Monday, February 13, 2012

The sin that dare not speak its name

Guest post by anonymous
I have asked Byron for permission to remain anonymous since I fear the backlash (personal and official) that may occur if I put my name to this post.

There is a grave sin openly celebrated in our nation (perhaps especially in Sydney) that makes me feel queasy. At certain times of year - and this is one of them - its advocates feel they can come out of the closet and proudly flaunt their unfortunate condition. Criticism is difficult to raise in polite company, especially amongst educated people. To speak out is considered ignorant at best, hate-filled at worst. Yet the Bible is clear and so we must be too. It would be cruel to remain silent.

This perversion is aggressively defended by highly organised and well-funded lobby groups. Some political parties treat it as a normal and desirable pattern of life, and most teach it is necessary to at least tolerate it. I know that every political party has strengths and weaknesses and that no party is perfect, but I still struggle to understand how a Christian can in good conscience vote for any party that openly and brazenly supports a sin so roundly and straightforwardly condemned in the Bible.

Advocates want to teach our children to embrace it and indeed in many schools it is put forward as perfectly natural, even necessary for a well-functioning society. I personally know of parents who have had the courage to question the ideology being taught in our classrooms and who, as a result, have subsequently been slandered and ostracised - or perhaps worse, condescendingly patronised as backwards and ignorant.

From my study of history, I realise that this abomination has been tolerated by the elite of some societies, but I am not aware of any civilisation that has embraced it so wholeheartedly as ours.

It was not so long ago that the church's teaching of such things carried more weight and a man would have been ashamed to admit such desires in public. Parents would have warned their children against it with serious and hushed voices. The tables are now turned and it is those of us who still hold to the conservative position embraced by the church for centuries who are shunned. I was sickened to discover that is possible to buy children's books that celebrate what ought to be anathema.

And worst of all, many churches now overlook members who ought to be disciplined - preferring perhaps to avoid controversy - or even teach inclusion of this most egregious wrong, claiming that the cultural conditions of the biblical authors blinkered their vision, that they had not seen the great good that could result from accepting such desires as part of God's blessing upon humanity.

Don't get me wrong; there is such a thing as natural and healthy desire. But not every desire is healthy. Some are simply corruptions in which we mistake our true needs for manufactured false wants. Whether cursed with corrupt genes or seduced by an iniquitous lifestyle I cannot say, but those ensnared in wickedness are not to be despised. They are to be pitied and helped, not attacked. We must try, as the saying goes, to love the sinner while hating the sin. Let us remember that none of us are without fault. I am sure they make all kinds of positive contributions to society in other ways. And they are not beyond repentance. With the help of God's Spirit, they can begin afresh and discover healing.

What am I talking about? What is the sin that dare not speak its name? I am referring, of course, to the love of money, which is a root of all kinds of evil. Tolerance is cruelty. Repentance is possible. Healing is promised.


ian powell said...

Thank you - i fear this article is so much truer than i wish it were. John Bunyan has Mr Covetousness change his name to Mr Prudent Thrifty when CIty of Man-Soul is "captured" by Jesus. I am infected and for me it often is felt as envy, not of what folks not following Christ have, but what other Aussie Christians get and have and enjoy. Though i know deeply i am in the worlds very very very wealthy - I imagine i am in the top 1% and yet i envy those who are paying off a unit etc etc.

Irith said...

Dear Anonymous
While I share your grief at the acceptance of the 'love of money' in our society and church I'm not sure that I agree with your reading of history, nor with your style of argument. The church has loved money, and temporal power, from its earliest centuries. Just because marble, gold and opulent art were offered to the church's buidlings doesn't make them any less earthly. The church grew wealthy once it became established as a social and political institution. The Byzantine Empire was a Christian superpower that was the most fabulously wealthy kingdom the world has ever seen. The puritans, while claiming a modest and humble outlook on life still managed to pursue the accumulation of wealth for 'worthy' purposes. Making a profit and accumulating capital was never at odds with puritan lifestyle, what was eschewed was the outward display of wealth. I know that true spiritual values still were taught in all of those contexts by many, but the temptations of the love of money are very subtle, and it was not easy to maintain true reliance on God's grace as a broad social practice.
I don't think the love of money in the church will ever be addressed by force of argument, will, or discipline. Though I agree that a little bit of modesty would be far palatable to what is experienced now (and yes, I think Sydney is a particularly shameless environment for this). I am firmly convinced that love of money, and all that it offers, can only be eradicated by a growing personal intimacy with God, a direct EXPERIENCE of the joys of His Spirit that turns on the light of truth in a person's heart and then the accumulation of wealth is seen in the light of His truth and it loses its appeal. The riches of His Kingdom are real, tangible and full of PLEASURE, excitement and joy. Until we start to disciple people in how to draw close to God and silence the distractions and clamour of their preoccupations their lives will continue to be robbed and wasted by trivial possessions. How can I be so adamant? This is an ongoing lesson for me and one that this very morning God challenged me on. I am learning to make small incremental choices to choose His Kingdom over the world's distractions and by His grace have survived trauma, upheaval and grief to come out realising that life is worth more than 'stuff'. I am excited about a future of growing freedom and power as I am liberated from the love of money...yay God!

Juggernaut1981 said...

The Love of Money is evil. It places Money ahead of people and often ahead of God. Like all good drugs, power is addictive and money provides an easy power over the opinions of others.

For those of us here in Australia (and other first world countries) we should realise that our society is driven by money, that we can exercise the power of our money in good ways but also evil ways and it our responsibility to show love to others in how we use our money.

Give to charity, not because if makes you feel good but because it will make others feel better. If you feel obliged to give, I'd almost say "Don't give". If you feel compelled to give, because to not give would make you feel you were being evilly selfish, then give everything you think you can spare and let God sort out the details.

I try to spend my money in ways to show my friends, family and some strangers that I care. But I also don't want money to stand in the way. If having money, or spending money, or not spending money is coming higher in my list of things to do than "Be nice to others", "Show others they are valuable" and "Making someone else's day better"... then I've got my priorities wrong.

You're better off giving copper pennies from the bottom of your heart than bags of gold from the top of your pride.

byron smith said...

Andrew - Some very helpful thoughts there. Money is not evil. By itself it is a potentially useful tool for both good and ill. It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.

Ian - Two young fish were swimming along. They passed an older fish going the other way, who asked, "how's the water?" They swam on for minute, then one turned to the other and said, "what's water?".

It is indeed an infection (as Clive Hamilton calls it "affluenza") that affects all of us who swim in the water of our culture. It is so familiar that most of us don't even notice it.

Irith - I agree entirely. The church has never been immune to the flesh, world or devil and any analysis which speaks of "them" is hiding the true extent of the problem. And furthermore, the love of money needs to be replaced with a stronger, more life-giving love: the love of our heavenly Father.

I have a hunch that the author of this piece would agree. I believe that the tone, vocabulary and arguments were probably intended to evoke (and eclipse) another moral discourse rather than simply standing as a comprehensive statement about the love of money. That is, I think the point (which may appear with greater or lesser clarity) was to contrast the Christian moral outrage associated with certain desires and behaviours (namely, the original "love that dare not speak its name") to the lack of outrage generally associated with the love of money, which is (I would argue) both more common and more destructive, and yet which doesn't even appear on the radar of many Christians.

andrewe said...

I'm grateful to anonymous for this well-written and provocative post. However, I'm not sure I can go with its implied frustration at churches taking special concern over homosexuality rather than other things. For two reasons: first, there are reasons to be especially concerned about sexual sin. "Every other sin a man commits outside his body..." (1 Cor 6:18). Second, and related to this, the issue of church discipline is very complex. It is by no means easy to exercise discipline against sins of the heart such as the love of money. In fact, this is downright dangerous. Discipline has to do not just with sin, but with what sin is apparent; and this is why Paul, at least, talks about it especially in relation to sexual sin.

byron smith said...

AndrewE - Thanks for pushing back against this post. What do you think is the specific meaning of a sin against the body? For what reason(s) do you think this justifies a focus on sexual sins greater than financial ones? And is homosexuality entirely analogous to fornication with a prostitute (which is the focus of 1 Cor 6)?

If we are ranking sins, then that which is "a root of all kinds of evil" surely must be up there for consideration as amongst the worst. Isn't that which is often equated with idolatry at least worthy of attention in the same ballpark as sexual sins?

Greed and sexual immorality are mentioned in the same breath in 1 Corinthians 5.10-11; 6.9-10; Ephesians 5.3-5 (cf. Colossians 3.5); 2 Timothy 2.2-3, 14; Hebrews 13.4-5 and 1 John 2.16. Rev 18 uses fornication to illustrate greed. Both sexual immorality and greed are in the Decalogue. In Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5 the episcopos must not be greedy, though nothing is said about sexuality. The Baptiser's three specific instructions are each warnings against greed (Luke 3.10-14). James has about twenty verses addressing greed and the dangers of wealth and two references to sexual sins - one illustrative and one likely metaphorical. The rest of the Corinthian correspondence contains lengthy discussions of generosity and Paul's lack of greed. And even the Romans passage that presents the longest treatment of homosexuality in the NT also condemns covetousness in the same sweep of thought.

Once we turn to the Gospels, then it is clear that our Lord's interest in how we use the contents of our trousers is at least as focussed on our wallets as our genitalia. The alternative master to God is Mammon. Against the rich, he pronounces woe and the difficulty of entering the kingdom. Judas, the quintessential sinner, is greedy, as are the rich young ruler, Zacchaeus, the scribes, the workers in the vineyard, the seed among thorns, the rich fool (and the man whose question led to the parable), the money-changers, Dives, the prodigal son and those who rob the good Samaritan's neighbour (compare Jesus' treatment of sexual sinners in Luke 7.36-50; John 4; John 8: only in John 4 did Jesus raise the topic and all three receive forgiveness. Of the greedy mentioned above, only Zacchaeus and the prodigal son do so. See also Jesus' lengthy discourse on homosexuality in...?).

As for discipline, the immediately preceding context of 1 Corinthians 5.11 instructs the readers "not to associate with anyone who bears the name brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy". Compare 2 Timothy 3.2-5, where Timothy is told to avoid "lovers of money". Finally, the (likely apocryphal) narrative in John 8 at least suggests a more complicated picture of early church discipline over sexual immorality than the impression that might be gained from 1 Cor 5-6 alone.

My point in this comment is not that sexual morality is irrelevant or minor, simply that there is a profound disconnect in some familiar circles of Christian ethical discourse between the emphasis placed on (certain aspects of) sexual morality and the depth of engagement with the love of money. I believe the post is making a similar point. For that reason, I was happy to publish it.

Irith said...

@Byron, oh! I missed the irony entirely...simple soul that I am...thanks for spelling it out to me ;-) Now I like the post even more!

byron smith said...

I'd like to clear up three things and offer some apologies.

1. Sorry for some very long comments yesterday. Perhaps in answering AndrewE, I should have confined myself to noting that the context in 1 Corinthians 5-6 condemns greed in the same breath as sexual immorality and likewise calls for discipline against the greedy.

2. In particular my comment to AndrewE probably muddied the waters by my brief (and somewhat sarcastic) reference to Jesus' not mentioning homosexuality in a discussion that was more to do with the relative weight placed by the NT on greed vis-à-vis sexual immorality. Apologies. The (poorly executed) intention was to make an a fortiori point: if sexual immorality does not occupy a unique and privileged position as the worst of all sins in the NT, then how much more ought we avoid treating homosexuality (which gets even less NT emphasis) as a primary focus of moral concern. But this (somewhat complex) line of thought requires further development rather than a sarcastic throwaway line.

3. Let me come clean. Some/many may have already guessed this. The author of the post shares my birthday and neural pathways. I adopted an "anonymous" persona in order to provide some distance between the voice in this post and my own voice, both in order to avoid giving away the punchline (which may have been too obvious to those who know me and my hobbyhorses well) and to express opinions I do not personally hold. As I said to Irith, if we think that greed (or sexual immortality for that matter) only applies to "them", then we're still not grasping the true extent of the issue.

If the persona move proved distracting, I apologise. My point was a simple one: where is the church's preaching, warning, encouragement, exhortation, lament - and most importantly, repentance - concerning the love of money? It's killing us all.

byron smith said...

Guardian: Wealthy people more likely to behave selfishly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Byron.

I personally have often preached against greed, precisely because it is the great unspoken idol of our culture. Certain church-going people will be judged because they will never dismantle mammon from the panthenon. Such sermons never go down well.

But I do think an assumption of the post is a little off. In both churches where I have worked as a curate, the rector has had an agenda of addressing greed, specifically and with regularity. It has been given more damning attention than homosexuality. Perhaps the charge that our focus is myopic is not as easily substantiated as the post suggest?

Secondly...One thing I have learnt from you, Byron, is to recognise sin in all its forms. However, I fear that the game of comparing the commonly observed with the subtle has the unfortunate effect of just switching one's focus, rather than having it expanded.

Marty K.

byron smith said...

Hi Marty, thanks for your comment.

I agree with the author that this is only "many churches" not all churches. I am glad you've found two communities that take this issue seriously.

I'm not sure I understand the point you're making in your final paragraph. Can you expand it a little?