We Don’t Get to Heaven on Someone Else’s Sins (COMMENTARY)

MomanyA friend of mine used to say, “You don’t get to heaven on someone else’s sins.” I can’t identify the original source of the statement, but it will certainly preach. My heart is perpetually tempted to construct a sense of self from someone else’s flaws. The political climate has turned this propensity into a fine art. Our culture is lousy with the dynamic. And the church, sadly, has fallen into this pattern. If I can hammer (even mischaracterize) my opponent, I have somehow vindicated my position – perhaps even my very self.

United Methodism has been rent by the practice in recent times, though I realize that it has always been present. I will resist naming specific incidents, because it hardly seems helpful to invite more finger pointing. I also realize that my approach will strike some as vague. If I have a gripe against the way someone has been treated, why not come out with it? Here is why. Mentioning one of the many situations is like pointing to a single star in the clear night sky. Moreover, we can always commiserate when one of our own is attacked. Owning the way this behavior is spread across the ideological spectrum comes much harder.

Some of the nastiness might be attributed to the rise of social media. Snarky Facebook memes and dismissive slogans have replaced the intentional and thoughtful meeting of each other in sacred space. Yet blaming technology is too easy. After all, technology by definition is simply a tool. It is an instrument to leverage our desires and dislikes. When we treat technology as an end in itself, we can slide into treating one another as mere means to an end. That is probably why electronic media (including responses to opinion pieces) often host the labeling and stereotyping of each other. Another friend of mine used to say that “labels” are “libels.” We engage in disrespect when we hang descriptions on one another. Philosophers would call it “objectification,” the treating of dynamic subjects and moral agents as objects, as things.

I have done it, and I am not proud of the fact. Oh, I could say that I’ve done it less than someone else, but then again, there is that insight about not attempting to justify myself by pointing to the faults in others. Some of us may be perfectly comfortable living inside the descriptor “liberal” or “conservative,” “traditional” or “progressive,” “post-liberal” or “post-evangelical” or any of an almost infinite number of labels. Many of us are not. This does not mean that people of faith should avoid strong conviction or principled articulation of views. It does mean that we might find a better way if we refrain from attacking the person of each other. Let’s be honest. Too much nastiness has been nothing more than ill-conceived rant in various echo chambers. We should not try to rationalize this phenomenon by saying that it is a virtue, that we are simply standing for absolutely critical positions.

We don’t “get to heaven” on someone else’s sins. We also don’t get to heaven on our merit (which we try to enhance by comparison). We enter heaven by grace through faith, and then – in gratitude – we are empowered to love. That is our theological tradition – which leads me to conclude that much of our brokenness and bad behavior can be traced to bad (even lazy) theology. I feel a bit uncomfortable making such an indictment after contemplating the environment of condemnation we have created. But I say this with reference to practice, not personhood. We are better, more precious, than the reactive behavior that has taken over. Praise God who entered history to save us from each other and perhaps, most of all, from ourselves. Let’s help each other cling to that hope and move past the diatribe which masks comparative insecurities.

Chris Momany, UMR Columnist

Chris Momany

Chris Momany has been chaplain and director of church relations at Adrian College since 1996 and has taught in the Department of Philosophy/Religion since 1998. He is an ordained United Methodist minister, and a graduate of Adrian College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Drew University. His academic interests focus on Christian ethics and philosophy. He has been published in the Christian Century, the Wesleyan Theological Journal, The Asbury Theological Journal, the Circuit Rider magazine, the United Methodist Reporter, and other venues. Chris also writes for the Daily Bible Study curriculum of the United Methodist Publishing House and for MinistryMatters, an online ministry resource. His book on the Wesleyan ethic of love and justice bears the title, Doing Good: A Grace-Filled Approach to Holiness. Chris has led many conferences, workshops, and continuing education events. For several years he has combined his research and teaching with a focus on human trafficking. Today it is estimated that 27 million people are held as slaves throughout the world. Chris has been a national leader among college and church professionals in confronting this issue.

Leave a Reply

16 Comments on "We Don’t Get to Heaven on Someone Else’s Sins (COMMENTARY)"

applications-education-miscellaneous.png
The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Chris Momany, UMR Columnist
Guest
Paul: Sorry it has taken me a while to get back to this thread. Your question regarding whether or not we can interact without resort to labels gets at the heart of my reflection. I think we can, to an extent. I am willing to describe my own convictions and traditions as being this way or that, but in the end, I hope we can take the core message of the gospel and see one another through that lens. For instance, I consider myself someone raised in the mainline church who developed a substantial faith through connection with the Arminian… Read more »
Paul W.
Guest
Chris, I’m afraid you are speaking in riddles. I am familiar with many who take great delight in ridiculing and tearing down those they disagree with (they are known colloquially as “jerks”), but I don’t know anyone who believes that “they can get to heaven on the sins of others”. If you are simply issuing a call for more civility in everyone’s interactions, then, okay, but, by definition, those that don’t get it, don’t get it. (Kind of like sexual harassment training — if someone really doesn’t understand sexual harassment, they have a serious problem and training is not going… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Once again, a self-authorized false authoriteh is being asserted. If one sees the Falwells and Robertsons as legitimate heirs of Wesleyianism, there’s not much to talk about. Better we just do this schism thing now and get the infrastructure in place to get an underground railroad going to save the children of the right-wing juggernaut before it’s too late.

John
Guest

George, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson represent fundamentalist-leaning Southern Baptists. Their theology is about as Wesleyan as a trout is bovine. Why do you even suggest they have any bearing on this conversation? Have you posted to the wrong thread?

Paul W.
Guest
John, you are not the only one completely confused by George’s comment. I honestly have no clue what he’s referring to or who he thinks cares about Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson on this forum. I also have no interest in finding out since the charge is absurd — a lot of times, it’s hard to figure out where the stuff George throws out is coming from. I see George simply as a sad character who seems to believe he is somehow “saving the world” by hurling vitriol and hatred at everyone he views as being even slightly right of… Read more »
Chris Momany, UMR Columnist
Guest

Paul:
I hear you. Let me take a look at your earlier post and compose a few modest thoughts that might clarify my perspective.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Sure – pretty much all of those who are here bleating the party line over teh gheys and abortion. Good News, certainly, and the odious IRD. By their fruits we know them. For them it’s not a matter of “turning into” fundamentalists – that’s what they are. I’ve had some personal encounters with some in a former UMC Church who used the cult-witiin-the-UMC “Walk to Emmaus” thing as a vehicle to advance heterosexism and woman hatred – IOW, I’ve seen it done. You make good points about the fine distinctions of theology but that’s all immaterial when the hatred being… Read more »
John
Guest
George, you continue to bring up Falwell, Robertson, et al., as though the UMC is swarming with fundamentalist, Southern Baptists. It simply is not. There are many who hold to the five Fundamentals but are far from fundamentalist by way of the manner in which they engage scripture and the world. The Fundamentals are to fundamentalism as the Apostles Creed is to creedalism. One is a set of carefully articulated, assented beliefs; the other is an entire manner of inquiry. Ironically, fundamentalism is just as firmly rooted in modernist, rationalist, Enlightenment thought as much of progressive Christianity. Both fundamentalism and… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

People generally know about Falwell’s and Robertson’s advocacy of christifascism. I’ve simply identified their vision as the same thing. What you think of me personally matters little to me. I’m not here to make friends with those who want the UMC in the Falwell-Robertson camp.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Not at all – I’m responding to their followers here who want to see the UMC adopt their vision.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

For an alcoholic atheist jerk, the late H.L. Mencken could sure turn a phrase and one of his best was his definition of “Puritanism” as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, is happy.”

John
Guest

He also grossly mischaracterized Puritan temperament, apparently conflating it with upper-middle class Victorian “virtuous” cultural sensibilities. I suppose that phrase was one of his “best” statements of sheer ignorance.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That’s certainly true. The Puritans are all dead, but their legacy lives on in far right circles.

John
Guest

It seems that much of the Puritan legacy lives on in Christian circles; we Methodists in particular note that John Wesley was deeply shaped by the Puritanism of his pastor-grandfather Samuel Annesley, which in turn was passed on to him by his mother Susanna. The UMC, of course, brings together influences from a variety of traditions (among them Anglican, Puritan, German Pietist, Lutheran, Continental Reformed, and Eastern Orthodox). Given its Puritan heritage, is the UMC part of the “far right circles” of which you speak?

John
Guest
I’m not sure why you see Wesleyanism as holding much in common with the Enlightenment, other than Wesley’s upholding the Anglican use of Reason along with Scripture and church Tradition. To this, of course, he added Experience, which would place him more as an early Romantic rather than a product of the Enlightenment. He clearly pushed back against Enlightenment tendencies toward Deism, which denied the supernatural and miraculous. His emphasis on sanctification, whether progressive or instantaneous, had little in common with the rationalism of Enlightenment thinking. While he vehemently preached against double-predestinarian hyper-Calvinism, Wesley saw himself as but a hair’s… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Interesting point. Of course, Weslayanism has much more in common with The Enlightenment than cold porridge Calvinism. But our Congregational-UCC brothers and sisters were able to move past that sordid history and so should we,

wpDiscuz
Google+
%d bloggers like this: