Recognizing the ‘Sins of Our Fathers’ Means Admitting We’re Their Children

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The Bible tells us we only escape original sin through our perfect savior.

My dad has been bald since I can remember. As a high-school kid, I convinced myself that I didn’t have his hairline. Here I am, 34 years old and slowly succumbing to the inevitable arithmetic of heredity plus time.

Some inheritances can’t be escaped. We’ve seen this truth on full display during the widespread protests this summer. A generation of Americans is coming to terms with the nation that’s been passed down to them. Each Confederate monument crashes with symbolism: I’m not like my father—or my forefathers!

In recent years, our culture has been groping in the darkness toward a doctrine of primeval sin based on societal categories of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. Meanwhile, evangelical Christians seem to be struggling with the plain ramifications of what we claim as basic truth. Belief in original sin means taking seriously in the present the sins of the past.

Historic Christianity has produced various conceptions of original sin , but analytical theologian Oliver Crisp has pinpointed where all orthodox traditions intersect: “Original sin is an inherited corruption of nature, a condition which every fallen human being possesses from the first moment of generation.” Sin is not merely a matter of imitating bad behavior. It’s an inheritance: “In a way akin to congenital genetic conditions that are passed from both parents to their child, original sin is passed down the generations as a kind of moral disorder or defect.”

Anecdotal and statistical data bear this out. Regarding patterns of intergenerational child abuse, the Children’s Bureau reported, “Many (but not all) studies on the topic have found that parents who experienced childhood …

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