On Sins and Paths and Choices and Foibles

Jesus tells us to be wise and read the signs of the times. He also tells us not to judge. These are complimentary but not contradictory teachings.

Human nature being what it is, human beings can generally tell when a certain person is heading on a certain path. Some paths must necessarily go either of two ways.

Let’s say we have a Republican politician. He claims to be “pro-life” in his campaign materials. He doesn’t have that much evidence one way or the other in his voting record. While he professes his position on abortion on his platform, he doesn’t talk a lot about abortion, and he doesn’t seem to want to emphasize it when asked about it. Now, it could just be that he’s trying to be sneaky and avoid getting voted against so he can actually get into office and do something. It may also be that he’s playing pro-lifers for votes. When the politician gets into office, one of two things happens. Either he *does* turn out to be pro-lifer, and pro-lifers are pleasantly surprised, or else he turns out to be just a fraud, and pro-lifers who were wary of his lack of enthusiasm to begin with say, “I regret voting for him; I realized all along he wasn’t really pro-life.”

Or, conversely, maybe a candidate is *outspokenly* anti-abortion and has a voting record to show it. However, maybe there are always rumors about his personal life, which there isn’t much published information about. And maybe a Catholic might look at his positions and say, “Yeah, he’s anti-abortion, but he supports contraception, and I’m not comfortable with that” or “I don’t like the fact that he’s so rabidly pro-death penalty.”

Once again, maybe one of two things happens. Maybe he turns out to not only be very good on abortion, but he also changes his views on contraception and the death penalty. Or else, maybe he turns out to be bad on abortion. Once again, the person who saw those issues as red flags is going to say, “I wish I’d never voted for him.”

In either case, the person who voted in spite of misgivings is going to have 20/20 hindsight, though there’s an honesty in that the misgivings were there but overlooked out of optimism. In either case, though, the person’s supporters might say, “You never liked him anyway,” or “you probably never even voted for him.”

Similarly, a husband might show certain behaviors that other people think indicate that he’s potentially abusive or adulterous. And maybe they whisper about their hypotheses behind his back. Well, maybe the behaviors they see are perfectly innocent, and he’s just naive, or maybe he’s struggling with certain temptations, and that’s what they recognize, but he’s fighting valiantly against his temptations and trying to be a good husband. Maybe down the line he overcomes them. Maybe he even is adulterous or abusive, and trying to reform and he successfully reforms. Well, people would be right to be concerned about the warning signs, but they shouldn’t act rashly on their suspicions. However, if they *do* see the warning signs, and he does prove to be engaging in the behavior they’re worried about, they’d have a certain justification.

Using our example of the pro-contraception, pro-death penalty politician, a person may choose to vote for a third part candidate who better reflects a pro-life position. Many would say this voter is not really “pro-life.” This is not the same thing as the person who says “all life issues are equal, and their positions are about the same, so I’ll vote for the Democrat instead.”

Similarly, someone who gives friendly advice to the husband on how he might do better as a husband isn’t doing the same thing as the person who just gossips about him.

So, here’s the thing. In any situation, we might have misgivings about a person. We all have flaws. Sometimes, a person’s flaws are just that: his or her flaws. They don’t amount to anything worse. Other times, however, flaws are the bubbles of worse behaviors under the surface. In such cases, until we know anything certain, we shouldn’t speculate. If the flaws themselves constitute something worth commenting on, that’s one thing. Like, we don’t want to presume that just because a teenager does graffiti, he’s in a gang, but we should still criticize him for doing the graffiti.

When a person overcomes his or her flaws, however severe, that person deserves great praise and encouragement to do better.

When the flaws betray deeper problems, or when they lead to deeper problems, that should be dealt with accordingly. When the sin is obstinate and public, it sadly needs to be dealt with publicly.

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