Culturally Acceptable Sins

Lessons from Living Abroad

I recently moved back to America after spending two years abroad working with an international non-governmental organization in La Paz, Bolivia. Living outside of the United States for a prolonged period of time opened my eyes in various ways and taught me many lessons. One lesson I learned is that followers of Jesus tend to be more permissive of sins that are endemic to their culture. In these areas, we tend to map our life and doctrine to the underlying culture instead of building a new culture on the word of God. We tend to acknowledge these sins by name but largely ignore their manifestations in our lives. You don't hear many sermons preached on them, and talking about them seriously tends to make us feel uncomfortable and evoke a response like, “Let's not be legalistic here,” “Don't you think that's a little radical?” or, “I’m not sure how literally we're supposed to take these scriptures.” That being said, in practice, we tend not to actually challenge each other in these areas of unrighteousness because we usually don't to see their specific manifestations as particularly sinful. We are blind to these sins and have a very hard time seeing their presence in our lives because of how pervasive they are in our culture. Instead of holding ourselves to the word of God in these areas, we justify our actions as long as they are slightly better than the world.

Being out of American culture for a prolonged period of time allowed me to see certain acceptable sins of both Bolivian culture and American. There were things I saw as obviously sinful that Bolivians tended to justify and have a hard time seeing the same way. This was because I was approaching the situation from outside of their culture. I didn't have their cultural blinders on, I had American cultural blinders on. At the same time, I saw Bolivians approach situations as sinful that Americans probably would not have approached as sinful. They were not blinded by American culture.

Of course, we know that we are called “not [to] be conformed to this world, but [to] be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind” (Romans 12:2). We know that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) and that “[God’s] kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) So our standard should be independent of our culture. As members of God’s household, we should be constructing a new culture for ourselves, a heaven-on-earthly culture.

What do you think are some of the acceptable sins of your culture?