The recent Presidential Forum on Faith, Values, and Poverty was sponsored by Sojourners/Call to Renewal. The name given to the forum would lead one to think that the forum was going to focus on the way that the faith and values of the three presidential candidates who participated (Clinton, Edwards, and Obama) would influence their administration’s policies on dealing with the problem of poverty in this nation.

To Jim Wallis’ (Sojourners Editor-in-Chief and Call to Renewal CEO) credit, when he got a chance to ask a question he zeroed in on the poverty issue. The discussions that grew out of questions like those asked by Wallis in which the candidates addressed how their faith would inform their policies were helpful.

But there were other kinds of questions, too.

The question of the night, and I don’t mean that in a positive way, was asked by moderator Soledad O’Brien, who works for CNN.

She asked John Edwards, right there in front of a studio audience of 1,300 and a national television audience, “What is the biggest sin you’ve ever committed?”

Edwards’ answer was not bad. He said:

“I’d have a very hard time telling you one thing, one specific sin. If I’ve had a day–I turn 54 years old this Sunday–and if I’ve had a day in my 54 years where I haven’t sinned multiple times, I would be amazed. I believe I have. I sin every single day. We are all sinners. We all fall short, which is why we have to ask for forgiveness from the Lord. I can’t–to try to identify one particular sin that was worse or more extreme than the others, the list is too long.”

As I said, that’s not a bad answer, and it’s one that you would expect a Baptist like Edwards to offer.

As a public service, I’d like to offer some other answers that one could give to that question. So, if you’re ever asked in public (or in private, for that matter), what the biggest sin you’ve ever committed is, you have my permission to use one of these, free of charge.

1. “Thank you for this opportunity to come clean; I’ve been craving an opportunity to tell everybody about this.”

2. “Lying. Take my word for it.”

3. “Thank you for giving me the chance to finally make my mother proud.”

4. “Never been a sinner, I’ve never sinned. I’ve got a friend in Jesus. So I know that when I die, he’s gonna set me up with the Spirit in the sky.” (Credit: Norman Greenbaum’s song “Spirit in the Sky.”) Note: this one will work better if you’re wearing ratty jeans, a tie-dyed T-shirt, and have a vacant look in your eyes.

5. “Tag; you’re it.” Then run away.

6. “I really can’t tell you, but you know those seven deadly sins? If anybody knew about it, they’d have to expand the list to eight.”

7. “I don’t remember exactly, but I think it involved a weedeater, a live chicken, and some peach preserves.” (Credit: Ray Stevens’ song “It’s Me Again, Margaret.”)

8. “*%#*^&*!*&#^*#!!^!!!!!”

9. “I plan to post it on my blog tomorrow.”

10. “I can’t tell you, but believe this: the Southern Baptist Convention has not even dreamed of passing a resolution against it.”

11. “My psychiatrist told me that if I talked about it, it would just set me off again.” Note: this one is more effective if you clinch your fists really tight and stop blinking.

12. “That’s a very good question. Now let me try to evade you.” (Credit: the late Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas)

13. “I’ll bet you can’t guess what I’m thinking.” Note: this one should be accompanied by a leer.

14. “I served as technical advisor for ‘Hostel,’ ‘The Hills Have Eyes,’ ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and Gigli.'”

15. “From a psychological perspective, I doubt you could handle the answer. From a theological perspective, I doubt that you have the depth to understand the question. From an anthropological perspective, I doubt that this discussion will in any way enhance this or any other culture. From a sociological perspective, I refuse to reduce the crises of my life to the standards set by our cultural mores. From a personal perspective, it’s none of your business. And from a physical perspective, I’m now too tired to talk any more about it.”

16. “I asked Jesus about that. He said he didn’t remember.”

17. “I don’t know, but at least I’ve never asked somebody a question as dumb as ‘What’s the biggest sin you’ve ever committed?'”

Michael Ruffin is pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga. This column appeared previously on his blog.

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