A sin by any other name

I have intentionally not blogged during my pregnancy. This is because my predominant pregnancy symptom is rage, every pregnancy, every time. I once took a (positive) pregnancy test because Drew noticed the knife I was dicing vegetables with inch closer and closer to him as I gesticulated about something I found irritating.

It was with clenched teeth that I watched the events of the World Vision scandal implode a few weeks ago. It took all of my self-control not to spew off the cuff, but to sit, meditate, process and most importantly, listen to that Still Small Voice that comes only with a surrendered heart. It’s important to me that you know that my comments here, although presumably flawed, are well thought out and well intentioned, measured and spoken in humility.

Just when I thought I wasn’t going to say anything at all, I read a post by popular Christian blogger Jen Hatmaker, whom I admire and respect. She had written a well thought out original response to the scandal. The backlash against her grace-based stance was so intense that an event planner for a conference she was asked to speak at asked her outright for her ‘position on homosexuality’. This, presumably, to make sure that her beliefs lined up with the venue and people with which she was to speak. And that in itself was the nail in the coffin for me.

Homosexuality has become an incredibly divisive issue in today’s church. Many Christians will point to passages that condemn such behavior. One of the few verses in the New Testament to broach the subject is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

So my question is: Why didn’t the event planner ask for Mrs. Hatmakers position on swindling? Or on idolatry? Or on slander? Why doesn’t anyone’s opinion on such things hold as much weight as the homosexuality issue? Why has it become such a line in the sand where people are forced to ‘take a stand?’

I’d like to pretend just for a little while that homosexuality was not the banner issue it is today. I would like for you to suspend your belief and pick one of these other sins as more important. Lets take drunkenness or slander. I don’t know anyone who has never told a lie. The people I know that have never been drunk I can count on the fingers of one hand. What if those were the Church’s banner sins?

You might stroke your beard or adjust your glasses and say, “Well, Alyson, here is the difference. A believing Christian may stumble in the area of drunkenness and repent. A believer may tell a lie, but realize his or her fault and make amends with God. Homosexuality is a lifestyle. Homosexuality is a choice to live outside of God’s intended purpose. Homosexuals who engage in same sex marriage are celebrating their sin instead of repenting of it. That is the difference.”

And I will nod my head and say, “What about greed? That is the one that always seems to get me personally. Lets make greed our banner sin.” And you will say, “Same thing, we should repent of greed and not celebrate it.”

So now we are pretending that the American Church does not celebrate greed? We are pretending the people in it do not embrace greed as a lifestyle? Is that where we are going with this? Indulge me as I bore you with a few stats:

The latest Gallup poll states that 77% of America identifies as Christian. So if the other 23% of different religions are much more adept at giving than us, please let that slide for now. I’m pregnant and irritated. Lets just say for the sake of argument that America is a Christian nation since we self identify as such.

Globally, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest income countries (that would be us) account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures. (Took me a minute too. 20% of us rich folk are gobbling up 86% of the WORLDS resources. And if you have access to a computer to read this blog, own a bank account or have food in your fridge, you count as ‘the rich’.)

Annual U.S. spending on cosmetics? $8 billion

Basic education for all GLOBAL children? $6 billion

The average American spends nearly $3,000 a year dining out while over 1 billion people in the world do not have access to clean water and half of the worlds population lives on less than $2 a day.

America (remember, 77% of whom apparently love homeless, penniless Jesus) is the biggest consumer IN THE WORLD.

Twenty five thousand people die every day because they do not have enough food.

The average American church spends 30% of their annual budget on building construction and 5% on missions

You want to argue with me that America and Her Church do not embrace and celebrate greed??!!! Come at me with it bro, I’m pregnant. COME AT ME.

And even if I didn’t have all the statistics to back up my argument, I still have an Instagram feed of pictures of (eek!) Louis Vuitton purses! I still see mega Church parking lots filled with BMW’s, Pinterest feeds where every other pin is titled, “WANT.” If all else fails I can easily point to myself- my inherent need to self protect, to hoard, to take care of me above all else. I have my own sin to battle (especially with that beautifully darned Threshold line at Target) that proves me right- my overwhelming perceived need and nearly inescapable greed.

So, what if, despite what our surrounding culture (and churches) tell us, God really really really cares about our greed. It’s not too far of a jump from the actual words of Jesus. Jesus who never touched on homosexuality but told 11 parables out of 39 that dealt with money. He talked about money more than any other topic outside the Kingdom of God. If you recall, He is the wacky guy who said things like, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Lk 12:33) Or even more wacky, “For whoever wants to save (hold on to) his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Mt 16:25)

I would argue that the message of giving and generosity is one of the strongest in all of scripture. We are exhorted throughout scripture to give of our time, talents, money, possessions, forgiveness, grace, sexuality, desires, food, clothing, I could go on and on. We are told to give our very bodies (Romans 12). After all, we serve a God who gave His. “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.”(I John 2:6) So I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that Jesus cares more about greed than He does about sexuality. People generally talk about what most concerns them. But I don’t want to get into a battle of one sin above another- I am arguing only for consistency within Scripture interpretation. I’m here only for one little favor: Take a journey with me.

Imagine for a moment that we live in a culture where greed is the banner sin. Imagine it is the major faux pas within the Church. Imagine that people who are greedy and admit to being as such are not welcomed into churches or places of Christian employment. Imagine they are shamed and rejected, ostracized and excluded.

Imagine that on March 24th Richard Sterns, the president of World Vision got out in front of the media and said, “We have made a decision. We will hire greedy people. We know this is controversial, but we believe that if you profess a love for Jesus Christ, you are welcome to work along side us as we seek to serve the poor.” I wonder if the outcry would have been the same. Would famous Christians have taken to their blogs denouncing their decision? “What about scriptural inerrancy! They can’t leave that decision open to the local churches interpretations! Generosity is a foundational pillar of Christianity! Without it, it falls! And what about the children??! Its one thing to have greedy people taking phone calls and filing papers, but what if they put greedy people out there on the field? What if the greed rubs off? What if those children become greedy too??!!!

Because in this example, the sin considered is same sex marriage (the celebration of something deemed by many as sinful) I would like to quantify the concept of greed by making it equally tangible. So lets define greed as people who do not tithe (or give away) 10% of their money. “But tithing is an Old Testament principle”, you interrupt me, “we don’t have to give a set 10% anymore. We are not under law but under grace.” You may be among the vast majority that argues that because tithing is a principle introduced in the Old Testament that the rigid 10% number does not apply to today’s believers. You may think that you can give ‘what you can’ or ‘give of your time, energy or other resources.’ You may not like it if I point out that the vast majority of the verses in scripture regarding homosexuality also fall within the Old Testament.

And I will say, “Shh. Don’t interrupt me because I am on a roll. I will be fair and deal only with the New Testament. In fact, I will only use one verse. Lets just take Jesus’ own words for it, in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices- mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law- justice, mercy, faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.” Yes! Justice! Yes, Mercy! Wait. What was the former again? The one we are told NOT to neglect? OH YEAH, tithing TEN PERCENT.” (Come at me.)

I clearly have definitive views on greed and tithing. Please recognize that I am going easy on the subject. I am only talking here about 10% of your money, even though, biblically, 100% comes from and belongs to God. I’m not going to get into the American consumption mindset and the power of our dollars and the little African boys on the Ivory Coast who spend 13 hour days hacking down cocoa pods in the hot sun with machetes bigger than they are but have never tasted chocolate in their lives. (Buy fair trade.) So the question is not whether I am right or not (I am). The question is: How do my strongly held Biblical views impact the way I interact with other people?

If I believe so strongly in the Biblical principle of tithing, how do I respond to people within the Church who do not believe what I believe? What happens when someone I encounter who claims to love Jesus does not abide by what I am convinced of as mandatory Biblical generosity? Do I bash them over the head with scripture? Do I use my convictions backed by God’s word as a weapon?

Me personally? No. And I think it’s important for you to know why. I know it has taken me a long time to get here because I am pregnant and fat and slow, but this is the heart of what I want to tell you.

First of all, I think there is a way to live out God’s truth, and hold tight to Scripture without making judgment calls on other people. I think we are exhorted time and again throughout scripture not to judge because it is not good for us (never mind the people we are judging). After the big homosexuality blurb in Romans 1 (the second of three verses where homosexuality is actually addressed in the NT) we are warned in Romans 2:1, “You, therefore, have no excuse you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” We cannot be gods in each other’s lives. We cannot lookout for every misstep and try to catch it. Judging makes us hard, bitter and worst of all: outwardly focused instead of inwardly focused. Scripture is clear, we cannot know the hearts of our fellow man; we cannot even know our own hearts. We need God’s discernment in searching our hearts, and our outward focus is to be grace based. “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13)

Secondly, My journey to Christ is a long and winding road. I was not a convert who made a one-time decision at an altar and my life was irrevocably changed. Don’t for a minute believe that my life has been defined by financial simplicity and radical generosity. I came to God (and by the way, still come to God) with halts, and missteps, tripping and dragging my feet. I don’t think that the second a person comes to Christ they are immediately convinced of all the truths of the Bible and willingly submit every aspect of their lives to it. I for one, take much longer. I struggle with God for days, week’s years over something He is saying to me. I often feel convicted for long periods of time before I have the courage to do what I should. I am just scratching the surface of who He is and what it looks like to be conformed to His image. I think it is vitally important for God to make the changes necessary in a human heart. Shaming, condemning and judging can only affect the outer performance of a person (if at all). It takes a work of God’s spirit to produce real change in someone’s heart. And He does it with kindness. I don’t want to ‘show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience not realizing that God’s kindness leads you (us) towards repentance.” (Romans 1:3). And more importantly, can’t we give God time and room to do that? Do we doubt His power to change lives so much that we feel we need to try to do His work for Him? Or can we do our part of loving our neighbor and leave the rest to Him?

And lastly, I believe the Bible is a love letter, not a list of to do’s. I believe that every command given has behind it the intent of a loving Father’s heart. I believe that when we are exhorted time and time again to be generous it is not just a rule to be kept, but is for our benefit. If God is who we say He is, He has access to all the resources in the world. He could end global poverty today. In a way I am not smart enough to understand, He invites us into His work, He engages us as co-laborers for His cause and with His heart.

He knows we are changed in the engaging. Last week I was late to a meeting and waiting impatiently at a stoplight. Walking at a snails pace on the sidewalk next to me was a homeless man. He was probably in his 60’s and quite possibly the dirtiest, saddest looking homeless man I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. His face was downcast, his jeans ripped and filthy. He had no possessions. I kept driving. I made it one block until I turned around and started rifling with the hand that was not steering through my purse. All I could come up with was 2 packs of princess fruit snacks, which seemed pretty offensive. But I pulled into the parking lot and ran over to him anyways. He stopped and looked me full in the face. I don’t remember touching him, or speaking to him or giving him food although I’m sure I did those things. I only remember his eyes. Ever since Claire was born, I have tried to explain the color of her eyes. The layperson might say hazel. But they are not. They are every color of the rainbow mixed together; they look like every season has come at once. Sometimes I tell her intricate stories or count her cheek freckles over and over because that is the only way that I can get her to sit still so I can gaze into those perfect eyes. And when I looked at this man, my only thought was that he was the only other human I have ever met who has eyes just like hers. My ‘generosity’ was irrelevant. I only wondered if he had a mother who went to great lengths to gaze into them. It made me wonder when she caressed his little baby hands if she could imagine the state he would be in today. I went back to my car. I shut the door. And I sobbed.