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Am I My Brother's Keeper? Shared Accountablity For Others' Sin


JenellYB
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My primary reference text for this purpose is Matthew ch 5:19-24. There are other passages I think support this, but for now, this text as the start point. One caveat....when you read this passage of text, keep in mind that the words "without a cause" in 5:22 were NOT an original part of this passage, was added much later by expositors, Most modern translations do exclude these words, as they are at odds with the rest of this passage as well as other passages of text in the NT. Excluding these words are important to understanding the point Jesus is making here, since vs 23-24 reveals the target of this passage IS one who has done something to anger his brother..(.. "thy brother hath ought against thee")...and it seems to indicate even if we don't think we have done anything wrong against that brother, we are still to go to him to try to work the matter our and reconcile with him.

 

I do want to make it clear, since there is another thread about "collective salvation", I am not talking about each individual's sins affecting the salvation of a collective society...instead this is a personal matter in influencing another to sin.

 

In the referenced text, Jesus first makes teaching others to break commandments, to sin, something greater than even one's own sin.

 

Next, Jesus describes as sin not only deeds, but state of mind and heart, having anger or hatred toward another.

 

Then, Jesus concludes His point by saying that one who is the object of another's anger has a responsibility to go to that brother, to try to reconcile with him, BEFORE one brings their gift to the altar.

 

To me this seems to be saying even before we give account and seek forgiveness for our own sins, we are to consider how something we've done may have influenced or in any way contributed to another person having been led into sin. In this passage, it seems to me Jesus is placing responsiblity and accounatbility for setting right our influence on another toward sin before addressing even our own sins.

 

Its easy to think of many ways in which one person could contribute to another's sin...in the OT, the error of Balaam was that when he couldn't find any sin for which to condemn Israel, he acted to teach the people false doctrines so as to induce them to commit sin before God. So by that, God held Balaam responsible and accountable for the resulting sins of the people.

 

In any way one person's behavior influences, contributes to, leads another, into sin, that one is held to an accountablity for the consequences. Certainly when someone holds a degree of power and control over another, that controlling person bears responsibility and accountablity for the sins he forces the underling into. An obvious example, sexual slavery...if someone is held in sexual slavery, forced into prostitution, it is the one that forces them that is responsible for the sin of fornication. There can be varying degrees of how one might contribute to the sin of another, anywhere from literal forced slavery, to contributing to cirsumstances in which the other chooses that sinful act as a consequence of strong influences.

 

Jenell

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Guest billmc

Hi, Jenell.

 

Wow, that is a sin-full post! :lol:

 

Good topic, though.

 

I have a couple of initial thoughts on this which spring from both my religious history and where I am now in my journey. You might know, I was raised in a very strict form of Christianity (Pentecostal Holiness). I may be exagerrating (but not by much) to say that everything was consider to be a sin. If it was at all enjoyable or felt good, it was a sin. In fact, we didn't believe in premarital sex because it could lead to the sin of dancing. :P But one thing I heard over and over again is how, not only is God and Jesus keeping tabs on all our sins, but our sins could be a "stumbling block" to others and cause them to wind up in hell. Pretty heavy stuff are far as "brother's keeper" goes. I was continually walking on spiritual egg shells.

 

I no longer view things that way (thank God). I don't at all mean to be off-putting by saying this, but I am a lousy Christian (as far as following Jesus goes) and I mess up continually. While I wish I were better at it, I think people are ultimately responsible for their *own* decisions and their *own* journies.

 

Now, just because that's how I now see it, that doesn't quite get me off the hook of responsibility. To me, one of the fallacies of pop Christianity is that it is a "personal" religion. Christians sometimes think that all sin is vertical i.e. it is between them and God. Get God to forgive your sins and you're good to go. But I think Jesus teaches (and the disciple John echoes this) that we can't compartmentalize God away from humanity (or even from the rest of creation). John says (my paraphrase), "Don't tell me you love God if you don't love others." Why? Because though we can experience God in a multiplicity of ways, our experiences of "the Divine in the other" are probably the most influencial in our day to day living. Some of the Jews of Jesus' day thought you could treat your neighbors and your enemies any way that you wanted to and as long as you were ritually clean, you're good with God. No so, says Jesus. To love God, you must love what God has made. If you can't do that, then don't profess your love for God. Though I am not a Trinitarian, the truth that the doctrine attempts to point to is that we encounter transformative divinity in humanity. Therefore, how we treat each other is paramount. It is a litmus test of the genuineness of our faith claim.

 

This doesn't mean that we have to walk on egg shells or worry about our sins sending people to hell, IMO. What it means is that we do our best to prevent willful harm to others and, if we do, make efforts at reconciliation/reparation. The key, for me, is that while my faith might be personal, it is not private. If it doesn't influence those I know for good and let them see some small smidge of God in me (despite my failures), then I need to re-examine the path that I am on.

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I don’t think too much about sin. I feel Jesus is calling his followers to radical devotion and radical dependence on God, the collective consciousness. A follower not be angry must be meek, not retaliate, and go beyond the physical to the spirit. In short, we are one among many, a unit consciousness in a collective consciousness.

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billmc: "Wow, that is a sin-full post!"

 

Lol, I'm sorry you read it that way, but I see why it struck you that way. I too am very aware of the kinds of attitudes you talk of in your background...to clarify, first, I don't see, think of, or refer to 'sin' in quite the same meaning, certainly not as you refer to in your background.

 

To me, sin is as defined in the Greek, "to fall short, to miss the mark." That is, to fail, to have weaknesses, to be in error, to make mistakes....I'm not using sin as a condemnation, but as any and all the many ways we might fall short of being most fully who we can be. And to me sin is failings that hurt not only us, but others. I don't believe sin is going to send me to hell, but I do beleive sin gets in the way of being all I could be, and in this context, my sin, my mistakes, failings, weaknesses, errors, can also hurt others, and be stumbling blocks to them becoming all they can be, as well..

 

There have been times, incidents, events, when I must face that something I did that was wrong, a mistake or result of poor judgement, caused hurt and harm to others. I must admit, I may have done thing that influenced another in a negative way.

 

We all love to take credit for what we think or feel we've done to help another along the way, to strengthen them, encourage them, support them in a worthy goal, it's a lot harder to look at how we may have done so in not so good, positive ways. Perhaps we've misjudged and mistreated someone. Perhaps we've failed to recognize another's need, maybe they even came to us for help, and we turned them away, and they got into trouble they might not have if we had responded differently.

 

The example Jesus uses here is having done something that aroused the anger in another. That the one that incited the anger bears some responsibility for that person's negative stage. Sometimes, things like that simmer in someone, eat at them, and become bitter because of something we did. We can argue all day the final responsibilty is on that one to 'get over it', but that doesn't absolve one that has incited that anger.

 

I've known a couple of really sad, bitter people, that became that way as a result of infidelity between their long time spouse and a long time (they believed, trustworthy) friend. I don't think anything can turn someone bitter any worse than that...the double betrayal, by both spouse and trusted friend.

 

I've seen young people, teens, from dysfunctional or broken homes, that instead of others reaching out to them to help them through, subjected them to rejection, harsh judgments. That can make such a big difference in that young person finding their way into a decent life, or falling to the wayside into drugs, sexual promsicuity, gangs, violence, eventually crime and prison.

 

There are of course times when we really have acted out of caring, and nothing we did was going to change things. And even as to overt actions, we don't always know what is right or best. And that isn't what I mean. I am not intending we should all put ourselves on guilt trips over our own mistakes. But I doubt there's anyone that being honest, could say they've never done a mean spirited or hateful thing that affected others, or turned our eyes away to something we could have done to make a difference to another.

 

One of my pet peeves is malicious gossip. Maybe because it was an element in the environment I grew up in, and even young, saw the hurt it caused. A woman I knew that was prone to it, when called on it by others, confronted with an incident involving it, would make a big thing of "confessing her sin" to her pastor, sometimes some of her church mates, and acting very contrite, ask the Lord to forgive her. But she would never go to those she had hurt by it, talked about unfairly, to apologize to THEM. She was also often harshly judgemental, would make cutting, snide comments to someone, hurting their feelings, or angering them. The same thing, she'd ask forgiveness of others that knew of it, but never apologize or try to reconcile with those she actually hurt. To me, what she did was as Jesus in this passage said not to, she went before the altar of the Lord to seek her own forgiveness from God, but left her 'victim' hurting, angry, and her offense against them unacknowledged, not apologized for. Through these behaviors, she created a LOT an hurt, anger, and bitterness among people she knew.

 

So what I'm getting at here, is that when our sin is against another, and/or in some way incites, encourages, or otherwise facilitates them also to fall into sin, less than they could be, we have a responsibility toward them.

 

Now, I'm seeing this for our own sake, as well. Being honest with ourselves is important if we are to grow and be all we can be. I think if the woman I described above had ever been pressed to confront those she'd hurt, to sincerely try to reconcile her mean act toward them, it would have gone a lot further in helping her stop that kind of behavior.

 

Jenell

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Guest billmc

And to me sin is failings that hurt not only us, but others.

 

That would be my working definition as well, Jenell. I have little use and see little relevancy in the myriad of religious "sins" which are listed in different scriptures and in their respective traditions that have little to do how we treat each other and, instead, focus on pleasing or placating some deity who doesn't want us to wear garments of blends or plant two different kinds of crops in one field.

 

I don't believe sin is going to send me to hell, but I do beleive sin gets in the way of being all I could be, and in this context, my sin, my mistakes, failings, weaknesses, errors, can also hurt others, and be stumbling blocks to them becoming all they can be, as well.

 

True. I would say that it is sin when we try to "be all we can be" at the expense of others, by making them "less than." It goes back to the Golden Rule thing.

 

There have been times, incidents, events, when I must face that something I did that was wrong, a mistake or result of poor judgement, caused hurt and harm to others. I must admit, I may have done thing that influenced another in a negative way.

 

Yes, we all have. I'm an expert at it. That kind of guilt, the kind that leads to true repentance (not just admitting sin, but changing our course) is good...as long as it doesn't lead to shame. For instance, to say, "You have hurt someone" should cause us guilt that leads to reparation. But to say, "You hurt them because you are a sinner" is shame-based and condemns the offender, often even justifying the sin because it is quite natural for a sinner to sin. We are (or should be) better than that. So when a church constantly reminds people that they *are* sinners and then complains about sin in their ranks, what did they expect?

 

One of my pet peeves is malicious gossip.

 

In my religious tradition, we diguised this as "prayer request." ;)

 

We are, or should be, our brother's and sister's lover. That means that we pull them up, not push them down. And we don't seek elevation by standing on top of them. We pull together as a compassionate community.

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As some others, i don't like to think about the word sin as is commonly used. The Hebrew word means transgression. A transgression to me is ignorance because if we really knew to whom or what we were transgressing, we would not do it because in reality, in my experience, there is no "other" in One.

 

So looking from that perspective,

Am i my brothers keeper? That question begs a subject and object response. Do i share accountability for another's transgression? That also, to me, in my view, is a mute question. There is nothing i can do that doesn't encompass All that Is. So perhaps, to some, i have said nothing meaningful in the way of discussion or a subject/object relationships to the question but i believe looking from this perspective, i don't need rules, laws, or objective reasoning to act from that reality that i perceive.

 

Just one view,

Joseph

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Thanks for some great responses! A lot of your comments are helping clarify my meaning and intent....

 

No, consideration of sin/sins isn't at all about rules or laws, but rather about relationship, with ourselves and others, which I think if also our relationship with God. And I agree totally, repentance isn't merely saying I'm sorry, or just an empty apology for sake of getting ourselves off the hook in some way. To me, that is what the woman in my example did, she 'repented' to others if they called her on her bad behavior, to them and in adking forgiveness of God, but to me that is empty, because she did so only for a selfish reason, to restore her position in her community of peers, not out of genuine remorse, or in a way that addressed the injury to the victims of her behavior, or that contributed to her own growth.

 

As to shame or guilt, the best source on understanding the difference between healthy shame and toxic shame is John Bradshaw's writings, his ideas on healing our inner child. He gives good account of healthy vs unhealthy shame, as well as what he calls being "shameful" or its counterpart, "shameless." To be "shameless" is to have no regard for the pain or damage one does to others, well demonstrated in billmc's mention of how the Pharisees of Jesus' day, there are people that think as long as they have the 'right' religious beliefs and practice, they can treat others with disregard, disrespect, even abuse. I totally agree that the most hoonest measure of our faith is how we are toward others.

 

I am also not suggesting we are responsible for what others do, only in what we might do that adversely affects another, in this case in particular, that contributes to their negative behaviors, or sins. To recognize and hold OURSELVES accountable for how our actions affect and influence others. To me, recognizing and accepting the burden of responsbility for how our actions affect others is very much part of my own growth. Even where I didn't intend or realize at the time how something I did negatively affected another, I think if I discover it later, I may still be able to act in some way to help mitigate the damage. Here I mean as we may have done something in the past, that I didn't at the tiime know would cause anyone harm, but have since 'learned' there was a problem with it we didn't recognize at the time. Since all of this is so situational, it is beyond any system of 'rules' and simplistic do's and don'ts. Again, it comes down to relationships.

 

Jenell

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  • 2 weeks later...

In a word. Absolutely.

None of us live in a vacuum and all effect each other.

 

To KIS, this quote is all I offer at present.

 

 

"First they came for the Jews, but I did nothing because I'm not a Jew. Then they came for the socialists, but I did nothing because I'm not a socialist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I did nothing because I'm not a Catholic. Finally, they came for me, but by then there was no one left to help me." – Pastor Father Niemoller (1946)”

 

Regards

DL

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This site seems to have few literalists or fundamental. Nice.

Other site that I visit are less enlightened and I do get in trouble on occasion for my, we are our brothers keeper stance.

 

I fight literalists whenever I can in the hopes that the butterfly effect will help ease the child abuse and other literalist abuses you will see below.

 

It is my view that all literalists and fundamentals hurt all of us who are Religionists.

They all hurt their parent religions and everyone else who has a belief. They make us all into laughing stocks and should rethink their position. There is a Godhead but not the God of talking animals, genocidal floods and retribution. Belief in fantasy is evil.

 

Note: Link deleted here as it led to site whose video has been removed for copyright violation...... JM 8/10/2011 as Moderator

 

They also do much harm to their own.

 

African witches and Jesus

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlRG9gXriVI&feature=related

 

Jesus Camp 1of 9

 

Promoting death to Gays.

 

For evil to grow my friends, all good people need do is nothing.

Fight them when you can.

 

Regards

DL

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Guest billmc

Welcome to the Progressive Christianity community, DL!

 

Having come out of that religion, I agree with you that the fundamentalist mindset and actions can be harmful, not just in smearing the name of other Christians who would never believe or do such things, but in committing acts that we might call “evil.” The catalyst that caused me to finally leave that paradigm was a Children’s Church teacher who threatened my four-year-old son with hell.

 

To me, one of the reasons that the fundamentalist mindset is this way is because it is so dualistic, because it views everything as a fight of good against evil, truth against falsehood, believers against non-believers, etc. It seldom sees shades of gray. And because life is a fight, it wants people to join the cause and choose up sides. It wants good little “Christian soldiers, marching as to war.”

 

I agree with you that we need to stand against harmful evil, whether it comes from within or from without organized religion. At the same time, how we take a stand is very important. Seeing as many fundamentalists do hold to a dualistic mindset, is it effective or beneficial for us, as progressives, to adopt the same tactic and want to “fight” against them? Wouldn’t that just add fuel to the fire?

 

I, for one, would not be for “fighting the fundies” in that way. I would rather encourage them, if they listened to me, to explore other meanings of faith and Christianity rather than just in militaristic, combative terms. IMO, the fundamentalists are not our enemies. They are human beings loved by God and worthy of respect as persons created in God’s image. It is the ideas that they hold to that need to be challenged (and they sometimes do), it should optimally be done be through meaningful dialogue, not by reinforcing their “us versus them” mentality. History has taught us that “conversion by the sword” has never been a good thing and is not a progressive way forward.

 

Again, welcome to the forum. When you get time, why not post something of yourself and your journey in the “Introduce Yourself!” section? We’d enjoy learning more about you.

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"By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege."

 

I think that DL was suggesting that there is a difference between "talk" ethics and "walk" ethics.

 

Myron

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