Has anyone noticed that the church has favorite sins? By that I don’t mean necessarily sins they like to commit, but rather sins they prefer to condemn. The ideal sin from the church’s viewpoint is one that the average member never has to worry about committing or one that if committed can be easily hidden. Sins of this type can be railed against with impunity with little risk of being caught in an obvious hypocrisy. Homosexuality is a great example. That’s one the average congregant can vociferously and dutifully condemn with little temptation to commit. Abortion would fall into this category also. Orthodox churches grow absolutely vicious in their opposition to abortion. In the midst of all this opposition, the church is conveniently shielded from any scrutiny on the subject of abortion among church members by the strict laws on privacy of health information.
Now I don’t intend to lend support to the issue of abortion on demand as a birth control option in saying this. Nor do I have any information to suggest that abortion is especially prevalent among church members. I am just making the point that abortion is an especially easy and low risk target for the institutional church. Its opposition can be propagated with a great show of righteous indignation with little chance of negative repercussions.
From the very beginning the institutional church has been especially keen to condemn human sexuality as an unbridled passion that demanded strict bridling by the church. Given the fact that the earliest church was that at Roman with its requirement for clerical celibacy, one can easily imagine that the clergy was motivated to put so much attention on constraints to sexual activity by the fact that they were denied any. Celibacy and advanced age, both marks of church leaders, are not the attributes which would make one an advocate of human sexuality, God ordained as it is.
On the other hand, the sins of omission are the least likely to be emphasized by the church. These sins are often those that demonstrate a failure to embrace Jesus’ message of altruism and unity. Instead such sins segregate and marginalize. They can often be committed while claiming to be doing what God demands. That makes them intoxicatingly attractive. Pride which expresses itself in displays of public piety, self-righteousness which generates a propensity for condemning others, and a mean spirited pettiness which alienates and denies the spirit of Christ- all of these are sins which the institutional church actually promotes.
In fact, to actually embrace the altruistic content of Jesus’ message and emphasize the same invites the church’s invective. Such emphasis will never fail to bring down epithets like “liberal” or “social gospel” or “Christianity Lite” from many church groups. It’s always easier to stay focused on the favorite sins and not get embroiled in anything that might disturb the status quo, either in the church or society at large.
The institutional church proposes to teach us how to treat God. Jesus proposed to teach us how to treat each other. Preoccupation with how to deal with God as opposed to how to deal with our fellowmen is the fallacy of institutional religion. It is what makes it seem totally irrelevant to so many.