Most of us are probably familiar with the line from The Princess Bride : "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
There's a lot of that going on in our country today.
Let's take a really common word: Sinner. What does this word mean?
If you google the definition, this is what you get:
a person who transgresses against divine law by committing an immoral act or acts.
If you're Christian, we could take this to mean--breaking the 10 commandments, for a start. But you can break that down into lots of other things.
But the whole point of Christianity is that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, came to Earth and died to save sinners, which is everyone. No one is perfect. Every single person is a sinner.
So when I see signs that say "sinners welcome" on church billboards, I wonder, where are the churches where sinners aren't welcome? Because that's the whole reason the churches exist.
Now: that being said. There is a difference between a repentant sinner and a sinner who persists in sinning. When you go to confession, one of the key things in order to receive absolution is that you must be sorry for your sins, but you also must say that you're going to try to avoid it in the near future. So, if you go into the confessional, and you say you gossip, and you're really going to try to stop, but you don't mean it--you have no intention of stopping, you just want the "rubber stamp", so to speak, of forgiveness--then it's not true contrition. You have to have the contrition.
But if you go in and say you're going to stop gossiping, and then you go out to dinner the next day with your friends and you gossip, and then your next thought is Oh dang it! , then you're trying to stop. You're not perfect. You haven't conquered that sin yet. But you are attempting to quit. That makes a difference. It's like a person who's trying to lose weight. Sometimes you gain some back, but the key is--are you still trying? If you are, then you're on the way toward success. If you're not, then....
Now, this is all wholly different than saying "we welcome sinners, and you can just keep right on sinning and that's just fine with us." NO. Nuh-uh.
Every person, in every pew across the world, every weekend, is a sinner. But there's a difference between a church who says, "we love you, but this thing you're doing? It's not good. It's sinful. It needs to stop," and a church who says, "oh, we love you and your sin. You don't need to change. That's OK. Because it's not really sin anyway. It's just you!"
What did Jesus say to the adulteress? Go and sin no more. Not, oh, it's OK lady, keep doing what you're doing.
Sin is terrible. It had terrible consequences. We all sin. But that doesn't mean that we should keep doing it because it's our default, so to speak. We have to work against it, and try to become the people God created us to be. Everyone has a particular fault--or several--that they struggle with. I sure do. I'm sure you do. Everyone does.
God applauds effort. The church applauds effort. Effort actually counts! But saying that a person's decisions are not sinful, that we just love them as they are--that's a lie. That's what GW used to call the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Christians are required to love everyone. What's that line from The Incredibles? "The law requires that I answer no!" But as a wise Dominican once told me, "people don't have to like you. They have to love you."
Love is hard and love is tough. A parent that doesn't discipline his kids ends up with spoiled brats. A church that doesn't try to guide her people toward salvation, our highest possible God, and eternal life and happiness with God, isn't doing its job. The Church isn't loving you if it's not telling you the truth in charity. It's doing you an eternal disservice.