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How would you answer the question: 'What is sin?'

When a journo asks you, you need a good response. Here’s one.

While four-letter words get all the attention, Christians struggle more with some three letter words. “Sin” for example. This word trapped Tim Farron, a public Christian who led the UK Liberal Democrats during last year’s election. On the campaign trail, Farron was asked: “Is gay sex a sin?” He prevaricated, finally answering “no”, and later resigned as the party’s leader.

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Farron has recently recanted to a Christian radio station, Premier, saying he should have answered “yes.”

“The thing is, you can’t argue people into a relationship with God.” – Gavin Ashenden

In the wake of the Farron turn-around, London talkback host Ian Dale asked Gavin Ashenden, missionary bishop and former chaplain to the Queen: “So, what is sin to you?”

“Sin is the distance between us and God,” responded Ashenden, who went on to provide brief and compelling answers to questions about sin.

“It is not that different from having a human lover. You want to be close and intimate. You want to do things that please him. You don’t want to do things that drive you apart and leave you lonely and broken.”

Dale responded: “I am not a religious person. I don’t feel broken or unforgiven. Or particularly sinful.” The talkback host suggested it was Ashenden’s job as a missionary to persuade him that he was sinful.

Ashenden replied: “The thing is, you can’t argue people into a relationship with God.  I spent 25 years at a university. I love arguing and I am happy to do it. But I notice that [coming to God] is not something that you can just do cerebrally or rationally … Essentially there comes a moment – sometimes suffering brings it on, sometimes death does, sometimes a moment of self-realisation when we look in the mirror and think ‘actually I am not everything I thought I was.’ And at that moment, we want something more in our lives. That’s the point where one can have a conversation and say, ‘would you like to grow closer to God?’ or ‘are you finding this distance hurting you?’”

All the media #hashtag stuff is about secular sin.

Secularists believe in sin too, Ashenden said. To make this point he used the example of the #MeToo movement, of women shaming men for sexual behaviours and crimes.

Ashenden: “I think secularism is a religion as well. I don’t buy the distinction between religion and secularism. For example, look at the global wars we have had recently. [Talking about the #MeToo campaign.] All the media #hashtag stuff is about secular sin.”

“It is about branding people as wrong-doers, sinners, outcasts, untouchables. It is exactly the same. It is just setting it in a secular sexual politics process.”

Sin is not linked to religion alone, explained Ashenden. “It is a human appreciation of the problems of alienation when one group of people tell another group of people they are not acceptable. Sometimes people get sin very right and sometimes they get it very badly wrong.”

“God has given us this incredible gift of freedom. This is at the heart of the human dilemma.” – Gavin Ashenden

Dale continued to interview Ashenden about the topic of sin, putting a question to him about why sin is so obviously associated with sex, particularly in the Catholic Church.

“I don’t think it is,” said Ashenden. “I think what has happened is that our society has become so associated with sex. We are an immensely sexualised society. We use sex to sell things all the time. It sells newspapers. It is at the heart of entertainment. Our society has become besotted by sex. And the moment someone says we are not handling it very well, it is not doing our kids any good … society rounds on the critics. ‘Oh you are obsessed with sex.’  ‘No, we are not. You are.’ Our society is obsessed with sex. It is in everything.”

“So I think the boot is on the other foot.”

London talkback host Dale took texts from listeners and put them to Ashenden. One wrote, “Please Ian, can you ask your guest, ‘How can god allow child abuse? Should the church focus on sins like this.’”

Ashenden replied: “God doesn’t allow it. People allow it. God has given us this incredible gift of freedom. This is at the heart of the human dilemma. We would be robots otherwise, programmed to do things.”

“When people do bad things to people, it is people’s fault. And God then says, ‘That is not how I want you to behave, that’s sin.’

“I think the church is exactly right to say [that] where people damage each other, why not turn around and go the other way … and if you do turn around and go the other way, you find forgiveness and a new life.”

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