Friday, March 11, 2005

Christian Blackmail?: Stupidity is no sin, but the Christian tradition has long held that sloth--mental as well as physical--is. The thought came to mind as I read this defense of blackmail offered by libertarian blogger Vox Popoli:

Exposing the sins of an unrepentant individual to others, far from being a wrongful act, is actually required of the church member in good standing. Since such exposure is a virtuous act under Biblical principles, it cannot and should not be viewed as something negative, much less as the basis for a crime.

Where to begin. First note that no scripture references are cited to support this rather unconventional conclusion. In fact, the New Testament denounces both the spirit of busibodiness that leads some to expose the sins of others as well as the greed that actually motivates those who engage in blackmail. This does not mean there is no time or place for "exposing the sins" of others, of course, but the underlying motive is never to be either financial gain or exposure for the sake of exposure. Consider, for instance, this passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

Notice the two main concerns of Jesus here. First, we are to focus on our own short-comings. Second, we are to turn our focus onto the sins of others only after we have first removed our own sins and then only for the purpose of helping our brother to see clearly (i.e., to help him "sin no more," as in the story of Jesus stopping the attempted stoning of the woman caught in adultery; see John 8 & especially v. 7: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." ).

Then there is the general framework for handling disputes among believers set forth in Matthew 18:

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Notice that disputes are to be worked out in private if at all possible. If that fails, then a small number of others may be brought in to help reach a resolution. Only if that step fails is the entire church to be brought in, and then the remedy is to cut ties with the person, not to cause scandal or financial harm through blackmail.

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