Lust and anger become adultery and murder because the avarice in our hearts impacts what is ultimately important.
And for Christ (and God) the most important part of our lives and being human is the relationships: with God, with ourselves, with one another.
Why? Because we are made in the image of the Triune God to love and be loved.
God’s ultimate purpose is and always has been love.
Sin is breaking that purpose – breaking our relationships. Which is also why the intent can cause sin even without any action. Because when anything takes our central focus away from the healthy, loving, equity and justice-seeking relationships God desires, that creates cracks in the connections we are meant to build.
So let’s use some of the real issues facing our world right now as examples of sin or not?
- Racism – the systematic denigration and destruction of a group of people because of the color of their skin = sin. It breaks our ability to see all of God’s children as being made in God’s image. Worse, it causes harm to that very image in the people who have been harmed.
- Sexism – the systematic subjugation and abuse of a group of people because of the sex of their body = sin. It does a similar number to racism, except this time because of the way someone was born in terms of their physical parts. It causes harm to the bodies and psyches of those who it attacks.
- Bigotry – the systematic vilification and abhorrence of those who were born with a different a sexual or gender identity than what has been deemed “acceptable” by the powers that be = sin. Again, it attacks those who were born different for something they cannot control, wreaking significant damage both mentally and physically.
- White Supremacy – the belief that one race is superior and therefore should rule all other races = sin. This one is particularly problematic because its very foundation is that the majority of God’s children are less important, there to serve those in the ruling race, and are things to be used as the ruling race deems appropriate.
Now here’s the really difficult part about all of these issues: they are all a part of the culture we live in. They have been intrinsically interwoven into the very fabric of our society and governance to keep some in power while keeping others under “control.” They affect the way we see every single thing that happens, because we have been taught to normalize all of them since our youngest days on this earth.
Jesus spent his life here on earth intentionally dismantling systemic issues in his own time (racism and sexism being two of particular import). He not only fought to see individuals’ needs fulfilled, but also fought against those systems we have created to keep some in control while others are subjugated. He worked to undo their damage and to stop them from causing more.
That means that those who would follow Jesus are called to intentionally identify and dismantle systems of oppression, purposefully support and empower those who have been oppressed, consciously realize the ways we have internalized and benefitted from these systems, and then deliberately do all in our power to mend the relationships we humans are so good at breaking.
Like all problems, the first step is naming it.
So say it together: racism is sin. sexism is sin. bigotry is sin. white supremacy is sin. We all have a problem.
And by God’s grace, we can and must work together to solve it.