Let’s talk about sin.
Not the garden-variety kind: Personal violations of the 10 Commandments get plenty of attention in sermons and confessionals.
No, I’m referring to what’s been called social sin – perfectly legal societal systems that tend to dehumanize and abuse the poor, minorities and others.
This kind of sin has been very much in the news.
When Nelson Mandela died Dec. 5, we were reminded of his lifelong battle against apartheid in South Africa. His struggle against laws that enshrined racial discrimination was also dramatized in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," a powerful new film now playing in Charlotte.
Most white South Africans went to church and considered themselves good people. But they accepted a sickeningly sinful system that relegated the black majority to second-class citizenship and resorted to state-sponsored brutality to enforce inequality and racial separation.
If that example seems foreign, replace “apartheid” with “segregation” and “South Africa” with “the United States,” and you should get an idea what social sin can look like.
Because of the bravery of many people – black and white – apartheid and legal segregation have joined Nazism and Soviet Communism (other deeply sinful systems) on the ash heap of history.
So, are we now free of social sin? Pope Francis doesn’t think so. In recent writings, he discussed the ways an unrestrained market economy put money ahead of people, the environment – and God.
The pope, Time magazine’s choice as Person of the Year, lamented the growing gap between the rich and everybody else. And, he wrote, “in this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile … is defenseless before the interests of a deified market.”
When you take on social sin, you get critics. Rush Limbaugh accused the pope of mouthing Marxism. That charge reminded me of what another Catholic leader, Archbishop Helder Camara of Brazil, one said: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist."
Is Pope Francis overstating things? I leave you with the case of Doretha Johnson, who was evicted from the Charlotte home she'd rented for four years by a Wall Street-backed investment firm.
“The house’s new owner, Invitation Homes, raised the rent by a third, beyond what she said her fixed income could afford,” the Observer reported in November.
In the shuffle of ownership, Johnson went ahead and paid the old rate of $650 when the rent was due. She got an eviction notice. When she then offered to pay $875, the new rate, for a month or two while she looked for a new place to live, the answer was no and she was forced to leave.
“They don’t care about people,” she said. “They just care about money.”
-- Tim Funk