I received notification a week ago that the next edition of the hard copy of our Diocesan Newspaper, Episcopal New Yorker, is going to be dedicated to “SIN.” (Yes, I could have phrased that better, but I wanted to get your attention!) So this is going to be a theological edition, and editors sent specific “guidelines” (a/k/a – unbending rules) to which any article will be subject. Among the most vehement was: “No article will be published which, in our judgment, points the finger at identifiable individuals or groups.”
Now, clearly, in the mind of the paper’s hierarchy is the fear of various defamation lawsuits. (You think?) Yet, I wonder if this in itself is not symptomatic of where we have arrived as a culture, a society or even a church. Let me explain.
For better or worse, I’m not sure that, with a very few notable exceptions, 21st century American Christians would even agree on what is the meaning of “sin.” Even less, would we agree on what thoughts, words, acts or attitudes constitute what should be labeled as “sinful?” From where do you derive your truth? Do you watch MSNBC or FOX News? Do you seek out a liberal or conservative preacher? Is believing in global warming OR not believing in global warming a sin? Do you listen or even deign to listen to any view other than your own? (From an unsettling experience of long ago, a parishioner once complained to me that a visiting priest (supply) had a bumper sticker on his car that supported a particular candidate and that she was “horrified and offended to the point of considering leaving the church because he had the nerve to park next to my car” – true story! As Pilate asked Jesus, and Jesus never answered: “Truth, what is that?”
Can you discern the difference between those ecclesiastical teachings coming from Jesus Himself that remain of perennial importance as opposed to items of indifference: My ailing memory does not recall Jesus ever teaching that this or that type of music must be used in a church service, but I think I do recall Him being slightly emphatic about the mandate to forgive one another from our hearts!
It will be fascinating to read this upcoming edition of the Diocesan News when it is eventually printed. What will we find there? What is “sin” all about? What can one say to the person who tells his pastor that if she doesn’t stop preaching about sin, “I will leave.” “I don’t believe in it or need to hear about it.” (Again, true story.)
And from the perspective of your humble author (and I may try to write an article for the paper), which is the greater need, the greater good: to know what “sin” is or to acknowledge our consistent human tendencies to choose other than God’s way for us – but to come to one’s senses and to repent in order to once again experience that love and forgiveness which is ours for the asking – if we are truly sorry? So what do you believe?
– Fr. Joe