questioning-sin-christianityChristians are in the news again. This is almost never good. I mean, I love my people. Really! I am one of my people! But we are idiots sometimes. Once again, we are taking a stand against “immorality” and “godlessness.” We have refused to make a cake for a gay wedding, we drew a line in the sand for Jesus by only photographing lesbians on non-matrimonial occasions, and we have tried (and will continue to try) to enshrine our self-righteousness into law.

On second thought, that was rude, we are not idiots. It’s more like we have the spiritual equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder (I have ADD, so it is totally okay for me to draw that comparison). When we haven’t been railing against gays, we’ve attacked everything from art to Girl Scout cookies. (Correction: Our war on the Girl Scouts is also a war on gays by proxy.) And what have we got to show for all our efforts? Not very much! The only casualties of the culture war have been our children. This is not the fault of gays or a godless society. This is our fault. Yes, Church, I’m pointing the finger at us.

I understand why some Christians want to refuse service to gay people. Honestly, I do! It is not (necessarily) that they hate gay people. Maybe they are a little scared of gay people or need more gay friends, but their real concern is in being implicated in something they see as sinful. Even if you don’t agree with their view on gay people, the concern itself makes sense. Most of us would not want to sell a car to a woman with a lot of DUI arrests or a table saw to a man missing a lot of fingers. We don’t want to be implicated in what we feel is a bad act or outcome.

But here’s the thing: We are implicated in bad acts and outcomes. We have spent decades voting a global economy into existence, and we cannot just remove ourselves from it. Maybe we can fill our cupboards with Fair Trade produce and drink our coffee from locally owned shops. In fact, I think we should do these things, but we also need to be realistic. Purity is impossible. If we gas up our cars, we are propping up oppressive dictators. When we buy most things, somewhere along the supply chain, our money is supporting child labor and ecological rape. I am not saying that we should just give up. I am not that cynical. I am saying that we should work within the realm of the possible.

I assume that businesses that refuse service to gay people will be consistent and refuse service to people who curse, commit adultery, or talk at the theater. And let’s not forget about gluttony! If a morbidly obese couple walks into your bakery to buy a wedding cake, you either must refuse them service, or show them your specialty line of low-calorie desert offerings. Otherwise, you are supporting one of the so-called “Seven Deadly Sins.” Photographers should also insist on dressing down their clients, lest they promote “vainglory.” For greater consistency, Christians who do not want to support sin should also throw out their televisions and computers. After all, Hollywood is a major promoter of godlessness in America. Anytime we buy a product that also funds a show whose message we don’t agree with, we are giving our money to support that message. If we want to make sure others do not think we are condoning their “lifestyle choices,” we pretty much need to remove ourselves from society.

Or maybe we could just stop acting like jerks. Why don’t we try that instead? The problem with purity is that it is an impossible standard. We can never be pure. The world is fallen, and as long as we live in a fallen world, some of our money and our actions will go toward sin. We will support sin, and in a way, that is kind of okay. Christians sometimes say that we should hate the sin but love the sinner. But we cannot separate the sinner from the sin. There is not a difference between a person and what that person does, where she goes, what she buys, and whom she loves. So if we are going to love people, then we cannot carve out parts to hate. There is no such thing as, “I love you, but…”

When it comes to purity, Jesus cared more about the way that we treat others than the “life choices” we seem to support. Consider his first miracle (see John 2). He was at a wedding reception when his mother called upon him to address a crisis: the hosts had run out of wine! The guests drank all of it. Basically, they were snockered! So what did Jesus do? He made 120 gallons more wine. He gave the guests the means to get even more snockered! I’m pretty sure that if they had run out of cake, Jesus would have made more of that too. He would not have checked to make sure there were no fat people present.

Some teetotaling Protestants insist that Christians should not drink at all, but don’t get distracted! Churches that allow drinking still insist on moderation. The Bible is pretty clear about drunkenness (Rom. 13:13), but Jesus didn’t care. He made wine! One-hundred-and-twenty gallons of wine! After all, it was a wedding! Hospitality matters. Compassion matters. Treating other people with dignity is how we let them know that they are made in God’s image, that they are loved by God, and by us.

If we have to decide between purity and dignity, I say we opt for dignity. As I once heard someone say, being a Christian does not mean we have to tell other people how wrong they are. People do not come to love Jesus because we insist on our own moral purity. Our global economic system stretches its tentacles everywhere, intermingling the good with the evil, the just with the unjust. There is almost no way we can refuse to participate in sin. (Lord have mercy!) Not making a cake for a gay wedding is the real sin because it is something we can actually control. It is the sin of coming across as self-righteous pigs. It is unloving. It sours the couple to the love of Jesus. A lesbian couple is not likely to sit in sackcloth and ashes on the bakery floor. They will get married, and they will scorn us. In this age of media scrutiny, many will scorn us. For decades we have blamed the media for this scorn, but the media is not going away. It is time to blame ourselves.

The culture wars are over. Please stop trying to kamikaze the church into holy oblivion. Sell gay people cakes, and take their pictures. Do business with them. Purity be damned! We don’t need a church of the pure. We need a church of the compassionate, a church known more for the people we love than the sins we condemn.

Editor’s note: This piece was first published in The Huffington Post, and it’s reprinted here with full permission from the author.

Photo: Wikipedia