This post was originally published on my personal blog, Bite-Sized Theology, on September 24, 2019.
Sin is one of those concepts that exists throughout Christian thought and theology, and it manifests differently depending on the Christian group you ask. Some see it as interpersonal conflict. Others see it as a sense of separation. Still others view it as the condition in which the world functions.
And then there's the Evangelical view. Strap in, because it's got some pretty fucked up ideas.
In Evangelicalism, there's a lot of pressure to "lead people to Jesus," and one of the ways Evangelicals do this is by taking people through what's referred to as "the Romans Road," a series of out-of-context passages from the book of Romans that outlines a path to salvation. Nevermind the purpose or intended audience for this book, many of its words are used in conversion tactics designed to scare people into believing certain things. (I might try diving into a reexamination of Romans at some point, but for now I'm going to have to concede some stuff that may be inaccurate or misinterpreted. I apologize in advance for that.)
For the Evangelical, sin is the great equalizer. It makes everyone unworthy of entering God's presence in postmortem paradise. It is the thing you're born with that sentences you to everlasting pain and suffering in the "Lake of Fire."
And in order to convert people to this brand of Christianity, Evangelicals need to convince their proselytization targets that they too have this condition known as "sin," but if they believe a specific set of ideas (they differ from denomination to denomination, but most Evangelicals agree that it has something to do with trusting Jesus with your postmortem destiny through belief in his death and physical resurrection), they'll be saved from everlasting torture.
Okay, if people want to believe this about their own fate, that's fine. If they think they need to convert people because of it, that's incredibly invasive and annoying, but it's also not necessarily inherently terrible.
But it becomes terrible when you follow it down its logical path. Let's start here: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." This little sentence from Romans can be read to justify some incredibly dangerous ideas.
To many Evangelicals, every evil action is just as severe as the next. Sure, they'll concede that some actions are more evil to other humans than others, but to God (who's ultimately the only "victim" that matters), it's all the same. Essentially, there's this idea that all sin is equally atrocious in God’s eyes because all sins, no matter how inconsequential, condemn the sinner to everlasting suffering in hell. All humanity is equally depraved, and what comes out of that teaching is that all sins are treated with the same severity. Pastors will teach things like, “Porn use is just as evil as sexual assault. If you look upon women on a computer screen in a lustful manner, you’ve committed the same sin as someone who has sexually harassed or assaulted someone else. You have raped her with your eyes.”
But this is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it places unnecessary guilt on people who have an innocuous habit (the men and women whose masturbatory routine doesn’t infringe on their daily lives or relationships and doesn’t enter invasive or voyeuristic territory). Second, it completely misses the foundational element of healthy sexual ethics: consent. I can't stress enough how important consent is in a proper understanding of sex. If we don't view sexual ethics through the lens of consent, we can end up trying to justify some atrocious behavior and vilifying the most innocuous (and sometimes healthy and beautiful) expressions of sexuality.
Third, it shames people into not speaking up when legitimately harmful acts take place. “But for the grace of God, there go I,” is incredibly dangerous because when we find out about harassment, assault, or rape in our church, we don’t speak up about it. We’re afraid that if we say something about that assault we witnessed or the rape someone confided in us about, we’ll be called out for our nightly 30-minute rubout.
I see a similar dynamic playing out with racism, but it’s even more difficult to discern because there’s only one word. We don’t have different tiers (i.e. harassment, assault, rape). So we imagine that racism can only be using the N-word, burning crosses, or lynching. But racism is also in things like, “Where are you really from?” or asking “Can you recommend a good Thai/Chinese/Japanese restaurant?” out of context. It’s in things like, “How are the schools in that town?” (read, “Are the schools there predominantly white or…?”), or “I don’t see color,” which is bullshit because while most minorities want to be treated like everyone else, we don’t want to be seen like everyone else. We’re proud of our heritage, whether that’s Black-American, Colombian, Nigerian, Pakistani, Iranian, Haitian, Ivorian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Filipino… Believe it or not, we want you to see our race. We just want you to respect it as well.
Racism is driving our criminal justice system. Privatized prisons are the continuation of the slavery of black people in America. Not only was Daniel Pantaleo not convicted of murder, he was allowed to keep his job. Are you justifying that in your mind right now? It’s because you’re racist. Ask yourself, why was a black horticulturist with a number of petty misdemeanors—like driving without a license and marijuana possession—strangled to death during an arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes, when a white kid who shot and killed 22 people and wrote, "Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs,” before he straight up murdered the very people he wrote about, taken into custody with barely a scratch on him?
But look, racism takes many forms, and quite frankly, even someone who cracks a racist joke without realizing it (yes, the phrases “no can do” and “long time no see” are racist) has the right and the responsibility to call out racial injustice when you see it. Being racist doesn’t make you the most evil person in society. But you’re perpetuating the problem if you insist you’re not racist when others can see the racism dripping from your words.
And yes, it's racist to wonder about my driving abilities as an Asian American, but the fact that you've made a joke about Asian Americans and their conduct behind a wheel doesn't disqualify you from calling out systemic racism when you see it.
Just like someone who spends an hour on Bellesa before falling asleep at night can and should report sexual assault and rape when they find out about it.
(Sadly, my analogy broke down early on because while there are certainly ethical ways to watch and produce porn, there's no ethical way to crack a racist joke.)
All sins aren't equal. Pretending that they are is a way to avoid facing the truth that our actions have real, on-the-ground consequences. That there are victims of the crimes we don't want to face. And that harming women, Black people, and other oppressed groups is far worse than offending an invisible judge in the sky.