Thursday, April 02, 2015

Giving a good "letting alone"

1. I probably should know where this expression comes from. Maybe one of my broader family members came up with it himself--"Give them a good letting alone." My impression is that it was a shaming act. If someone was doing something they shouldn't be doing, if someone was letting sin rule in their life, you gave them a good letting alone. You avoided them. You didn't go to their house, for example.

I'm guessing it had something to do with passages like 2 Thessalonians 3:14: "Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed" (NIV).

It seems like some of the sentiment among some Christians toward being a photographer at or providing pizzas for a gay wedding comes from some similar sentiment. The train of thought seems to go something like this: "If I serve such a person in my business, I am condoning this sin." "As a matter of conviction, I must show my protest to such and such a lifestyle, person, or practice by refusing to conduct business with them."

2. Suffice it to say, I have serious questions about this line of thinking. For example:
  • It shows remnants of clean-unclean thinking that the New Testament more or less abolishes in relation to the world (though not entirely in the church).
  • It does not seem to fit the practices or trajectory of Jesus at all!
  • It does not accomplish the same purpose as shaming in the New Testament world. In fact, it's effect is quite the opposite and spiritually harmful to the person doing the shaming.
a. With regard to the first one, Paul puts this shaming practice into clear perspective in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. He is not talking about Christian engagement with the world but with sinful license in the church. And he is not picturing today's seeker-sensitive mega-church but a small house church of about 40 or 50.

Paul explicitly expects Christians to have interchange with sexually immoral people like adulterers in the world. Any comments he makes on shaming have to do with a small, tight Christian community.

You thus can't use Paul to argue to deny service in your business to someone you know for a fact is cheating on his or her spouse. Paul never expected the church to try to make the world follow Christian expectations.

b. Jesus of course ate with sinners. The Pharisees of the Gospels criticized him strongly for it. It's helpful from time to time to remind ourselves that the impulse to avoid "unclean people" was the practice of those who opposed Jesus and Paul. It was emphatically not the practice of Jesus or Paul. Indeed, it was the main reason they were hated by some.

c. Ultimately, the purpose of shaming in the New Testament is redemptive. In an honor-shame world, shaming is motivation for someone to change their behavior, to conform to the honor expectation. But it seems that most of the shaming today doesn't serve that sort of a purpose. It has the flavor of a protest rather than an attempt to reclaim. Indeed, in our day and age it probably inculcates the wrong spirit--one of vindictiveness.

3. The bottom line is that I think the "give them a letting alone" approach to sin is just plain bad theology. Sometimes it's well intentioned, no doubt. But it would seem to be another example of the Devil twisting people into doing something evil in the name of good.


Rick said...

Although I lean towards your position on this, I do think you misrepresent the position of the photographer and pizza rest. owner when you say, ""If I serve such a person in my business, I am condoning this sin."

The pizza store specifically said they would certainly serve homosexuals in the restaurant, just not provide service for a gay wedding. That is a big difference. They are simply not wanting to show support for a specific activity, and they are not trying to cut off interaction with the people. That makes this a slightly different issue: At what level of participation in an activity does it turn into (or appear to turn into) support of that activity?

Ken Schenck said...

I don't see any difference there at all. It is still a protest of sin by individuals they would consider to be in the world. 1 Corinthians 5 still applies.

Rick said...

Is it a protest of sin, or a decision to not participate in it? (by not "helping" with the wedding. They may be wrong on whether they are actually "participating", but that is where they are coming from)

That is the difference.

Rick said...

Here is a post I happened to see this afternoon that discusses this very point:

JB said...

Perhaps a stronger way to articulate the position that the photographer or restauranteur, or others like them, might hold: "If I use my creative efforts in service of such-and-such an event, I am endorsing the event; but to endorse this event would be sinful on my part."

Whatever might be the case for the line of thinking captured in your expression, I don't think the application of 1 Corinthians 5 can be wielded against this understanding of the position the photographer, restauranteur, et al., are holding. And in reading coverage of these various controversies, I think this understanding may be more plausible than the one you've imputed. I have seen no articulation of their actual rationale, nor defense of their presumed rationale, that describes the motive being to shame the same-sex-partnered prospective customer(s).

And even if that's not the case, it could very well be that the position I've described would be the inner rationale for the next person to be subjected to this sort of media backlash. The question then becomes, as a national society (the state) and as a Christian community (the church), how are we going to make space for those who believe that providing these services in these instances would itself be an act of sin?

Anonymous said...

This might be a crazy conjecture but I wonder about the Christians in WW2 Germany. Would a deli shop deliver sandwiches and fresh coffee to the prison guards of Aushwitz or any other such concentration camp knowing what is going on?

Would they be considered participants in the heinous actions of the "final solution"?

I struggle with this whole issue because I tend to always side on the second greatest commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

As an ordained minister I do have the duty of not participating in the marriage ceremony itself. But serving pizzas doesn't strike me as participating in the ceremony.

My concern is that when we Christians refuse to serve pizzas or photograph gay weddings we set up a new trajectory of "Christian drinking fountains" and "Sinner drinking fountains." And that is not the Jesus way that I see in the Scriptures.

Just my meandering thought. Thanks for your insight into this matter.

Alethinon61 said...

I don't think "shaming" others has anything to do with it. If I owned a store, I wouldn't sell cigarettes because I consider smoking to be a sinful act. Shaming the smoker has absolutely nothing to do with my choice not to sell cigarettes and thereby tacitly endorse their use.

The same principle could apply to photographing a marriage between homosexuals, except that this seems to go a step further. Here you're not selling the sinful idea, but breathing in the "smoke" yourself, as it were. It isn't about shaming the sinner, but about keeping ourselves spiritually clean by not sharing in sin.

Jesus ate with sinners, but he didn't participate in their sins. He could eat with prostitutes, but surely he would have left had they began servicing clients in his company.