The Scarlet Letter

Since the inception of the 4thdayletters I have tried to write about the issues that we as Christians of all denominations agree on. The recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage does not fall into that category. Christians are split on their reactions to this issue. The issue that has caught my attention is the vitriolic tone that many Christians have used towards those who disagree with them. Today I want to address that tone.

Whether the topic is the sanctity of marriage or homosexuality itself, it seems everyone has deeply held beliefs. Christians and non-Christians, heterosexuals and homosexuals are all speaking up about these issues. Everyone has an opinion. Emotions are running deep. With such strongly held opinions on both sides of this issue, many times what is said ends up being hurtful.

I will leave it up to the other pundits and theologians to address the ruling itself; this is not the place for that. What I want to address is the TONE of how we say things. Haven’t we all heard the expression it’s not what you say…’s how you say it that matters?

When you combine the lightening rod issues of homosexuality and the Christian view of marriage together you have a tinder box ripe for explosion. Some Christians love and accept homosexual people but still oppose allowing them to get married. Some Christians simply condemn homosexuals. Still other Christians are in a faith quandary on this issue, as they try to balance a Christ like love for homosexual people against the Biblical understanding that homosexuality is sinful.

One thing I can say with some degree of certainty is that most, if not all Christians would prefer to have the spotlight on the sins of others rather than on their own sins. Sadly people love to speak out about other people’s sins.

Clearly we can all recite by heart Luke 6:42:

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”

We all know this verse but do we take this Biblical exhortation seriously? It seems to me that certain sins are more public in nature. Certainly when sinfulness is also a civil crime like murder, theft, rape, pedophilia, or hate crimes to name a few, those sins and the person who committed them are thrust into the spotlight. Their sinfulness and their crimes become news items or worse they become a feeding frenzy for the general public to feast upon every salacious morsel.

It often seems that if the person who committed those crimes happens to be a Christian they are destined to be doubly condemned. The non-Christian progressives love to feed on these stories which depict a fallen Christian while at the same time other Christians are quick to throw their sinful brother or sister who committed the wrong under the bus.

For millennia sexual sins have risen to the top of the list of public sins, sadly even more so than murder. Our sexual expressions were meant to be private, something to be kept in the bedroom as it were, but woe to that poor individual whose sexual sins become known to others. It only takes someone’s sexual sins to spice up the rumor mill. Gossip goes into high gear with sexual sins.

We all know the whispers. “Did you know that Jane and Charlie’s 15 year old daughter is pregnant, I heard that Billy Smith did it?” “Someone told me Johnny Brown is addicted to pornography?” “Have you heard about the congressman who exposed himself?” “Did you know that Steve and Michelle’s son is gay?” “I’ve been told that Linda’s husband is sleeping around.” This list of salacious gossip goes on and on.

Boy oh boy how we love to talk about someone else’s sins. What does the Bible have to say about this?

Proverbs 13:3 says, “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”

James 5:9 says, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”

Proverbs 26:30 tells us, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.”

Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”

In 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the famous book, THE SCARLET LETTER. Set inPuritan Boston, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century the story is about Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. After being found guilty of adultery she is required to wear a scarlet “A” (“A” standing for adulterer) on her dress to shame her. She must stand on the scaffold for three hours, to be exposed to public humiliation.

Are we still living in a time when someone guilty of public sinfulness must be shamed, while those who sin in secret go unnoticed? Because our sins may be less noticeable than those of a homosexual do we get a pass?

Okay, I can already hear the backlash. Someone will write me to say: “Brian you just don’t see the big picture. This Gay Marriage and homosexual acceptance among Christians is the chief sign of the moral decay of society today.” Please don’t miss my point, I am simply encouraging love rather than rancor when any of us enters into this public debate.

Let me ask you a few questions. Do you honestly believe that the church is a refuge for sinners? Would anyone of us want to have our sins publicized, of course not? Should we only admit the ones who keep their sins to themselves? When we speak up about these issues, are we more concerned about the reputation of the church or the salvation of the sinner?

Allow me to ask this question. Are sins of commission worse than sins of omission? What teachings of Jesus do we purposefully omit to follow? Ask yourself:

  1. When did I last help to feed the hungry……. I mean really help not just send money?
  2. Have I ever visited anyone in prison?
  3. What have I done personally to clothe the naked?
  4. Do I love my neighbor as myself?

Of course this list could go on and on. What about these sins:

  1. Have I coveted my neighbor’s goods, because they have more than me?
  2. Have I lied?
  3. Have Icheated anyone?
  4. Have I ever taken something from my work place to use for my personal benefit?
  5. Have I ever “fudged a little” on my tax return?
  6. Do I hold resentment or lack of forgiveness towards someone?
  7. Do I hate anyone?
  8. Do I put God above all else in my life? (Wealth, status, success, etc.)

As I stated earlier as long as our focus remains on homosexuality or the recent rights that the Supreme Court has granted them, then we have that much less time to focus on what we ourselves are doing wrong. It seems to me that many are willing to speak out against these issues just as long as their own sinfulness does not make it to the light of day. Heaven forbid that our sins become known and we become the scandalous one.

Am I saying that we should not speak up; no I am not? Am I am saying all sin is relative and that there is no truth or right and wrong; no I am not. Am I saying we can’t have public discourse on this issue, no? What I am saying is this is a wonderful time to demonstrate a true compassionate Christ-like response, no matter which side of this issue you are on, and let others see how Christians can take a firm stand for something without losing sight of the command to love our brother as God loves us.

I am simply trying to bring our conscience to bear on the reality that we, my friends, are all sinners and that our fellow human beings who happen to be both Christian and homosexual are sinners too. Thank God that Jesus came to die for all of our sins.

I read once that one of the reasons so many Christians love to speak out publicly against homosexuality is because it is only one of few sins that most Christians have not committed so it is safe to cast aspersions towards homosexuals without self-condemnation at the same time.

This song and movie clip from HAPER VALLEY P.T.A clearly depicts what happens when we point out someone else’s sin without first acknowledging our own. Click here to listen.

I am hoping that as we respond to this public debate, we can learn from the example set by the tax collector. In this dialog the Pharisee is convinced of his righteousness so listen to the TONE in which he expresses himself.

“The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity-greedy, dishonest, adulterous-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.”

Now contrast his condemning TONE to that of the tax collector.

“But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

We should not be surprised by Jesus’ response: “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In conclusion, if you choose to enter the public discourse on this topic, let your words reflect the presence of Christ in you. Here is what a pastor and dear friend recently shared with me. He told me that we can’t let Luke’s reminder about having a beam in our eye, prevent us from pointing out the splinter in our brother’s eye. He explained to me that Luke is merely cautioning us to remember that we do in fact have a beam in our eye so we should proceed with the utmost caution as we apply the tweezers of faith to pull the splinter of sin from our brother’s eye.

It is important as Christians to speak out on important public issue, let’s just commit ourselves to do so with love!


Brian Pusateri
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