Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Blissful Ignorance of Structural Evil

"Sin has compromised our shalom, as evidenced by the rampant injustice, anguish, greed, and sorrow that permeates our world. Many of these problems are bigger than merely private sins. Sometimes theologians speak about 'structural sin,' that is, sin that affects whole institutions and communities. For example, certain economic arrangements promote unjustified wealth for one group at the expense of another; this appears 'reasonable' to those it benefits. Unfortunately, it is normally the global poor or those without a voice who suffer most under such arrangements. 'Personal evil can be simultaneously strengthened and disguised by social relationships.' When everyone around us believes and lives as we do, we may be blind to our participation in (or suffering under) structural sin, but it is real nonetheless.

We often live in blissful ignorance or denial of such structures. Ron Sider's assessment appears accurate:

Christians frequently restrict ethics to a narrow class of ‘personal’ sins. In a study of over fifteen hundred ministers, researchers discovered that theologically conservative pastors spoke out on sins such as drug abuse and sexual misconduct, but failed to preach about the sins of institutionalized racism and unjust economic structures that destroy just as many people…. In the twentieth century, evangelicals have become imbalanced in their stand against sin, expressing concern and moral outrage about individual sinful acts while ignoring, perhaps even participating in, evil social structures. But the Bible condemns both. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity, p. 108.

Even if we do not directly participate in such structural sins, they nevertheless affect the world in which we live, and therefore we may not ignore it.

There is, perhaps, no more graphic example of structural sin and the bondage it promotes within human society than outright slavery itself. Not only is human slavery an evil of the past, it haunts our present as well. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of State, human trafficking is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world. Sex trafficking in particular has become a booming global industry that enslaves thousands of women and children every year" (God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity, pp. 38-9).

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