Punitive punishment in response to crime is perhaps the most compelling solution offered by a story of fear. It is also the least effective solution in the context of real life. Solutions that treat people as the problem only cause shame and cement brokenness, at best preventing further overt acts of harm. If we are to seek after the life that really is life, we must treat people as the point; we must put the vast majority of our effort into responses that empower, heal, educate, restore, equip, and otherwise bring to light the gifts of our greatest and most unique asset: us. Decentering the story of fear that has gripped us as a nation and a denomination may be the single most difficult but essential step toward ending the destructive cycles we seem so intent on perpetuating.
Emotion and rationality are not different things that can be pitted against one another. Emotion is the raw material, rationality is the process by which we shape emotion into something tangible and meaningful. One can have emotion without rationality but no one can have rationality without emotion. To think otherwise is like saying you could build a sandcastle without sand. Sand is still sand even if unformed, but the process of building a castle is nothing if there is no material with which to build. Likewise, building with intentionality may lead to something more beautiful than raw sand, but the beauty of the castle always resides within the sand no matter the skill of the builder.
Disciples are formed and defined more through habits and behaviors than through beliefs and decisions. The shape of a life is capable of giving witness to the life God empowers. The content of a sentence is not. The practices that create and heal relationship are capable of embodying God’s love. The unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unknowable consequences of a choice are not.
The Bible is an extended argument over who counts as the people of God and what the implications are of that designation for our life and faith. To read the Bible as though we can simply see what is said about a particular action or belief and uphold that same view of sin and faithfulness is to undercut everything that the Bible is and does. Our goal as Christians is to embody the kind of faith-seeking-understanding that is played out in the pages of scripture – not to pull out the verses that happen to agree with what we already expect to be the case so that we can prove our list of sins or beliefs is the one, right, and everlasting truth. God’s love and relationship come first. Upon that foundation we must continuously seek the grace of God that leads to new understandings and embodiments of faithfulness.
The problem with labels is that they are both entirely insufficient to capture the reality of life and at the same time entirely necessary for us to say anything meaningful about the world.
The point is not to live “right.” The point is to live love. (Mark 2:27)
There is no list of don’ts. There is only God’s love. (Matt 22:37-40)