Saturday, January 5, 2013

What Sins Matter Most to God? A Hierarchy of Sinfulness—with money being at the bottom???

'Money' photo (c) 2010, 401(K) 2012 - license:
It's all about the Benjamins!
Growing up independent Baptist, I was always taught that all sin was equal in the eyes of God; cursing out my parents was equivalent to committing adultery, a “little white lie” was just as bad murder, and getting knock-down drunk was the same as taking an extra-long look at that attractive female classmate.   To be found guilty by God and therefore deserving of hell, all I needed to do was just have committed one singular sin.  The severity of the sin didn’t matter to God, those things only mattered to humans. Or so I was told.

In reality, there absolutely was a hierarchy of sins. Maybe God didn’t have a hierarchy, but certainly the Baptists did.  There were only a few “sins” that were heinous enough to get someone kicked out of Bible college and truthfully, there was really only one. Premarital sex; the big bugaboo of all conservative college students who despite their piety still have the same raging hormones and sexual tension as their “worldly” cohorts at the state school down the road.  Hence the reason most conservatives get married at a ridiculously young age (I was 21, my wife 20). In regards to college impropriety, I’m a poor example because I walked the “straight and narrow” (I thought that’s what being a good Christian required). In my days of Bible college, one could do some pretty questionable things and get nothing more than a slap on the wrist from the dean of men (after all, it’s the girls and their short skirts and tight blouses that needed all the disciplinary focus, lest they be a “stumbling block” to their brothers in Christ!).  Written out in detail or not (and actually it was in the student life manual), there was a hierarchy of sins.

Certainly in conservative Christianity there is also a hierarchy of sins. I’d say what occupies the top few spots may rotate once in a while, but the same few are always rights at the top.  Right now, I think #1 would be homosexuality, #2 would be abortion, and #3 would be premarital sex.  Back in the 90’s, abortion probably would have taken that top spot (and still might), but those are generally the top three in some order or another.  Funny thing, none of these are talked about much at all in the Bible.

The book of Proverbs lists seven things that the LORD hates: “A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren” (6:17-19 KJV).  Fourth century monk Evagrius Ponticus came up with the “seven deadly sins” which are gluttony, fornication, avarice, hubris, envy, wrath, boasting, and sloth.  I’m not seeing the “top three sins” listed much at all.  And remember, biblically, a man was free to have sex with another woman even if he was married, so long as she wasn’t.

For all the passion and energy that is put into fighting gay marriage, roe v. wade, and premarital sex (remember abstinence only education?), God apparently doesn’t seem to have those “sins” listed in the same order.  The pro-life movement has Jeremiah 1:4-5, Psalm 139: 13-14, Job 31:14-15 (  The homophobes (oops, anti-homosexuality crowd) has  Leviticus 20:13, Leviticus 18:22-24, Romans 1:26-27, Jude 7, and Genesis 19:4-5.  The prudish abstinence folks have Mark 7:20-23, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5,  and 1 Corinthians 7 (  That’s about 15 references in the 66 books, 1,189 chapters, and 31,100 or so verses of the Bible.  For the sake and time and space, I won’t look at each verse and examine whether it’s being interpreted correctly. I’ll just cede these for the time being (For an examination of the “pro-life” verses, click here).

''Smallest Bible'' photo (c) 2012, Mike Johnson - license:
What Does the Bible REALLY say??
In just a simple internet search, I found that there are 250 verses in the Bible about money,  45 verses describing proper treatment of “illegal immigrants,” 25 verses on pride, and (gasp!) 168 verses on gluttony! Now, to be fair, I could also go verse by verse and examine the relevancy of each verse cited, but the point is, there’s apparently a ton of biblical weight behind things Christians rarely if ever talk about.  When’s the last time you hear a sermon decrying our immigration laws? How about the last time you heard a sermon speaking out against wealth? Or the last time you heard a sermon about being fat? Conservatives like to criticize liberals for “picking and choosing” which parts of the Bible to emphasize.  Well, based on the information I’ve just presented, at least liberals seem to be “picking and choosing” that which the Bible speaks most about!

To take this a bit farther, Jesus talked about money more than heaven and hell combined!  If there’s ONE thing we should be talking about in our churches, its money.  Jesus talks VERY harshly against the rich. Jesus said that it’s easier for a camel to get down on its knees and crawl then for a rich person to get into heaven (Mark 10:25). He criticized the “rich fool” who built bigger barns (or added to his portfolio) (Luke12:16-21). He also told of a rich man who went to “hell” because he ignored the poor man who sat near his house (Luke 16:19-31).  The Bible is very clear on this topic. Why every pastor in every congregation isn’t preaching against wealth is a disgrace.  Rather than criticizing wealth, far too many Christians are embracing it.

 If Christians are truly about following the way of Jesus and being “people of the book,” I think it’s about time we started following what the Bible actually talks about rather than our own pet projects.  Sure, it’s a lot easier to rant on the evils of gay marriage in most suburban churches than it is to critique wealth, but then again, who said being a true disciple of Jesus was easy? It’s time that Christians as a whole stood up and spoke out against the things Jesus really cared about—wealth and economic inequality being chief among them.

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