Sin in America

To preachers it is interesting what Americans consider sin. What thoughtful insights does this study prompt for you?

keith drury


Keith Drury said...

OK, I'll start with a few ...

RACISM: I can’t say for sure, but when I was a kid in the 1950’s I don’t even think racism would have made the top ten sins among evangelicals. What factors make us label something sin when we formally didn’t even consider it sin?

Keith Drury said...

And one more to start us off...

GOSSIP: Virtually all evangelicals (98%) consider “gossip” a sin—more then homosexual activity, abortion or pornography—More than twice as many as the general population. Why this striking difference?

DJ said...

How can one even discuss this? Like one sin is worse than another, or is this a 'more common' sins than others list? So my grandparents are sinning by sticking to their 'colored' views of black people and disagreements with interacial marriage? Isn't abortion murder, hence the fundamental problem with why it's accepted in society, since no one calls a spade a spade? If Drug Use is a sin, haven't we bought into the pharmaceuticals lies that 'legal' drugs are ok, and because the government says something is wrong that makes it a sin? Keith, I think you accomplished what you wanted, I am sitting here ticked off at evangelical circles once again because of the ignorance that plagues the Pastor to the Death Row Inmate. I'm sure glad I trust God to convict me, as each day I grow in Christ he shows ME ALONE where I need to obey HIM. He is the author of each persons story. Sin is not relative, but believing in Christ and moving towards Him will often dictate where a person values sin on any scale. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

When the blind lead the blind, they all fall into the ditch.

It is becoming one helluva ditch in America now!

Ken Schenck said...

I would agree that this list is artificial, DJ, but I think the prevalent "all sins are the same" idea bears closer scrutiny.

1) The effect of sin prior to justification is the same--all have sinned and thus die and lack the glory of God.

2) But the New Testament does treat different sins as having different "wrongness," even after justification. Paul doesn't kick all the carnal Corinthians out of the church for their divisive spirit, but he does the man sleeping with his step-mother.

3) There are "sins to death" and "sins not to death" (1 John 5). Enough sin of a certain kind can apparently knock one off course for salvation.

The intent with which one sins matters biblically and thus some sins are far worse than others, not so much because of the nature of the act but because of the nature of one's intent.

I honestly can't think of a single passage in the Bible that would indicate that all sins are the same in terms of their intrinsic wrongness.

Dan said...

All I can say is with a list like that there must be a lot of guilty consciences out there. Maybe conviction still has a role to play in theology and soteriology.

Ken said...

wow... this list reminds me that overall we're educated far beyond our level of obedience.

since so many people actually participate in the various sins listed, it reminds me that many people are making quite intentional choices to sin, even though they consider what they're doing/about to do as such.

a good reminder to speak to people about making good choices, and to listen closely to Spirit's leading...

Anonymous said...

'm embarrassed to admit that I was raised in the conservative holiness movement. We believed that the lesser sins were more severe than the bigger sins. For example: Gambling, tobacco, alcohol, movies, lottery, not tithing, skipping church, working on Sunday, dancing.

Chuck Hubbert said...

Besides doing some personal confession after reading the lists... I am pondering Ken's comment, "we're educated far beyond our level of obedience." Isn't that the truth?

Thanks, Keith and Ken, for food for thought.

Nathan Crawford said...

On the list itself, I find it very interesting that 90% of evangelicals see getting drunk as a sin, while only 80% see using marijuana as sin. Just wondering if this may be a little backward.

Also, Jesus says that money (stuff) is the root of all evil and yet only 1% of evangelicals see making too much money as a sin.

A couple of interesting things I saw while I read. And, again, incredibly interesting stuff.

Schuyler Avenue Wesleyan said...

I need to do a little more research. I cannot believe some of the answers or even some of the percentages along with those answers. I believe within the culture that I pastor, the order of the list and even the list itself would be completely different among evangelicals. I am curious to find out where they were asked and what kind of evangelicals were asked and even the researchers definition of an evangelical.

Anonymous said...

I don't see working or going to eat after church on Sunday as a sin at all.

Anonymous said...

With all the effort required for Sunday worship and travel time, I can't help but wonder if that is sin! For most, there does not appear to be a day of rest and fellowship with God. Further, it says that the day of rest will be, and I forget the word, but something like perpetual, eternal, or something like that. Whatever the real word, the intent was forever.

I guess the question then becomes for NT christians is, is the day of rest literal, spiritual or both? The answer to that question will determine if worship as done today by the christian church as well as eating out on afterwards on Sunday is sin!

I guess if one still has their weekly day of rest, christian worship and eating out on Sunday is not sin. It seems that for Jews, their day of rest was more personal and family based and much of their corporate worship was done at other times.

David James said...

In response to your post, I think the fact is that obedience is what determines Sin is what everyone is missing. If God convicts you of something and you disobey Him, then you are sinning. For example, I believe there are people that smoke cigarettes that will go to Heaven. Why? Because mitigating cirumstances determine where EACH individual is in their relationship with Christ. Also, for someone to say smoking marijuana or having a beer is a universal sin, it's just not Christ like at all, in my humble opinion. I feel this attitude is what I would call 'Modern Day Phariseeism', if that makes sense. Do you think Jesus walked around with a list of sins? No, He said 'take up YOUR cross and follow Me' as well as 'go and sin no more'. Jesus knew that obedience was the key, and as He convicts the list of sins will gradually narrow down, as the MORE of Him we have in our lives, the things of the world become less desirable.

I know you don't know me from Adam, but I'm a Wesleyan Preachers Kid who has been up and down the path from end to end. My experiences have taught me it's not about the list as a whole, it's about obedience to God, as He convicts in His time.

David Drury said...

I'm reminded of the "parable" (or was it a prophecy) of the Sheep and the Goats. I wonder what the "goats" in the story Jesus told would have "listed as sins" that when they got to heaven and stood before the throne they realized were not sins. Or what things they would not have voted for that were indeed great sins.

They guessed wrong... and I always worry that we guess wrong. The Sermon on the Mount also makes me wonder if our prevalent interpretation of what is sin is off-track. Jesus came into culture and flipped many concepts on their head. Rather than having personal confidence on what are sins and what are not sins all this discussion makes me really hesitant to ever call myself "sinless."

But at the same time that tension exists where the church NEEDS to define sin... to set up parameters of behavior that is acceptable, beneficial, or sinful.

I remain confused. Perhaps someone will now post and clear it all up for me, therefore exposing themselves to the sin of arrogance. Or as I in just typing that expose my judgementalism about your potential arrogance. Whatever. I need another cup of coffee, apparently (perhaps my caffiene use is a sin too.)

I guess I just thought it would be cool to post after David James. Wow... bringing back the memories, DJ.


Chap said...

Sin-management makes me sleepy.

However it is good to know that most Americans haven't bought the idea that we are all intrinsically good and need only embrace the cosmic Christ within.

have a good day all

Anonymous said...

All one has to do is spend time around clergy when they let their "hair down" and it will become abundantly clear, sin is only applicable to the masses. They can, and do the very same actions, but it is not deemed sin!

The beauty of abuse of power and authority!

Keith Drury said...

I usually delete the comments from this IP address--who always posts as Anonymous and usually has a bitter remark... but this one is worth leaving for us ministers to ponder even with the bitterness discount.

Hugh said...

Keith, I'd like to hear what you have to say on some of these topics: 1)exactly what does it mean to commit a sin? 2)is all sin really the same? What about the differences in consequence? 3)what about the criteria Jesus uses in Matthew 25 to separate goats and sheep? (man, I hope I'm not surprised on that day!)? 4)What should Christians do with the exhortation in 1 John 5.16 to pray for brothers that sin? Does this really mean what it appears to say, that God will forgive based on another person's faith?

Rick said...

We often evaluate spiritual maturity by the absence of sin.

I wonder why we Wesleyans, who claim to be so optimistic about grace, don’t evaluate spiritual maturity by a person’s responsiveness to grace.

If we respond properly to grace, won’t we sin less?

If we resist grace does the absence of sin (or certain sins) truly reflect our spiritual condition?

Doesn’t all spiritual progress depend on grace?

Which emphasis does a better job of encouraging spiritual maturity: avoidance of sin or appropriation of grace?

Grateful said...

Question #1: Do we believe Christ was sinless? If we do, suppose Colossians 1:27 is really true, too? "...Christ in you (us) the hope of glory."
Question #2: If the sinless Christ lives in us as Lord of our lives, what is possible regarding living above sin if we always yield to Him and not to temptation?

Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

I'm not surprised that people who are polled on sin repeat what they understand sin to be, given what they know from culture/vague familiarity with Christianity. What does interest me is the average person's perception of the church's perception of what sin is.

So we end up with a horrifyingly unorganized grab-bag of "things God doesn't like," which smashes crippling addictions (using hard drugs) in with racism (something only recently broadly accepted as sin) with pocket change at Wal-Mart. But then, where on earth is murder on this list? Or rape? Or genocide? Where are sins of the spirit, like hate, or greed, or selfishness?

(I assume, Nate, that you refer to greed as a sin, and not the actual amount that's in a bank account as sinful: that is to say, what dollar amount is sinful? What decimal puts you over that line?)

It's obvious that most evangelicals think "abortion" covers murder...but I know some Christians who would qualify the Iraq War as murder.

This list is also extremely North American. What would a person suffering from the cholera outbreak in Mugabe's Zimbabwe right now list as top sins?

What would a person in a different religious community - say, a person in Saudi Arabia - list as top sins?

What would a person in an atheistic political dictatorship - say, North Korea - list as top "sins"?

To say that most cultures acknowledge that there are some things that are right and some things that are wrong is a given; many cultures agree on common things, even, that are wrong.

So why do people in our culture demonstrate a deep confusion about what is important ethically? Is it really as bad to steal from a clerk as it is to rape a woman or permit genocide?

This list is disturbing to me, because it shows how much basic theological confusion exists both inside and outside the stained glass windows.

Kris said...

I was wondering if you would be interested in writing a follow up article to this, dealing with how Christians should react to sin in the church. What do you think? When does sin need to be confronted, and when do we need to let go and rain grace? What kinds of sin do we accept, is there any kind we should accept? And what discipline needs to be enforced, if even upon ourselves?

Nathan Crawford said...


To get a little more to what you're talking about, there does not seem to be a communal/ societal notion to sin on this list. Rather, sin is individual. For example, it is sinful for an individual to be a racist or a murderer (individual sins), but there is not mention of being a racist society or participating in genocide (societal sins). I find this to be a little odd and believe it says something about what we really think of God's grace and its actual power.

And, Bitty, I may say that someone making so much money is sinful, regardless of what their intentions or greediness is. Then, again, maybe not as I like Bill Gates' work. I'll get back to you on that.

Ryan Budde said...

The Anonymous person who wrote about pastors when they let their hair down and act out what they really are...I'm glad you left that post on there, Keith. He/she obviously is quite bitter about us clergy, and has experienced her share of perceived hypocrisy. I have as well, as a pastor, and have probably contributed somewhat to this attitude in others.

The problem is that what the perfect words of God in the Bible call "sin" gets filtered through very imperfect human beings who are still fighting the good fight, ourselves. It doesn't make sin any less sinful just because someone else does it, even if it is the person pointing out your sin.

We cannot diminish the truth of the words God Himself spoke based on the actions of pastors, but we pastors had better be a lot more gracious in how we address sin in others.

Obedience to God without love is useless (1 Cor. 13:3). Loving God without obeying Him is impossible (John 14:14-28). If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar (1 John 4:20).

Therefore, it is obedient to love, and loving to obey. The two must both be present. It is impossible to sin in Christian love. If we are focused on the two greatest commandments, we will become living testimonies of the gracious love of God, and the powerful service that love can create.

Pastor Al said...

Greetings Keith,

Taking a 'poll on sin' seems to express a post-modern mentality within our culture and our church. Does it matter what WE think, in terms of self defined positions? What 'lists' reveal is how well we have communicated the scriptural laws and principles from our pulpits and small groups. Polls are relative...to current interest or convenience.

Racism has always been wrong, whether we considered it or not. It was obvious...yet unspoken. If I remember my Wesleyan history, we viewed slavery sufficiently wrong to pull out of the Methodist Church...we just didn't extend the principle and develop multi-cultural churches as the norm. Unless we worship together, we haven't lived to our potential.

Keith Drury said...

How about this video of a women having sex with a man she is not married to and the
church's response?

Pastor Al said...

Greetings Keith,

Just a little angry that you posted that clip, 'church's response.' However, it puts a face to sin. I was embarrassed for her, watching her evident shame.

Church trials may be useful for forceful expulsion and necessary for leaders who have broken community, or constituents that have openly defied church authority...where some level of public reprimand becomes forced.

Joseph decided to put Mary away privily...for the same alledged reason. His righteousness demanded firmness, but his love expressed grace. Biblical punishment usually provides room for potential restoration...for the eventual penitent heart. Stripping a person's last vestige of dignity goes back to the days of the Scarlet Letter.

In my theology, I pray that God has forgotten some of my past... that it is under the Blood and in the sea of His forgetfulness. We might all be ashamed if our lives were completely replayed in front of everyone, in the End Times.

I know the lady has hurt a lot of people. However, the adulterous relationship will most most likely run a dead end course and she will come up empty. I pray that she will have someone to put a cloak over her shoulder and a ring on her finger...when she comes home.

Pete Vecchi said...

Kind of reminds me of a topic I addressed this past January 10 in a blog article I wrote:


However, I see from the research that the "rankings" of sins are different than I would have figured them to be.