Growing up, there was one small sign on the door of every business that always read: “No shoes, No shirt, No service.” It seems that in recent years, Christians have added: “and No sinners!” to that sign.
But they don’t mean ‘No sinners’ in the general context, or they would have no one to do business with – they mean “no homosexuals.” Which discriminates against one particular kind of sinner and ignores all the rest.
This brings up the question whether or not all sins are equal – after all, if there are worse sins, then it would be wiser to specifically deny that sort of sinner service as well. And if all sins are indeed equal, then it seems wrong to provide services for all the other kinds of
That’s when I stumbled across one well-known Christian personality who claimed that all sins were not equal because the Old Testament declared different punishments for different sins. Now we have to categorize these unequal sins by degree of severity – but the problem is that while we might not have a problem with a little white lie, a bold lie would be worse – yet they both fall under the category of lying and you have to choose if that’s worse than theft (in the face of hunger), theft (to support an addiction) or theft (boredom). There is always the danger that whatever system of categorization we use, what sounds reasonable to us might not be right according to God’s definition.
Since ‘sin is lawlessness’, we have to consider what is usually meant by ‘the law’; it’s the Old Testament commandments that were laid down at the time the Israelites wandered through the wilderness and re-established when King Solomon built the first temple. However, Christians are not required to be circumcised, eat kosher food, or wear clothing of only one kind of cloth. During the Council of Jerusalem, christians came together to decide the issues and decided that these laws were the only ones that gentiles should keep: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.” – Acts 15:28-29
But the ‘wages of sin is death’, which seems to indicate that ultimately, they all have the same punishment. Sure, we can commit small sins and be punished on earth, but that does not mean that we will get out of the eternal punishment of sins. So perhaps the answer to the question of whether or not all sins are equal is yes and no; no they are not equal in life where it remains possible to be forgiven for them, but they are all equal in death where forgiveness cannot be secured. Even so, there’s no biblical rule that allows for Christians to deny services to people on the basis of one particular sin.
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-10
So long as you don’t know whether a person is or isn’t a Christian, you should never deny them the services of their business because there are two possible outcomes; either you refuse to associate with sexually immoral Christians as the Bible says you should, or you refuse to associate with sexually immoral non-Christians as the Bible says you should not judge them. But let’s remember that while ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ is used in this passage, it means a believer you are close to. Trying to correct Christians you don’t know is more likely to cause offense than to restore their relationship with God.
It’s a fine line to walk – you can associate with all sorts of sinners as long as they aren’t believers, but once they do become a brother or sister in the faith, you have a problem. Either fold them in gently, over time helping them to overcome sin (which I’m not entirely conviced is something that believers can do for one another, some things are beyond us as humans) or outright refuse to associate with them as it’s clear that they’re still sinning Christians. Just be careful not to sin yourself, and not to sin against your newfound brother or sister in the faith. That’s why we were warned to watch out for legalism. But it’s one thing to talk about sin in general when you don’t know a person who sins in that way. Most people have this attitude of “It’s so easy for me, I don’t get why it’s hard for you.” which persists in church. It seems as if many Christians have forgotten how to extend grace because they try to exist in a way where they don’t need others to be graceful to them. If you walk in love and in grace, then the law becomes a bit of a grey zone.
Besides, sexually immoral is such a general term, it rules out not just one particular type of sinner, but a great many. The difference is that most people don’t have such a visible sort of sexual sin. It’s not as if all people on a list of offenders have to wear something that identifies them as such or all adulturers and divorced individuals have to wear As or Ds. So it just adds to the hypocrisy to single out one sort of sin and one sort of sexual immorality while serving all the rest. It seems to me that the simplest solution is to always serve all customers to the best of your ability without reguard to religious belief or percieved sins. To pick and choose might be making a stand, but it could very well be making the wrong stand and sending the wrong message.