A Question I Was Asked:

Should We Not 'Name and Shame' Sinners?

The Question:

Hasn't the time arrived for Christians to name and shame specific sinners? Surely we must go beyond just talking of sin in a general way and should now look at people in the public limelight, branding them as sinners who are heading for Hell?

UK Apologetics Reply:

No, absolutely not. We Christians should condemn the sin but never specific sinners; God alone is the judge!

When Princess Diana died, an English Sunday School told his class the following Sunday, "Where is Diana right now? Why, she is in Hell!" His comment was later repeated by the children to their parents and this caused outrage. I think rightly so. Fact is: that Sunday School teacher was taking it upon himself to send Princess Diana to Hell, and you and I have no authority to do that! We must always be careful to condemn the sin but not the sinner.

We must accept the fact that none of us are perfect. We have all sinned to a greater or lesser degree. Only God can take all such things into account and be an absolutely fair, just and impartial judge and He will indeed be just that.

A friend told me of an outstanding Christian in a congregation he once attended. The man was about 60 and lived with an inseparable long-term male friend. They were both much involved in charitable works. The men served selflessly and everyone noted their refusal to condemn. When the 60-year old man died, it was learned that the two men had been homosexual partners. My friend simply accepted the fact with a little sadness but the congregation leaders sought to condemn the surviving partner, although he was in deep grief over the loss of his friend at the time. The leaders also sought to condemn the man who had died in the church newsletter. My friend was appalled and decided to have no further association with that fellowship. Of course, homosexuality is not an ideal situation but was it being seriously suggested that there were no other sinners within that congregation??

Without question, the matter of the men's relationship, once learned of, should have been held in very strict confidence by the church leaders. That is a case of condemning specific sinners (which we all are), rather than sin.

The church must not start condemning specific sinners - because all are sinners - but should condemn sinful behaviour (of all kinds), wherever it may be found. This was the heresy of donatism, so rightly condemned by Augustine of Hippo. The donatists wanted to throw out of the church those whose standard of righteousness did not meet the approval of certain self-appointed 'super' righteous ones. The church had gone through a period of severe persecution but now those who had held fast (to their eternal credit) wanted to go on a witchhunt against those who had (in their eyes), not done enough. The church can never operate or behave in such a way.

Fact is: the church must necessarily be a body of saints and sinners, wheat and tares. Only at the end of time will our Lord divide the sheep from the goats. Now, of course, this does not mean that really bad behaviour should be tolerated within a congregation, it plainly should not and any such problem should be appropriately handled by the leaders whilst maintaining the strictest confidence, only in very rare cases, after every avenue has been explored, should anybody be marked as a heretic or disfellowshipped for openly living in a sinful manner.

Apparently the two men were accepted as being a credit to their congregation and contributed much to its life but, upon the death of one of them, tabloid-style 'digging' into their private lives apparently took place - that is scandalous.
Robin A. Brace. November 28th, 2011.