Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Condemning sin without condemning the sinner (1)

This post was sparked by something which happened more than a year ago. I was asked to review two books on AIDS for a theological journal. Interested to read the reviews? You’ll find it here. In any case, both books were excellent and I enjoyed reading them. But in one of the books the author made a remark which has remained with me ever since. He wrote (my own words) that the church is in no position to condemn sin. In fact, sin cannot be condemned without condemning the person and we are not allowed to condemn someone because that leads to stigmatisation.
On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is “Strongly agree” and 5 is “Strongly disagree”, I would choose for a 6! However, the person did make me think about this. In a mission situation, we are often confronted with things happening which we as Christians cannot and should not tolerate. However, sometimes these things are part of the culture of the people you are working with. How do we approach this? To give an example: Last year, towards Christmas, a group of friends from South Africa made hundreds of small gift packets which they wanted us to hand out to the orphans living in the vicinity of our church. (Have I mentioned that about 8% of Swaziland’s population are orphans?) We bought juice and sweets and arranged for a party for these children. In the meantime the children had been preparing for the day by practising choirs and traditional dances. I have never in my life heard people sing like the Swazis. Unaccompanied, sometimes in three or four voices! It just comes naturally to them.
When they started with the traditional dances which involves a lot of kicking of their legs, stamping of feet and a lot of noise caused by beads wrapped around the ankles, while they are singing, one of the older Swazi men who sat next to me whispered in my ear: Do you understand what is going on? When I replied that I did not really understand, he replied that these dances were traditionally meant for the girls (many of them pre-adolescent) to indicate to the boys that they were “ready” for them and when the boys danced they were showing off their manliness to these girls. These dances were traditionally a type of ritual which could lead to the point of a specific girl accepting a specific boy. There is therefore a very strong sexual undertone to these traditional dances.
Now the question: What does the church have to do in these circumstances? Obviously, we have a problem with this. The enormous rate of teenage pregnancies in Swaziland as well as the high rate of HIV/AIDS can probably partly be attributed to the traditional lifestyle. I know it is not as simplistic as I am putting it here. But may the church condemn practices which we know is not to the glory of God or should we keep quiet? If we condemn it, how do we do it without condemning the person?

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Thursday, July 19, 2007 - Posted by | Mission, Swaziland, Theology

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