As a teenage girl I was pretty sure that having sex before marriage was the worst sin I could possibly commit. I probably thought this because sexual sin was what youth group, church rallies, and Christian books for teens talked about a lot.
In recent years there has been a great deal of talk about the negative effects of purity culture by young people who grew up in it, especially on young women, and I am very grateful for these conversations. (Joshua Harris has even apologized for much of what he put forth in “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”) Purity culture has had some devastating effects. And before anyone who watched me grow up gets too concerned, let me just say that I did wait until marriage, I’m very grateful I did and was able to (for many females the choice to wait or not is taken from them), BUT this also does not make me a better, or more godly, person than anyone else. And it’s gotten me thinking, why has Evangelical Christianity chosen sexual sin as it’s favorite to shame?
Instead of causing evangelical girls to feel shame, boys to feel guilty all the time, and a church eager to chatter about the sexual sins of others, how different would the church look if they’d pick, say, greed as the worst sin instead of sex? I agree there should still be healthy conversations around what a Christian ethic of sex is, but let’s pretend for a moment that Jesus talked a lot more about rich people and a love of money than he did about sex. (He did.)
What if people were made to feel ashamed of how much extra was in their wallets or bank accounts, and about the excess they had while others in their communities are poor? Or for owning a second house when there are homeless people? What if women were shamed over how many clothes they have that they don’t wear, as much as girls I know in youth group were for wearing spaghetti straps, a bikini, or showing cleavage? What if showing up to church in a new sports car was as shameful as showing up to youth group pregnant? What if people who had high positions at predatory corporations lost their leadership positions in the church just as those who have had premarital sex have? What if those who profited from the poor were told in no uncertain terms just how unwelcome they are at church, in the same way those on the LGBTQ+ community have been made to feel pariahs in some churches?
(Pause: This is a thought experiment and let me be clear that I don’t think creating a culture of shame – over anything – is the way toward Christian community or abundant life.)
Usury used to be a sin so abhorred it was the 7th layer of hell in Dante’s Inferno, considered to be violence against people and property. What if people in the church protested payday loan shops the way they do Planned Parenthood? (And, too, those who prevent legislation for an actual living wage for the people who use these shops, as well as the investors who gentrify areas pushing up rents and pushing people out, leaving people stuck in a damaging cycle of poverty that is incredibly difficult to break out of.) In Luke 12 we’re warned to be on guard against all kinds of greed. What if our accountability to each other included being accountable to what we are acquiring and the means by which we are acquiring it – including an honest and thorough discussion about whether our acquisitions are at the expense of, or negatively affect, others?
It is easier to police and judge sexual sin, I suppose. Seemingly more cut and dry for many of us. The rules we can make for ourselves and others in this realm are more black and white than for something like greed. This might ask more of us. This might lead to big changes in our church structures, our economic stances, our idea of what we and our neighbors actually deserve. What if the purity of our bodies included teachings about our hands being open instead of closed to persons in need?
“Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” I read the news and I read these verses from James – I draw the parallels and I shudder.
There are so many warnings in scripture about hoarding, loving money, taking from the weak and poor. It would do us well to ask these hard questions. Perhaps we look at what we know about the early church and ask if our churches look more like our secular institutions than what we know of these early believers?
Truly it is a grace when we ask those of us with plenty (both ourselves and others) what is at risk when we excel in an empire that rewards the powerful and crushes the lowly.