The fundamentalist church of my childhood fed me a steady diet of sin. Week after week, I heard in Sunday School lessons and sermons that all of us were sinful, hopelessly mired in evil, and nothing we did could make things better. Though the church offered us the choice of salvation from sin, I often concluded that the sin messages carried far more energy and conviction than the salvation messages.
So when I found the Unitarian Universalist church and heard its very different message about the goodness of humanity, how our lives were set from birth on a trajectory of growth, I responded enthusiastically. A church where I heard every week positive perspectives on the human experience seemed to me infinitely more inspiring than those dispiriting messages of my childhood church.
But much to my surprise, in time I came to miss the sin talk—not because I enjoyed it (I didn’t, ever) but because it was a way of recognizing that we humans do carry shadows in us, a capacity for evil right there alongside our capacity for good. I struggled to find some UU way of addressing that dilemma, of honestly reflecting on how our lives can go terribly wrong, how we might set about changing unhelpful behaviors, repairing relationships that have been broken. I saw the unfortunate result of insisting on only positive talk in our congregations when we had no way to hold one another accountable for times when everything fell apart and people were hurt.
So I find myself returning to the subject of sin, just with a very different understanding and with a gentler touch. Being able to reflect on sin brings with it the gift of being able to enter deeply into covenantal relationships and being able to repair those relationships and restore the covenant when it is broken. Being able to reflect on sin means we have ways to look at our complicity in sustaining racist systems and, with that consideration, move towards change individually and collectively. We need not stay stuck in sin—but ignoring it is not our only option.