Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stop Snitching: God Said So

Those who know me well are aware of my long-time interest in early Christian history, but it's rare to find that interest coinciding with topics I cover on this blog. An occasional exception, though, can be found on the subject of "snitching," about which religious sources are both verbose and all over the map.

I had the opportunity today to read about the Synod of Elvira, an important provincial religious council in Spain that occurred sometime during the first decade of the Fourth Century, prior to Emperor Constantine's conversion and Christianity's formal, public acceptance in the Roman Empire. This was a period when Christians were harshly persecuted by the Romans, so I was unsurprised but certainly humored to find in the translated text an ancient, Christian version of the modern "stop snitching" code (here's the only web version I can find: Scroll down to see #73):
A Christian who denounces someone who is then ostracized or put to death may not commune even as death approaches. If the case was less severe, he or she may commune in less than five years. If the informer was a catechumen, he or she may be baptized after five years.
Refusing communion was the most terrible punishment early Christians could think of - far more awful, in the long run, than the death penalty for the unsaved soul.

The reference to a Christian denouncing someone in the context of the Elvira Synod meant ratting out a fellow Christian to the Roman authorities, which quite possibly could get them killed. In that case, their excommunication was permanent.

These Christians had read most of the same books of the Bible we do now (they probably had more, actually), and they knew the admonition to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." But the Elvira Synod did not consider their truthful testimony about fellow Christians something that belonged to Caesar. Instead, snitching on fellow Christians was declared an offense against God by which a Christian risked everything, literally their eternal soul.

Context is everything, isn't it? Who'da thought early Christians may have been progenitors of a version of the "stop snitching" meme?


Anonymous said...

Scott I think you might look at the two commandments of Christ to understand the position taken by the early church on ratting out your fellow Christians. Jesus told us the most important commandment was to love God and the second was to love others as we love ourselves. Also one must consider the individual Christians are considered individual parts of the body of Christ/Church. If one part of the body is damaging to another part of the body then it must be removed as we do cancer today. If an arm or leg threatens the viability of the rest of the body it must be amputated (excommunicated). When one of the early Christians ratted out his fellow Christian he violated both commandments. The rat attacked God and the body of Christ (the Church) and he did not love others as he loved himself.
Another thing to consider is the motive of the heart of the suspected rat. Who’s interest is the rat looking out for. If the rat has placed himself before others at their expense he has sinned and come short of the glory of God. The rat of today usually gives true or fabricated information on another to his personal benefit usually in the form of a walk or reduced sentence.
We must ask ourselves does the comparison between the early church rats and criminals snitching of today hold up as a sinful activity. First snitching is self-serving so the motive of the heart is not to serve others but oneself. If false or not totally accurate information is given by the rat then a lie has to be told resulting in sinful action. Clearly the rat is not showing love for God since the rat is doing something that is self-serving. The rat does also not love others as he loves himself. It appears from my point of view ratting out people is a sinful activity when one considers the rat’s motive of the heart. Christ has called us to be servants to others, not ourselves. If a rat informed truthfully on another because he felt the person had crossed the line of acceptable behavior in some way with no personal gain then no sin would have occurred because the motive of the heart is not self-serving. An example would be a criminal informing on a child molester with no personal gain other than feeling a child molester is engaged in a behavior he cannot allow to go unreported.
Many police officers and DAs think snitching is acceptable because it satisfies their needs for an easy closing of a case. Their laziness is a sin in itself. I cannot believe they think for one second their snitches are completely truthful thus they encourage another to lie for personal gain again resulting in sinful activity. It seems to me our legal system has become extremely corrupt due to the use of snitches. Suborning perjury is a criminal act and is evidence of a corrupt system of law enforcement with no ethical boundaries.
The Bible tells us the wages of sin are death. The sinful man is forever separated from the love of God thus there is a spiritual death. The sinner reaps the harvest of his sinful activities in this life as well. There is a price to be paid in this life for our sinful actions. Sometimes the cost is paid by others as well as the sinner. Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves so when we sin we do not love others and society suffers as well as the sinner.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Excellent response! Thanks!

Prison Writings, Interviews, and Art said...

Wasn't Judas a snitch?

Anonymous said...

Great entry by anon at 10:27! Allow me to point out, however, that a sinner is forgiven by God by accepting Christ as Savior and put in right-standing with Him. True, we have to suffer the consequences of our actions in this life, but Christ has paid the price for us eternally when we accept His payment by faith."It's the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—"Jesus is my Master"—embracing, body and soul, God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That's it. You're not "doing" anything; you're simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: "God has set everything right between him and me!"

(Romans 10:9-10, The Message)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

On Judas and snitching, it depends on who you ask: In the canonical Bible, yes; in the Gospel of Judas, no. I've written previously about Judas and snitching here.

And to 7:11, re "you're not 'doing' anything" - I disagree. Faith without works is dead, Christ's brother James declared, and I think that's right. It does matter how we live our lives on earth, and mere intellectual acceptance of Christ's supremacy without deeds to back up the words leads to a shallow faith indeed.

Is it a sin to snitch? I think 10:27 has made an excellent New-Testament-based case that it is. If so, the informant has not only sinned against God - for which their fate will be decided later - but against their fellow man, their "neighbor" who Jesus instructed to love as "yourself."

You can say as loud and proud as you want, "God has set everything right between him and me." But if you have sinned against others, saying so isn't enough. IMO living the gospel here in the world is also required for salvation. best,

Unknown said...

Mark Bennett has been writing about snitches when he is not trying cases but I know he usually reads your post anyway.
Anonymous posted a great post. I don't have time right now to read all the other links but I am really enjoying the information. Our prosecutors in Tulsa claim to be Christians and most of our juries claim religious affiliation and I am a Christian and so this information has multiple links and usefulness for me. Thanks. Amen!
Glen R. Graham, Attorney, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Anonymous said...

Paul instructed church members to excommunicate members for wrong doing. They were cast out so they might understand they were better off with God. The excommunication was for their own good if they could be saved. If they could not be saved then the body of Christ was better off without them in Paul’s view.

It is true Christ dies for all of our sins but we are required to do more than pay lip service to him. Works cannot be evidence of true faith but true faith naturally produces works pleasing to God as His plan for our lives unfold.

When dealing with Christians who think they have a lock on right living and treatment of others I am compelled to think about Matthew 25 31-46. Jesus is very up front about his expectations for us in Mathew 25. In Theology School I was taught there are three levels in the rules of life. First is the Common Law. Second are the moral standards of man. Third are the Commandments of God. Each calls for a higher level living. Jesus is very interested in the motive of the heart or why you are doing works. Is it self serving? Is it for the good of others? Is it pleasing to God?

Matthew 25
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' 37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' 41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' 44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' 46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

By - 11/14/2007 10:27:00 PM Second Post

Anonymous said...

from anon @ 11/15/07 07:11.....I heartily agree with your statements on living out our faith; a changed life is a natural outcome of saving faith. I didn't mean to imply that we just have to believe and that was the end of our journey. Accepting Christ is only the beginning of our walk on the narrow way that leads to life. Our gratitude for being saved should affect all we do as we live out our lives and seek to please God.

Anonymous said...

LMAO! Using christianity to attack the use of informants?! "The enemy of my enemy must be my friend". You really crack me up, Scott, kind of like the 1980's moral majority. Different battle but the same kind of fallacy.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What fallacy is that?