Those who say it is impossible to love the sinner and hate the sin should take a second look at the case of former Secretary of Education William Bennett. When Newsweek and The Washington Monthly reported that the author of The Book of Virtues lost millions of dollars to the vice of gambling, many commentators excitedly twittered that it would place social conservatives in a Gordian knot. His fellow virtuecrats, it was argued, would either have to cannibalize one of their own, attacking him with the same vitriol they spew on other sinners, or they would be forced to back away from their so-called moral absolutes.

But with remarkably few exceptions, Christian conservatives did neither. Far from being shocked that Bennett had a moral Achilles' heel, they understood clearly the breadth of original sin, that each of us has a plank or two in our own eyes.

As Christians, we also understand that ultimately, virtue and vice are beside the point. For what is vice but a pretty word for sin, and what is virtue but an attempt to reconcile ourselves with God and others (i.e. The Law)? Virtue is necessary for ordering society and our own lives. But the heart of the Christian message is not "Do good."

Jesus was the only one able to live a truly virtuous life. And it is only by virtue of his death and resurrection that we can be called virtuous. This is the theological core of Christianity—and it provides the motivation and the power to live a life of active goodness.

Christians can therefore affirm that gambling away millions of dollars is not God's will for Bill Bennett. They can use the opportunity to decry how casinos and other forms of institutionalized gambling exploit the vulnerable. They can encourage gambling addicts to seek help in ...

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Christianity Today
Beyond Virtue and Vice
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July 2003

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