“You may think your sins don’t hurt anyone…but it hurts GOD.”
If you grew up in an evangelical or fundamentalist church, there’s a good chance you heard this phrase growing up. I know I did. This was the phrase that pastors liked to whip out to counter this “liberal” idea that a sin is something that does harm in the world and hurts other people.
In fact, these “don’t harm anyone but GOD” sins are the ones evangelical Christians always seemed most concerned with (note: I don’t think any of these things are actually wrong).
Saying “Fuck” when you stub your toe.
Safe, consensual premarital sex.
Listening to “worldly” music.
Failing to read the Bible everyday.
These are acts that involve a personal choice or a choice that two (or more) people make consensually. Though some of these things (like sex and drinking) can carry risk (like nearly EVERYTHING we do in life) and should be practiced responsibly, they are not inherently acts of harm. They are not inherently hurtful, unloving acts.
Yet these are the “sins” that the evangelical church seems most preoccupied with.
By focusing on these “sins” that don’t hurt anyone (except GOD apparently), these Christians effectively take the focus off of the real sins. The sins that actually do harm to fellow humans and the image of God that is in them.
I had a pastor who would rail against anyone making a joke about sex. Yet he would stand up in front of the church and joke about giving his wife “the right hand of fellowship,” while making a backhand slapping motion.
My Christian high school would punish students if they found rock music in their lockers. Yet they bought textbooks for students that contained slavery and KKK apologia.
I know of many pastors who wouldn’t hesitate to call out Christians who skipped church to watch a football game. Yet when they find out someone in their congregation has been sexually assaulting children, they decide to cover it up and keep it quiet.
These “don’t harm anyone but God” “sins” are a distraction. They’re a way to keep us so stuck in a cycle of self-improvement, self-righteousness, and/or self-hatred that we can’t see the systematic injustice going on all around us.
The powers that be need to keep us praying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people–ACDC fans, pregnant teenagers, people who watch R rated movies…” They need us constantly striving for perfection in these “don’t harm anyone but God” areas, wearing a rubber band on our wrist and snapping it every time we say “darn” or think about boobs. They need us ashamed and embarrassed and hating ourselves because of who we are and what we do to our genitals.
If we were able to break out of this cycle of self-hatred, self-improvement, and self-righteousness over “don’t harm anyone but God” “sins,” we might wake up and notice the systems that oppress us and the systems that privilege us at the expense of others.
As my friend Jason Dye said on Facebook yesterday,
God is gravely concerned about sin – sin against people.
Poverty is sin.. against the poor.
Racism is sin… against people of color.
Sexism is sin… against women.
Homoantagonism is sin… against [gay, lesbian, and bisexual people].
Genocide is sin… against the Other.
Transantagonism is sin… against human beings.
If the concept of sin is going to be at all useful in working toward a just world, it needs to be about systems of oppression and our place in perpetuating them. It needs to be about our affirmation of the humanity of others, and our commitment to treating them justly. Otherwise, the concept is just a tool that helps those in power control others and keep them preoccupied.