Christians: How ’bout crackdowns on gossip, greed?

I don’t mean to stereotype, but I went to an evangelical Christian church (not in Reno) this summer, and it was just as selectively judgmental as I’d remembered from the 20-odd years I spent attending.

It was a holiday weekend, and attendance was sparse. The usual preacher was on vacation, so a youth minister sermonized on the perils of moral relativism as manifested in abortion, homosexuality and the teaching of evolution in schools.

I took notes.

The service began with a video showing footage of U.S. troops doing good things and helping people. That’s cool. U.S. soldiers do good things and help. Not shown were images of slain civilians, Guantanamo hunger strikes and Abu Ghraib. After this, parishioners sang, “America the Beautiful.” I joined in. No one appreciates purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain more than I. As for God shedding His grace on we? I’m fully in favor.

Then we prayed for the troops. My bile rose when the song leader reminded God that our soldiers are “fighting for America and what’s right.”

I’m sure he believes America is synonymous with good and godly. But what about torturing prisoners who’ve not been tried or found guilty of a crime, or the accidental deaths of women and children who’ve gotten in the way of our bullets, our bombs? I can’t find the part of the Bible that promotes unquestioning nationalism as part of God’s plan.

The sermon itself was based on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, written around 58 A.D. Paul starts his letter with warm greetings then fiercely cuts to the chase: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

The key word: Truth. Christians (in this pastor’s case, that means fundamentalists, who believe the “right” things about baptism, communion, the deity of Jesus and the One True Path to Heaven) have exclusive rights to truth. Truth is truth. Sin is sin. God is not a politically correct deity. God demands our intolerance—for sin! And yet, the preacher lamented, the prevailing message in the liberal media and liberal schools is just the opposite—acceptance. Moral ambiguity.

As long as sin resides in the world, the preacher continued, there will be “truth suppressors.” Truth suppressors make “clever arguments” that abortion is OK, evolution is fact, and homosexuality is just another lifestyle choice. Living these lies causes people to turn to drugs, sex and alcohol.

The minister railed against the “intellectual elite,” citing Paul: “Professing to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”

That last bit? Obviously a reference to the truth-suppressing evolutionists.

If you’ve read Romans, you know that next comes the much-quoted bit—"men with men committing indecent acts.” That’s a favorite evangelical argument against gays. But keep reading and the definition of sinner expands to include, well, just about everyone: “Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips.” (Emphasis mine.)

It seems to me that evangelicals continue to focus on a few icky sins while excluding vast quantities of naughtiness. What would happen if Christians were equally judgmental about all bad behavior? It’s possible that blind acceptance of capitalism would give way to demands for corporate accountability in order to combat greed. Perhaps a constitutional amendment could stop gossips from getting married and reproducing. And forget flag burning; how about a crack down on envy?

After all, sin is sin.