As I start out on this new journey of discovery, faith and spirituality I find myself taking a serious look at what the reason were that I did things I did, and did not do the things I did not do. Much of the choices I have made in my life have been based around what a church or religion has dictated was right or wrong. Many things taught as sins we are made to feel guilt, anguish and psychological hardship over (despite an abundance of evidence that many of these things are healthy, normal and good for our benefit)
Growing up and through out my life I went to church every week, did not drink alcohol, did my best to be the best christian Mormon man I could be. Many of the things I avoided and struggled with were things that I did not entirely agree upon in my own thoughts, feelings or ideology. The nature of organized religion is that it dictates to the believers of those religions what is or is not sin. It does not take into account what does or does not cause harm. The consequences or forbidding certain things and the resulting forbidden fruit effect of said actions is far more harmful than the harm the sin is supposed to be causing and the consequences cannot be adequately measured. While organized religions preach what is sin, they do not acknowledge the psychological damage and harm inflicted on their followers as a result of the guilt and anxiety that comes with going against what is preached. Often this guilt, we are taught, is because we know we have done wrong, even when those actions post no harm to anyone, any thing or ourselves. This is most prevalent when it comes to sexuality and sexual expression. The human sex drive is not something that can be suppressed, this however has not stopped churches from trying.
If we are to better understand this concept we must first understand what sin really means. Often we think of sins in terms of acting in direct violation of divine law. This law is set forth by ones respective religion. And every religion claims to be dictating the law of God or the Gods. By appealing to this higher divine power they are able to claim supreme authority over what is or is not a sin. The result is that it gives leaders of religious sects the power and ability to directly control the worshipers in every aspect of their lives. The consequence however is that this kind of control and doctrine is in and of itself sin. Sin translated from the original Hebrew word simply means to miss the mark.
In this sense religions really and truly miss the mark. They are administrators of sin. This sin is brought about in the preaching of doctrines from childhood that are not inherently sins to disregard. What I mean by this and perhaps where this is the most damaging is in the aspect of human sexuality. Many christian churches treat masturbation as a sin as well as other actions of sexual nature such as looking at nudity in media, pre-marital sex, dressing in predefined standards of dress, transgender, homosexuality etc… these things are natural and healthy expression of ones sexuality for both children and adults alike. By teaching this as a sin of serious nature people are lead to feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, depression even to the point of suicide. The problem with this is that many of these types of activities in and of themselves pose no harm to others or self, however many are made to feel guilt, and shame over this. The mental gymnastics that one must do to attempt to avoid natural expressions of ones sexuality under the belief that such things are offensive to some God can be extremely psychologically damaging as well as extremely stressful and the cause of much anxiety. Much of the harm and damage comes as a result of people feeling that because they cannot stop, they will be fated to hell, loss of spirit, and often will spend their life feeling nothing but hate and loathing for themselves. This is not just theory but reality as I spent much of my life feeling just as I have described due to these issues.
Perhaps we can step back for a moment and look at how sin should be defined in reality. Sin is the act of willfully and knowing taking an action with the intent or knowingly harming another in any fashion. This can be acts of lying, fraud, deception, theft, physical harm, threats, harassment, mental, physical and sexual abuse etc… it is not sin in reality to take an action that poses no harm to others. This essentially boils down to natural law, not “divine” decrees of “God” imposed on worshipers by church authority. If we are to define things as sinful that cause no harm to self or others and a church takes it upon itself to discipline one who has committed such acts they are in reality, attempting to control and manipulate the behavior and personal lives of individuals. It is one thing to preach against certain things, quite another to use guilt, shame, force, manipulation, threats etc.. to coerce one to live and behave in certain pre-defined patterns or ways.
In an article in the New Era by Spencer W Kimball it is taught
“If no penalties are assessed, if no punishment is required, if no deprivation is expected, then what would induce the average transgressor to change his ways?”
The idea that one must suffer in punishment to be a better person rather than having the desire to be good to begin with is taught within religious communities, thus the idea that only through punishment can man change is a fallacy and also a means of control, because if we want to change we are taught we must seek punishment from church leadership. We must confess our sins, even though they be harmless in so many circumstances such as having a drink of wine, “immodest” clothing (which lets face it, is defined differently depending on who you ask or which church you go to), nudity around others, or masturbating because if we do not then we cannot be forgiven and thus God will punish us for eternity. If you can be convinced that one must confess to clergy even your harmless “sins”, then one is effectively place in the control of those who claim authority from God over your life. Much of this is achieved by carefully selected teachings of doctrine, history and policy to ensure to the maximum ability that the one being taught will conform to what is being taught. It seems that natural law, which is the natural consequences of our actions cannot be effective in getting a person to change their ways. Based on what Spencer W Kimball said It is only through church discipline that one can be brought to change, or in other words, one must be disciplined by the church in order to ensure conformity.
I wish to stress however that sins of a serious nature, which require help with repenting and making things right may require seeking the assistance of clergy of ones respective church, or qualified professionals, however many things called “sin” are not of this nature. Most sins can be resolved without clergy involvement.
Sadly this kind of operation within organized Christianity has the draw back of limiting our spiritual growth, and hindering psychological growth as well. It forces conformity to one pre-conceived view-point on the doctrine of God under the umbrella of perceived authority. As I read through the Bible and really take the time to study the message of Christ I do not see this as an intended outcome. Christ came to preach his gospel in the hopes of lifting people spiritually not to tie them down to one spiritual world view. In fact there is not a single documented case of Christ acting to discipline the sinner himself, or any of his followers. Punishment for sin is very much and Old testament structure of religion. Despite this it is often practiced within the realms of organized religion which seems oblivious to this reality, all the while claiming to be following Christs teachings.
The woman taken in Adultery is a very good example of how Christ would have us deal with and manage those who have committed serious sins. This story is recorded in John chapter 8 vs 3-11
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
Christ did not seek to have this woman punished but in fact he sought to avoid any kind of secular punishment at all. He sought to prevent the church of the day from administering the decreed punishment or discipline. His plea was simply to go and sin no more. He did not scold her but show love, compassion and mercy to her. The legacy of Christs ministry is unconditional love and compassion for all people. While he may have come to set up his new church he did not come to set up punishment for sinners. Why then do churches seek to discipline those who have sinned both real and imagined? This is not what Christ came to preach, but in fact he came to fulfill and end the practices of the law of Moses, which was a strict set of rules with pre-defined punishments for pre-defined sins. Christ did not even call for those who campaigned for his crucifixion to be ex-communicated from the church for killing their savior. Seriously think about that. How far would you have to go for Christ to have your name taken out of his kingdom? You could crucify your God, and commit adultery and yet, still not be ex-communicated from him in this world. He said believe in me, come follow me and you shall be saved, not do as I say or get out. Christ did not call for his church to judge you for your crimes or sin, real or imagined. That is not the purpose of his church. The purpose of his church is bring souls to Christ. His church was never given the authority to pass judgement and decided who can or cannot be members and yet those claiming to be Christ’s church have taken it upon themselves to be judge, jury and executioner for our crimes.
Another example we can turn to was the example of Peter. Peter denied Christ publicly 3 times.
John 18 16-17, 25-27
16 But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.
25 And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not.
26 One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him?
Despite publicly denying Christ, the promise made to him was fulfilled in Mathew 16:18
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Peter became the first Bishop Of Rome and the First Catholic Pope. The leader of the church of Christ, at least at that point in history. Later he was crucified upside down in 64 A.D. Peter who had denied Christs publicly 3 times, was Christ’s chosen leader of his church upon his death. While I am not Catholic, I Do believe the Catholic church at the time of Peter was Christs church with all his authority and power bestowed upon its leadership.
If a man who can do such a thing as publicly deny Christ cannot be kicked out of his church, but rather still become its leader, then why do churches take it upon themselves to exercise judgment and administer punishment against those who are perceived as sinning in much less serious sins?
How then should churches deal with those who have committed sins, real or imagined, serious or minor? Perhaps they should take a lesson from Christ himself. Show compassion and tell the sinner “go and sin no more.”
How should the churches deal with those that question the doctrine? Again we can refer to Christ examples. Provide answers and help those who question seek an understanding. Don’t demand conformity and threaten ex-communication for non-compliance. You can’t expect people to really change their doubts, thoughts and questions even if you manage to silence them, by threats and manipulation. The only result from such action will be to strengthen a growing belief that the church is wrong, lying, hiding truths, and not led by God at all. It shows that they are fearful of the truth that may be discovered. A church built upon the bedrock of truth will survive any questioning for the honest seeker of truth.
The God I believe in is not about manipulation and control of the person but about helping us become the best people we can be. My God is about helping me grow in my own spirituality. My God is about confirming truths, revealing truths, and providing answers to the honest seekers of truth and understanding. Christ came to administer his doctrine and made it clear that final judgment would be reserved for after this life. Not during this life. Christ did not come to pick and choose who would be part of his kingdom in this life, nor did he come to give such authority to his leaders whom he chose during his ministry. Christ came to invite all to join him and accept his gospel. Those who obey his law will be judge accordingly, but they will not be judged in this life. Christs welcomes all without exception.
And that is the gospel according to Andrew