Some Sins Are More Equal Than Others


I used to hate that I didn’t have a “good” testimony. I didn’t have an abusive family. I didn’t have a sketchy sexual history. I didn’t have a drug addiction. I had a loving family, a fairly chaste past, and aside from a few drunken parties in college, didn’t really do anything that made me want to hang my head in shame.

And that was kind of disappointing. I mean, life is kind of boring if you never really got saved from anything.

But if I’m really honest, I was pretty smug about all of that, too.

Sure, I wasn’t perfect. I sinned, just like everyone else. But I knew that my sins weren’t all that bad. It’s not all that hard to admit pride or jealousy. They aren’t pretty, but no one gets kicked out of church for wishing they had better blog stats than another writer. 

Then I went and sinned in a kind of spectacular and public fashion. This wasn’t one of those sins that just gets overlooked, this was an epic fuck-up. Literally.

We often like to talk about how all sins are equal. The person who doesn’t return extra change in the drive-thru is exactly the same as the serial killer. That feels all squishy and lovely. Those who haven’t really done anything wrong can feel very generous because look! My pride is the same as your Very Bad Sin ™. I know this is at least a little bit true because honey, that was me. And I feel pretty confident that I’m not the only one. I could “there but for the grace of God” with the best of them.

But when the grace of God apparently gives out and you cross over from acceptable sin to unacceptable sin, the previous talk about how it’s all alike doesn’t ring as true. Real sin has consequences in a way that other sin doesn’t. Real sin requires repentance in a way that other sin doesn’t. Real sin needs to be shamed and brought before the public square for examination to figure out just what we’re going to do with it, unless it is deemed too awful to even do that and we just ship you off somewhere else and let THEM deal with it.

I don’t want to make light of how devastating some sins can be to a Church community. It’s absolutely true that a pastor abusing children is something that requires a different kind of response than a gossipy church secretary. A worship leader and keyboard player having an affair can leave a mark on a church in a different way than a member of the church who is selfish with his money.

Recognizing these discrepancies is not what bothers me. What I find frustrating is when we Jesus-up our responses to some sins while letting others slide. 

We are allowed to have human responses to sin. We are allowed to be angry or hurt or uncomfortable or disgusted. We might be Christians, but we’re people too and when someone breaks trust, it will affect our relationship with that person. We may not like how we feel when it doesn’t line up with how we’re supposed to feel, but here’s the thing. I think we damage our message of forgiveness and love when we couch our understandable human responses to only some behavior in Christian-y language.

When we deny our own humanity, we end up denying the humanity of others. It’s much more difficult for me to see you as a person with feelings if I have to ignore my own feelings.

Accepting our own emotional responses forces us to admit that our Christian walk isn’t as okay as we might think. If I say I am praying about how to respond when I really just want to be angry at you for a while, I still get to be more Christian than you. If I say that you’re unrepentant when I am just annoyed that you didn’t reach the same conclusion as me, I can feel more self-righteous in my indignation. Any time that I use Christianese to justify my own human reaction, it allows me to focus on your sin and ignore my own.

While that may not get included tearful testimonies, it’s still something that can hurt and divide just as much as some of the real sins, so maybe it should be.

7 thoughts on “Some Sins Are More Equal Than Others

  1. Actually, the idea that all sins are equal is one of the few Christian teachings that I find completely incomprehensible. There are plenty that I disagree with, of course, but that one seems to me wholly at odds with observable reality and human behavior, even among the Christians who claim to believe it and try to practice it. The only way I can make it into any kind of sense is if I take it as a hyperbolic way of saying, “don’t let comparing sins distract you from important things.” I cannot imagine any literal sense in which looking at someone with lust is morally equivalent to sleeping with them.

  2. First of all, I think you are very brave in sharing your story. Secondly, I converted to Catholicism about 10 years ago, and we have venial sins and mortal sins. Even Jesus said that there will be degrees of judgment in heaven. So, I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. Very sobering.

  3. If you let God control you and not you controlling your life then I think you will be able to live righteous and holy. God says, in 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

  4. Alise, I believe that sin is nothing more or less than hurting ourselves and other people. Therefore, the seriousness of the ‘sin’ depends on the degree, and the consequences, of the hurt we cause, and there are great difference in those results; they are not the same.

  5. If sin is something that causes separation from that which we consider Holy, surely there are degrees of separation and therefore greater distances to travel to feel once again fully embraced by that Holy presence. The idea of sin being sin, for me, is the notion that we all sin, so just because my neighbor robbed a bank and I only took a box of pens from work, that does not make me morally superior.

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