Hugo Schwyzer, my father-in-law, and the problem of grace

For the story on Hugo Schwyzer, you can read this.

For the story on my father-in-law, you can start here.

For those who want a quick summary:

Hugo Schwyzer wrote about women’s issues for Relevant Magazine.  The magazine chose not to disclose Schwyzer’s checkered past, which included an attempt to kill his girlfriend and himself.

My father-in-law molested his son, and sees no reason that the church he pastors needs to know about this.


1.  Favor or goodwill. Synonyms: kindness, kindliness, love, benignity; condescension.
2.  A manifestation of favor, especially by a superior: It was only through the dean's grace that I wasn't expelled from school. Synonyms: forgiveness, charity, mercifulness. Antonyms: animosity, enmity, disfavor.
3. Mercy; clemency; pardon: He was saved by an act of grace from the governor. Synonyms: lenity, leniency, reprieve. Antonyms: harshness.

One fallacy that many Christians subscribe to is that all sin is equal.  Adolf Hitler perpetrating the Holocaust is no different to God than you uttering a choice bit of profanity or not going back into the grocery store when you realize you forgot to pay for something.  

If God exists, I’m not going to speak for him/her/it.  I will say that even a cursory examination of the above sentiment should cause any rational being to see that it is, to put it lightly, a bunch of horse shit.  There’s no legal system in the history of the world, to my knowledge, that operates in this manner.  No country (or parent, for that matter) has equal consequences for every crime.

But not only do some Christians believe that all sin is equal, they believe that the consequences for all sin should be equal - namely, that there should be none.

Oh, sorry - did I say all sin?  I meant their sin, of course.

People who defend Mr. Schwyzer my father-in-law have a common refrain: the past is the past!  Forgive!  Don’t these people deserve GRACE?  After all, we’re all sinners!  Do YOU give everyone a laundry list of every offense you’ve ever committed before you apply for a job (in the case of my father-in-law) or make a blog post (in the case of Mr. Schwyzer)?

Well no, of course I don’t.  That would be ridiculous.  
You see, folks, this may come as a shock to some of you, but not every situation is the same as every other one.  Some things, such as the application of grace, must be judged on a case by case basis.

Shocking, I know!  But you see, as I have never committed a felony, the government doesn’t require me to list any of my past grievances on a job application.  My potential employer doesn’t care.  They might ask me what my biggest weakness is, but I’m free to make up a bullshit answer like “I’m such a perfectionist!” or “I just love working overtime so much!”.

I don’t post about my own sins on my blog because...well, to be perfectly honest, it’s my blog and I’ll post about whatever the hell I want, thank you very much.  But there’s another reason: None of my posts, so far, relate to any of my particular vices of choice.  I wrote about "pastor" Sean Harris' inflamatory remarks, but I’ve never said that children should be beaten for not conforming to gender roles.  I wrote about the problems with the leadership at my former church, but I’ve never committed adultery or gotten divorced (both of which pastors at my former church did).

I am, however, obsessed with my blog stats.  That’s why this article contains three, count ‘em, THREE links to previous posts.  There, I got that off my chest.  

Different actions have different consequences.  Hugo Schwyzer tried to commit a murder-suicide, with the target of the murder being his girlfriend at the time.  He seems to have cleaned up his act since then, but if he wants to write about women’s issues, he should disclose this.  Why?  Because it might change people’s attitudes about what he writes.  If he wrote about amateur carpentry or stamp collecting, he should not have to disclose this.  Why?  Because, in that context, it wouldn’t matter.  Woody Allen does not open every one of his movies with a disclaimer that says he had a sexual relationship with his adopted daughter.  Why?  Because in that context, it doesn’t matter.  He’s just providing entertainment.  If he wrote a book about parenting, yes, I would expect it to be addressed.

(Another confession - I’m lazy when it comes to research.  Thus the link to Wikipedia for the Woody Allen reference.  Be grateful you got a link at all.).  

Likewise, if my father-in-law didn’t work at a job that put him in a position of authority over minors, I wouldn’t expect him to tell his employer that he molested his son.  In fact, he works at a grocery store in addition to being a pastor, but my wife and I aren’t expecting him to tell them what happened.

But some people break out in a rash at the thought of not handling every situation in the same manner.  They can’t handle shades of grey.  Well, I’ve got news for you:  grey is just the beginning.  There’s blue, red, purple, something called “chartreuse”, and that’s not even getting into the ridiculous names they’ve come up with for house paint.  

These colors are all  around you.  When you have a conversation with someone, you handle each one differently depending on who you are talking to and what you are talking about.  When you’re watching TV or reading a book, you are entertained by some things but not other things.  And, when someone wrongs you, you handle it differently depending on who the guilty party is and what the offense is.  If I get mugged, I call the police.  If my four year old daughter is rude to me, I put her in timeout.  No one gets up in my grill for “not showing them grace”, and if I called the police on my daughter or tried to put the mugger in timeout, I would be rightfully considered a lunatic.

So why are so many Christians so quick to defend people like Schwyzer or my father-in-law?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s some perverted application of the Golden Rule; after all, I’m sure they would want the same treatment for any of their past transgressions.  

Or maybe they feel that the in-equal application of consequences is a direct attack on their faith.

After all, they believe Jesus paid for everyone’s sins equally, right?  He didn’t die more for some people’s sins, and he didn’t forgive some more than others.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, etc. etc .  If they are forced to admit there are, for lack of a better term, different “levels” of sin, or different consequences for different sins, why, that might just burst their neat theological bubble.

Perhaps the bubble needs to be popped?  Just a thought.

What do you think, dear readers? 

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