Is it permissible to associate with deliberate sinners, both within and outside of the Church?
What I mean by “deliberate” sinners is: sinners who are in the process of sinning, show no signs of being willing to stop and are doing so knowing of the sinfulness of their actions
From what I have read in Sacred Scripture at least, it seems that we are very often if not always to shun their company. Or, at least we seem to see this with reference to those inside the Church.
Yet there are many today who would encourage us to stick by them and to continue loving them, doing good to them and even enjoying (the positive aspects of) their company. After all, most people are not entirely bad and many who are found in sin have other issues and simply need acceptance (as a person) and an ear to listen to them. I have always preferred this view, but with the qualifications that we are not in any way to participate, condone or support mentally or physically their sin and under the condition that we are strong enough not to fall into that sin with them. It has always been my belief that more people are stronge enough to do these things than we often realize.
However, again, there are those troubling passages in Scripture that seem to prescribe that we totally socially isolate ourselves from them, even though Christ Himself ate with apparently deliberate sinners and even though God, in some sense, continues to “associate” with them by doing good to them (He makes it to rain and shine on the good and the evil).
Furthermore, as I understand it, while there used to varying degrees to be classes of deliberate sinners, at least within the Church, that were to be avoided (called “vitandi” in the Middle Ages within the context of excommunication), in modern times, all such practices of shunning seem themselves to be shunned. If there are so many Scriptures that seem to speak positively of the practice of shunning, then why are we today encouraged quite in the opposite direction? For, did not Christ Himself prescribe a kind of shunning of deliberate sinners when He asked us, if someone sinned against us, first to confront him privately, then to take with us witnesses, then to take it to the Church and, if the sinner will not hear the Church, that that person should be treated as a tax collector and a Gentile (as I understand it, shunned from the society of the Church and possibly even her members individually).
For me, I’ve always thought the decision whether to avoid someone or not should be up to the individual and not necessarily determined as a catch-all rule for everyone.
As far as the Scripture quoting the poet Menander stating that “bad company corrrupts good morals”, I would argue that the statement was made not to discourage association but as more a descriptor of what was already happening within the church that was being addressed. After all, the only way morals can be corrupted is if someone willingly does what the “bad company” is doing or follows after it because he is already somewhat of a corrupt mind to begin with. At least that’s how I understand it.
So, again, why does the Church today discourage pretty much any practice of shunning, a practice which seems even to be advocated by none other than Christ Himself?
To be very blunt and honest, I myself have always highly frowned upon shunning of any kind for the reasons I have stated above and, frankly, because I am of a personality type (INFJ), I think, that tends to attach very easily to people in terms of love, affection, sympathy and even empathy for them. I loathe seeing people entirely abandoned, most especially by those who might love them most fully.
So, should we or should we not associate with deliberate sinners both inside and outside the Church? (I mean that I am asking the question both of believers and unbelievers.) Why or why not?
If we are permitted to associate with men such as I am describing, what do we do with all of the problematic passages that seem to suggest otherwise? (and I’ve only scratched the surface here in this post of the Scriptures that seem to suggest shunning as the proper mode of conduct toward these men)
I am particularly interested in those who would advocate not shunning these individuals. I am interested in hearing the arguments they make from Scripture, Tradition and reason in favor of their position. I am also interested in hearing how they deal with the Scripture, Tradition and reason that seem to speak in favor of complete and total shunning of such people.
Of course, I do not wish to neglect those on the other side of the equation. I am always willing to change my opinion if the argument is strong enough. In fact, I am not even 100% sure about the viability of my present opinion in favor of not shunning.