Over the past week I have been listening faithfully to NPR to try to get a better handle on the current economic 'crisis'. I noted something interesting about these discussions that I mentioned in the adult Sunday School Class this morning and the subsequent discussion was quite interesting.
I am no economist. I'm not even terribly good at balancing my own check-book.
Listening to one economist explaining one facet of the current economic downturn, I noticed that as clear as he was in describing the problems, when pressed by the interviewer to pinpoint responsibility, he was very hesitant. He had just finished describing behaviors that have led to foreclosures, homelessness, etc. but he would not even describe the choices and decisions of those involved as 'wrong' or 'bad'. He actually said he didn't want to say that these were 'bad' people. Something suddenly seemed very wrong to me and that was the idea that our culture has lost its language for clearly describing (and therefore clearly teaching our children about ) right and wrong. He would say that many were caught up in a 'mass hysteria' but that seemed very unsatisfactory to me... it seems to remove responsibility from the equation.
Another show, 'This American Life' broadcast a simple explanation that I did understand (I think). The host also shared some listener feedback to the show. One of the listeners appreciated the fact that despite the severity of this issue and the fallout which adversely affected so many and will continue to affect so many, the lister appreciated the fact that 'no blame was assigned' in the show.
Sin has never been my favorite word, my favorite theological topic or my favorite sermon subject. Largely I suppose because I recall the use of the word sin in the church I grew up in. I was used so 'liberally' that it produced anxiety, guilt, and fear in many people. My first years as a pastor in church I experienced an interesting phenomena. I didn't use the word sin very much (still don't). Because I tend to focus my sermons and prayers on God's love, grace and forgiveness... those who had escaped church because of the fetish with sin language, could come back. Its not that I don't preach about sin by the way. Its just that I don't use the word.
Anyway, without a language to describe sin, or wrong, in our culture, how can we ever really recover from this economic crisis with any justice and any assurance that we will not repeat the same 'sins' over and over to the detriment most often to the poor. As much as I have found both energy and solace theologically in justice themes, I am more and more convinced that we cannot talk about justice without also talking about sin. If we cannot describe what has caused injustice and clearly give words to why it is injustice, how can we ever move through to redemption or healing or forgiveness?
Unfortunately sin has been used, in my experience, in abusive ways. It has been used to oppress peoples and cultures and as a tool of the ruling of one people over others, one culture over others. It has been used to establish and maintain the power of elites. This, of course isn't just my experience, it is a description from the gospels of the religious elites in and around Jerusalem. I, of course, understand that there are many legitimate arguments against viewing historical pharisees through the lense of the gospels, the description of the powerful elites using the word and concept of sin to establish and maintain control is convincing to me.
so, for now, I think that moderate to liberal churches like mine need to recover the use of the word sin, rehabilitating it from abuse, fear and guilt. but if we cannot talk about sin, we cannot talk about justice for the oppressed and redemption for the oppressor