House for All Sinners and Saints

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    I am the mission developer for House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Check out our site for more info.

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Thoughtful. Will have more later. In the meantime, one thought: why is it that the sexual sins are the ones we are supposed to take oaths about (not coveting the Prius)? Are they worse sins, or is it something about them that is inherently more faith-shaking to others, or is it something about our culture? (or or something else entirely?)

exactly. In our culture, infidelity is so damaging to everyone, so I guess for that reason it's deemed a "worse sin" than others. Despite all the talk about " a sin is a sin is a sin is a sin", that's kind of bullshit isn't it? Which brings me back to the original post about how the things we do harm ourselves and others and perhaps the sins that are more harmful to others are the ones that clergy can't really get away with. Even if we confess and change course and try and make it right with those we harmed...this is more of an option for gossiping or white lies than say, embezzelment or audultery. Maybe there are the little sins that everyone commits, like lieing or being manipulative and since we all do it we are more apt to allow our clergy to do it too (although one could argue that this isn't true), but if someone commits adultery or theft, then this is more of a deep moral flaw which IS WHO SOMEONE IS on a certain level, not just what they do, and they lose the trust of their church.
So there are a few issues:
1. When we equate sin only with certain behaviors then we miss the fact that we are really all broken and centered on self and deeply in need of God. Even those who manage to not commit the "big" sins.
2. While we claim that no one is free from sin, we still expect those we trust to not commit the "big" ones, they must be free from those.
3. Commiting the "big" sins makes you more than just a run of the mill sinner, it makes you a Sinner with a capital S. And we want our clergy to be sinners and not Sinners.
4. Is it possible that clergy become Sinners because they are not allowed or do not allow themselves to be honest about being sinners?

I'm not saying that this isn't the way it should be, just that this seems to me to be the way it is and we should be saying so and not claiming that a sin is a sin is a sin when we don't really believe that.

i think we should just be honest and call it what it is--we have elevated certain sins above others. sin is not sin in the eyes of the "church." the sexual ones are the big ones and get way more bang for their buck. and it is what creates so much hiding. i have seen very few churches respond properly to issues of sin in their pastors/leaders. the current methodology usually includes getting "sent out" for a while to some kind of program where you get quickly healed, and if you can say all the right words to make everyone happy you get let back in. or, they get kicked out to fend for themselves, out of the community they have been a part of for a chunk of their lives, to figure it out on their own while the rest of the church forgets about them and their family and carries on like it never happened. then they quickly begins looking for their next morally pure leader who will "save the day" for the church. we have this really messed up savior mentality for our church leaders that i believe is insidious and often so subtle. there's this underpinning that "if we tolerate sin then we are giving people a mixed message." what happened to the message of Jesus when he said "let he who is without sin cast the first stone?" a few years ago i knew of a single woman who was a receptionist for a supposedly progressive church. she got pregnant and LOST HER JOB. i couldn't believe it, honestly. that was the churches response to her decision to keep her baby & be honest about her real life. she came to them with a repentant heart and needed her community to stand alongside her, journey with her during one of the most difficult seasons of her life. instead they ditched her, left her without an income or her dignity because of a moral code in the employee handbook. i was furious. no one wanted to admit it but let's face it, she is no different from most of us. she actually was just further along because she was at least honest & had a soft heart. and instead of receiving love & grace she got cast out. i remember someone asking me, "so what are we supposed to do, just say it's no big deal?" and i'm like "do you not freaking think it's no big deal to her? now she has to figure out how to raise this baby on her own and she has enough shame without you heaping any more on her! the only culture you are now perpetuating is a culture of fear & hiding." it was so telling. and so typical. now, as a pastor in a faith community that is brutally honest i am grateful that i don't need to hide. but at the same time, i am more painfully aware how sometimes it is really difficult for people to hear how much the "pastors" really struggle as people on the same journey as everyone else. i think consciously most would say "yeah, i don't want to put my pastor on a pedestal, i want them to be honest & real" but i think unconsciously people long for a victory gospel, where they hear from leaders who have their shit together and don't struggle as much as the average person. i could be wrong, i know in my heart honesty & truth is the way to go and i will fight to create a culture where it is lived out, i am just suggesting it's not always popular. why are so many churches packed with people who have their leaders elevated to positions next to God in their heads? my guess it isn't because those people are openly admitting sin all the time.

Why are the big sins -- adultery and theft are the examples you give and only one of those gets you kicked out of ministry-- WHO SOMEONE IS? We are not our sins. But we all are sinners. Sex just makes us queasier. If God lived by the same rules as the church, a lot of Biblical leaders would have been out of a job. And out of our holy text. They are in there, though, because even the big sins (murder -- Moses; rape and murder -- David ... make your own list) are redeemable. God makes all things new. Period. Interestingly, even murder (or war-mongering) do not get one kicked out of ministry. Just sex. Go figure.

As to forgiveness, my experience during a period of my life when my sin (and sins) was (were) most obvious to me was that when I asked God for forgiveness, it was sort of like the slate being wiped clean, but I would describe it more as God seeing who I was and that there was absolutely no judgment. It was an interesting spiritual experience for me, because I was certainly judging myself quite harshly and theologically, while I don't think of God as judgmental, I do think of God as, well, saddened by our sin. And I didn't get that at all when I went to God in repentence. I got God seeing the whole package, beginning to end (which I can't yet see) and seeing that particular part of my history as just that. Part of my story. A redeemable, usable part of my story.

Did I still need to be repentent? Absolutely. Did I need to make amends? For sure. But that was my work, not God's. God loved. That was God's work.

LJ,
I guess I'm trying to get at the distance between what we say and what we do in terms of sin and forgiveness in the church.
Most folks say that we all sin, but then they don't want a pastor who is addicted to internet porn or who has a gamling habit. I understand why.
I think we are all simultaniously sinner and saint. I just think that while this is true, one doesn't get off the hook as a leader just becuase we are all sinners. So much behavior which is hurtful to us and others stems from trying to get needs met in ways that are unhealthy. The more honest we can be about this the better and I think the less likely we are to do these unhealthy things. When I worked with HIV + drug users we had a program called "harm reduction". Rather than total abstinence from drugs and alcohol being the only option, we encouraged them to make choices that reduced the amount of harm they did themselves and others. Most of them would never give up chemicals entirely, but were able to drink rather than shoot dope, or were able to only shoot up once a day rather than 3 times. If we are in a state of sin and cannot be totally free from it, then is there such a program for us too? When we say a sin is a sin is a sin we ignore the very real harm that some sins cause as opposed to others. If being free from sin is not possible, then we should try and reduce harm if nothing else.
I suspect that in reality a lot of folks think that we really can be free from sin, at least pastors can and because of this pastors feel they have to live up to it and rather than being forthright about their struggles which by doing so might allow them to avoid doing massive harm, they repress that shit and it seeps out in really harmful and incidious ways.

Obviously I'm still working these ideas out, so keep the comments coming!

SL, Thanks for your response. I have more thoughts on the subject, but I have to interrupt this deep theology to tag you. Sorry, but I don't actually read that many blogs, so you're on my list. (Since I can't link it here, it's my site which I think is linked in my name).

this one is tough--because it is true, no one including pastors can be perfect. As to Ted Haggard, it is hard for me to imagine what he experienced having created such a vivid persona and having acquired such material comfort and power, and yet still feeling desires which did not match the persona and are not supported in the culture at large. Mind you, I think he had many choices other than those he has made; and I do think that the money and power and the adulation that came his way may have added some sense of entitlement to whatever mix of pressures he lived in. I feel for his wife and family and for the church which was deceived. But--COULD he have said, from the pulpit, that he was coming out as a gay man? I don't think that community was ready for that kind of modeling. And, a pastor who has an active addiction? I am not sure that can really work, given that when addiction is active and has been for a long time, one of its characteristics is a sort of deadly curving in upon self that erodes the capacity for relationship.
I do know there are pastors who discount the notion of pastoral power and despise the "role" because of their feeling that the role of pastor removes them from community, and I wonder if this is a bit of what you are talking about. I like the idea of transparency as long as that is not used in a manipulative way to actually remove accountability; I think that knowing a pastor is human can be huge, and I think that a pastor who models not only humanness but need for support and the willingness to seek it appropriately can be very transforming. Sorry for the rambling, my brain is not working!

As the new bishop-elect said at our synod assembly: "Jesus had a lot to say about [two-car families living in 3500 sq. ft. homes]--Jesus didn't have that much to say about sex, but he said a lot about serving the poor and being willing to give up material possessions."

I think the reason we call sexual sins "The Big Sins" is that it is, in the scheme of things, pretty easy for most people to point their fingers. I think what you may be getting at, SL, is that we in the church often confuse the character traits of leadership with lack of those big sins. Sure, I don't want my pastor to be addicted to gambling or exploiting others for sex, but not because those are somehow worse sins, but because people need to be able to vulnerable with their spiritual counselor without fear of being taken advantage of.

On the other hand, the character traits of leadership must obviously still allow for the leader to be a sinner. I am grateful in an oblique way that my current pastor went through a divorce some years ago. It adds a depth and humility to his counsel that I have never experienced before, even with a trusted friend. Dare I call it Christlike?

I'm not saying anything you haven't already said, but I wanted to add my two cents.

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