The Punishment of Sinners

I must admit, it would be nice if the recent dust-up at the University of Toledo were really about what everyone thinks it to be about. Ask those involved and the suspension of Ms. Crystal Dixon for contesting a comparison between homosexuality on the one hand and being black or handicapped on the other hand is supposed to be about whether homosexual expression is in keeping with what is natural and right. Like its closely related social issue—the non/reproductive rights of women—the pundits would have us believe that the immediate debate is about the basic, brute facts found in natural law. There is good reason for that: everyone knows that when hammering out that which is common to all people we must appeal to the natural law we all live by and not make religious reference to that which only a few do. Yet a western Christendom that conflates all that has made it all but impossible to have that kind of conversation. To wit, Ms. Dixon’s stated reasoning.

 

Admittedly, and so as not to be vulnerable to overstatement or unfairness, some of it may be and sometimes is about what it should be. But the flap at Toledo is more about something else. It is really about the social, cultural, moral, institutional and political punishment of a particular class of sexual sinners. Just like their war against the sexually deviant behavior of women is cast as a noble project to protect the unborn, the ignoble pursuit against homosexuals is spun as an effort to “take a stand for truth.” In the end, draped in the obnoxious language and spirit of a militaristic activism, it becomes quite clear that whatever else any of these efforts may be in their complexity they are most assuredly about being unequivocal that there are specific classes of sinners who need to be roundly put in their place outside the camp. One tell-tale sign that this is less an honest discussion about anything in natural law and more about a moralized politics and politicized religion is that it is not enough to personally disagree with the systemic foibles of institution and press forward like the rest of us trolls. No, that is for the weak-willed and under-class; the truly pious will “take a stand for truth” and do things like sacrifice livelihood. And, voila, out pops something about Dixon being a heroine.

 

The problem with the kind of conservative Christianity Dixon represents is that often times it is neither, or at least not nearly conservative enough. For example, from Dixon ‘s statement one gets a fairly clear insight into broad, conservative Evangelical sub-culture.  Fraught with the doctrines of decisionism and a hard leaning on popular theological sentiment, her viewpoint relies heavily on a typically less-than-Calvinistic theology. She claims that, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” While it has to be in order to press a thinly veiled hostility against certain sinners and pour contempt with a smile, that isn’t true. God really does hate sinners. Sinners are whom God sends, in body and soul, to eternal damnation—not their surgically removed abstraction called sin. The problem for the likes of Ms. Dixon is that one won’t find her theology in the Bible anymore than one will find American colloquialisms like “cleanliness is next to godliness.” One will find a theology that teaches God is no respecter of men, for all have fallen short of the glory of God, there is no one righteous, not even one.  And to this Augustinian-Calvinist’s dismay, she is quite rehearsed in the doctrines of restorationism. She is also obviously seduced by the dictums of transformationalism, the fashionable go-to teaching that replaces the biblical doctrines of sanctification which fabricates a fantastical stop-over between sanctification and glorification. From a conservative Christian point of view, she is less a heroine and more an absolute disaster.

 

If this is really more about the punishment of sinners, then to defend Ms. Dixon is really to defend much of what is wrong in American religion—which is counter-intuitive to what a real religious conservatism is about.  It is unfortunate the way in which citizens of heaven, as citizens of heaven, have accepted the assumption that the gospel has natural friends and enemies. But the gospel isn’t found in nature, thus it cannot have anything but enemies until God, radically, makes them friends by grace alone. That friendship has absolutely nothing to do with the interests of men, including that coveted American idol called civil rights. Despite what most American religionists with sympathies to any ideological paradigm presume, the Host of heaven’s concern is neither who is afforded civil rights nor who isn’t.   In other words, it is about gospel and not law.

 

Those better versed in the Bible know it is the unspoken message that is the point.  The real tragedy is that the meta-message from Ms. Dixon and her defenders is that what really matters to certain citizens of heaven are more this-worldly concerns—like whether certain sinners do or don’t get civil rights protection—and less otherworldly—like the notion that all sinners are sought by God for heavenly citizenship. Talk about missing the point.

 

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6 Responses to The Punishment of Sinners

  1. sean says:

    Well. I’m pretty unfamiliar with the situation at Toledo. However, from a civil-rights perspective this discussion needs to be hashed out. Interestingly enough Mrs. Dixon’s tack while being wrong-headed, old-line princeton wise, might be quite in line with american constitutional language if we’re going to base the discussion on “certain inalienable rights endowed to them by their creator.” Of course, that leads to an even more uncomfortable discussion within the conservative religious community as to the possible “overt- parochialism” found even in our deistic founders and maybe we need to push for a greater divide than what our forefathers imagined.

    I’ll let you have that discussion with the Dobsonites, zionists and just your basic run-of-the -mill american civil religionist. It just got lonelier out here in the outhouse.

  2. Zrim says:

    Sean,

    I have no problem with the issue being hashed out. There is most certainly a place for law. But why is that the stated business of the citizens of heaven? The citizens of heaven should be known for the business of gospel, not law.

    Christians should be wary of getting involved in these discussions at a public level. It is not that they can’t get involved, it’s how that matters. I don’t think the large majority of American religionists, especially of the Christian persuasion, has the first clue how to distinguish the “that” from the “how” and “why” and “at what cost” in these sorts of matters. I think they want to be judged by history as cultural heroes one way or another; they want to be able to draw a direct line from Xianity to one set or another of cultural-social-moral-political values. the siren song of relevancy is not only potent but also cuts across lines of the ignoble (how to reach consumers) to the more noble (race relations and the stuff of civil rights, etc.).

    Lonelier in the OH? Probably…but more TP for me.

  3. sean says:

    Zrim,

    I don’t think I disagree with you, as much as, believing this is an impossible conversation to have and even when you have it, it may be that Dixon’s take is more american than not, both on a constitutional level, sans the gospel transformation, and on a popular level ( yuppies, cowboys, soccer moms, dinks, et al). So, you’re not only left disagreeing the transformationists/constantinians, but the natural religionists who while they don’t necessarily wan’t to criminalize or ostracize the “alternatives” they don’t REALLY want them moving in next door. The liberal platitudes and genuflecting seem to go only as far as the pontificating. Maybe they’ll make room for the Andrew Sullivan’s…………maybe.

    I hear you on the “that” fm the “how” and “why” etc. I just think it’s interesting that for all her misunderstanding ecclesiastically much less theologically she’s probably more in line with run-of-the mill americans with her “creator intentions” than not.

  4. Zrim says:

    Sean,

    Yes, and I am likely one of them. I am also one who has conventionally conservative views when the conversation about reproductive non/rights comes up (of course, I also think that conversation, by and large, is misguided and doomed to constant failure because it is more a “who gets to decide” than a “may she/mayn’t she” question…but nobody cares about that…maybe I need to hold a rally…nah, that would undo my whole point). My sense is that many who also hold similar, conservative views are fairly unaware of how they have also inherited a desire to simply punish sinners. Can they fathom actually losing this battle, or is that enough to make their stomachs turn?

    And this is my point: despite the fact that I may very likely agree on the merits of the immediate discussion, these discussions are really never about any of that. They are about other, peripheral and distracting things. Instead of being known for making sinners friends of God, citizens of heaven are known for pushing this agenda or that, soft or hard. They are known for law, not gospel.

    I’d rather defend one who had his head lopped off for the gospel than another who lost his job because he wanted to make sure homosexuals didn’t get any civil rights. Robert Gagnon is an example of “smart people who don’t use their head.”

  5. sean says:

    “And this is my point: despite the fact that I may very likely agree on the merits of the immediate discussion, these discussions are really never about any of that. They are about other, peripheral and distracting things. Instead of being known for making sinners friends of God, citizens of heaven are known for pushing this agenda or that, soft or hard. They are known for law, not gospel.”

    No question. Like I said it gets lonelier out here all the time. I’m off to the land of the union jack to compel in person my people’s release. Another irishman declaring to his english lord to “let my people go” or something maybe not so noble. “Free the seven” 🙂

  6. Zrim says:

    I can hear the wind blowing through the cracks through the day and the crickets chirping at night.

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