The collateral damage of sin hunting and fighting for ideological purity
We met where we normally do: the kitchen. He was making coffee for the AA group that meets in the parish hall several nights each week. I was returning for another cup. He thanked me for letting them be there:
“You’re the only ones who never kick us out.”
My face flushed.
I was filled with embarrassment and shame and pride and gratefulness and the awesome responsibility embedded in that statement.
I couldn’t believe it. He continued
“Oh yeah. We’ve been in several other churches and they always have some reason. Often around the holidays.”
When people need the group the most, I finished.
AA and the power of community
He isn’t the first to extol the virtues of Alcoholics Anonymous. But he was the first to tell me it was really church. He told me AA is more intimate, bonding, hopeful, and accountable than anything he gets from Sunday mornings at his home church down the street.
As Rachel Held Evans writes in ‘Searching for Sunday,’
In many churches, the holiest hour of the week occurs not in the sanctuary on Sunday morning but in the basement on Tuesday night, when a mismatched group of CEOs and single moms, suburbanites and homeless veterans share in the communion of strong coffee and dry pastries and engage in the sacred act of telling one another the truth.
Because of this friend, who I’d meet up with twice a week in our church kitchen over coffee; who would share with me his struggles, not only in sobriety, but marriage and work; who gave me the honor of sharing our church with him and his group every week, regardless of our own functions; I felt bonded and a sense of devotion.
I didn’t want to let him down like so many others had.
That’s why in my current church, I feel guilty when we don’t have leftover donuts to share with them. Or anything but the space. It doesn’t seem like enough.
Not for the living Christ embodied in them. With them.
These are the people rejected.
When we hate the sin and not the sinner, we find ourselves hating both anyway.
We start by naming brokenness and human frailty sin. Which wouldn’t be as big a deal if it didn’t come with its escort: Shame.
And we don’t see it on the horizon. How it approaches. We don’t see what we are doing to ourselves until we’re waist deep in shame, sin, heresy, purity, morality.
We just thought we were looking out for people. Thought we were being good. All we wanted to do was help.
That’s where sin hunting starts. The desire for help mixed with ideological purity. When moral conviction surpasses our good sense.
We don’t know when it happened, but we find ourselves mixed up in a debate with a stranger online or a sister on the telephone and we wonder how the hell did we get here?
Hell isn’t eternal conscious torment. That’s the fantasy of a cruel mind, too obsessed with hunting sin, he couldn’t see past his own delusions.
No, hell is the hate we have for each other. The gossipy nastiness and the cruel indifference. It’s the sowing discord behind each other’s backs or ignoring the ways our society takes food from the hungry and puts the sheltered on the streets.
Hell is the work of sin. But sin isn’t drinking. Sin is the junk we do to each other that destroys us.
Getting together with other broken people to name our brokenness and our blessing in the sight of Christlike community: that’s holy. That’s heaven.
Hell is kicking heaven and its beautiful blessed and broken angels onto the street.
The speck and the splinter
Everyone knows that great line from Matthew’s gospel:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.
Pure gold. And we know how it continues:
For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
Why? Because of the next two verses, that’s why:
Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
So many of us claim we’ve taken out the log already, so we are free to talk about your speck! And boy do we love to! I’m no exception!
I love naming other people’s problems! And I can’t stand when you name mine.
But I’m willing to name the log in my eye. And wrestle with it. For the sake of community. For the sake of us. To make that heaven.
Many of my fellow Christians feel justified, not only in treating their faith like their own sin management system, but as interlopers for mine. Not as a sponsor, willing to take my call when I’m feeling weak or angry.
But as something else. A devil. A pest. The one naming the “problem” and demanding I change. To be like them. To leave my “sinful” denomination and join there’s. Or none at all. Go freelance. Become a sin hunter like them.
Sin and Heresy Hunters
It really is the opposite end. The person I’d draw if you asked me to. If you asked “What is the opposite of AA?” I’d sketch out him: The Sin Hunter. Or his accomplice: the Heresy Hunter.
An individual. Certain of his own faith. Looking to correct yours. Condemning your decisions. Your associations. Even your faith.
He’d stalk his prey. Single them out. Find a way to defeat them. The preferred method is abuse, but he’s willing to try others. He favors brute rational argumentation. His weapon is the Bible and he uses it with the precision of a rapier.
Give him time and enough push back and he’ll resort to gaslighting–emotional abuse to disorient you and lead you to misremember or second guess your own vision. He thinks he’s winning a debate with you. But really, it’s torture; the brute force of anger and conviction.
In this image, there is not community there, no divine gathering. He’s a loner. Of course, he may find others. Join a pack of wolves like himself. But deep down he knows he has to be the alpha. He’d sooner walk alone than be exposed as a beta. In showing any weakness. Intimacy is the last thing a sin hunter creates. He’s a soldier ready for battle. Weakness is a problem for him.
Weakness like washing the feet of his followers. Serving. Why would Christians do that?
The picture the gospels paint is of shared community and radical intimacy. A place with no winners or losers. One where society’s winners and losers come and find themselves as equals. A home for all where none are subject to society’s labeling: gender, race, class, complexion, orientation, ability, health, age. All of us come to be children.
Including the priest and pastor.
A place where we not only bring our own brokenness and have it heard, but we bear witness to others’. We hear them and we love them. Even when we can’t stand them.
We share that brokenness and we share that blessed communion as children of God.
And we build the community through shared brokenness. We build the community without the sense that “I’m the one to give you the glue to fix yourself.” It is the communing. The gathering. The de-othering. Bringing in the sinful and restoring all of us sinners to community.
The community is the thing.
No hunting / Yes helping
Christians aren’t sin or heresy hunters. We don’t go looking for sins to bust or bad people to shame or even the good ones who need a little boost. Just a tweak to get them back on track.
We often take the above words of Jesus like some how-to script. But we forget they’re part of the Sermon on the Mount. The tremendous teaching which begins with a vault of blessing and encouragement for the journey. A treasure trove, not of individualistic wisdom and proverbial advice, but a whole sermon of how we build blessed community in the midst of an evil society and common pain.
All of the sermon’s individualistic belief is balanced by community gathering and support. It shows how to stand up against evil and how to love radically. But it doesn’t do so to make each of us into supermen (patriarchy, remember?) who alone save the world from evil. And not even a Justice League, which gathers the best together.
If anything, we’re the X-Men. Outcasts, hunted, mutants who gather together and become a team. Sticking together and supporting one another.
Not the hunters, but the hunted.
Hunted by those looking to eliminate the sin, the heresy of the “mutant menace”. Or in this case, tradition or progressive values, or support for the weakest in our society, or any number of labeled and marginalized “others” within the faith.
The ones who learn that we don’t heal from top-down or by ridding the world of sin or heresy. Or even by banning me from the Christian Bloggers Network like many of my friends in Christ.
We heal by sitting alongside each other. In recognizing pain in others and knowing what that’s like. Like Sadness from Inside Out being the one who connects with others in their pain, not Joy. Communing in understanding and compassion.
Showing actual love. Presence. Community. Like AA. Like a church. And just like Jesus.