Christians being bad is a common theme for bloggers. A few public examples come to mind. I may get to them another time. The good news for bloggers is there are always more examples out there just waiting to be exposed. The bad news is that news is always bad. Today, I do not wish to consider particular cases. I want to talk about doctrines Progressive Christians tend to avoid. The doctrines of the Fall and Sin.
Being and Behavior
Ted Runyon was teaching a class on Wesleyan theology when news came the World Trade Center had been attacked. He listened to the student who brought the news. Then he said, “Maybe we should change the discussion topic to the Fall.” We went ahead with what we were doing. Our class only learned of the collapse of the Twin Towers after the session.
Why do people believe and behave as though the existence of someone else is a mortal threat? “Do unto others before they can do unto you.” NATO’s response caused the deaths of millions. “Do unto others because someone else did unto you.” The Eden narrative makes perfect sense when we see Eve and Adam eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to enhance their own position. But did they learn the difference between good and evil.
Human experience says they did not. Adam and Eve did not like what they saw in themselves and attempted to deny it. The knowledge they gained only made them defensive. It also made them cowardly. I ask lots of questions about this story. Adam and Eve saw they were naked. Eve saw the serpent as a deceiver. I wonder how both saw that tree.
Sin as Being
A previous post included the idea that evil people often believe they are doing good. Sometimes they know what they are doing is not right; but they do it for the best reasons. Maurice Merleau-Ponty tackles this moral problem in his book Humanism and Terror. Existentialist thought struggled with the problem of human evil. To my mind, the existentialists developed a better understanding than the pragmatists.
Sin is part of being human. The doctrine of the Fall asks if sin is a necessary part of being human. It is a difficult question to answer. We do not know of any other way to be. This unfortunate truth tempts us to claiming it is necessary. The best that can be done then is to restrain people in acting on sin. But if it is not a necessary part of being human, is it possible to overcome?
Evangelicalism claims Jesus overcomes sin by being without sin and sacrificing himself to satisfy the Father’s sense of justice or honor. We are forgiven. But sin does not disappear even among the forgiven. All Christians continue sinning. And they continue denying it.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
The renewing of the mind stands out to me. While many people discuss the meaning of transformation, I do not read a lot of writers discuss what this renewing of our minds. Learning is involved. If the Fall necessitates a savior, then the savior must offer guidance to the saved. It is not merely learning. This learning involves practice. Instruction is enhanced by experience. How do we love others? We love by our actions. But only experience teaches us whether our actions are effective.
This renewing then is a constant. But only if we are open to learning more and learning from failures we will acknowledge.
“You should not criticize. It only gives our enemies ammunition.” Churches have said this too many times. The results of this attitude have been scandalous. But the real problem is when whistle-blowers are regarded as violating the solidarity of the group. In other words, the punishment or ostracism can be difficult to handle.
What do we make of this in light of St. Paul saying, “Do not be conformed to this world?” The sex abuse scandals often puts the church in the position of being less moral than the world. Why should the world want to conform to it?
Christians who feel their sense of being needs protecting often behave badly. We do it because we fear stigmas, accusations, and being held accountable. We do not want to lose what we have. Worse yet, we feel some other group of Christians will reap the benefits of our shame. These are the reasons the world behaves badly. Christians conform to it almost unwittingly.
Being As Overcoming
The renewing of our mind is the continued testing, failure, experience, and practices that help us overcome sin in ourselves. But that is only concerned with the individual issue of being human. The community of Jesus followers works to overcome the sin of the community, the institutions of it, and the structure of it. The being of the community has it’s essence defined by this work. Congregations ought to know this. Preaching is often too individualized. Communal sin is not acknowledged. Once it has been overcoming begins.