The Church Must Give Up Its Claim On Morality
Christians don’t own morality. Not that long ago we pushed a political agenda and tried to rally ‘true believers’ under the banner “moral majority”. Sadly, we finally said out loud what we’ve thought for a very long time. We Christians are moral and the rest of you are immoral. At the same time this “moral majority” pushed their agenda I was working with teenagers in churches in the Midwest who wanted to know if the church was so moral why did their parents get divorced like their “immoral” friend’s parents did.
Ego: But if we give up morals how can I possibly prove I’m better than everyone else?
CV: Sorry E, I tried to tell you this yesterday, you’re not better.
E: I hate it when you say that. Do you know how long it takes me to psych myself back up after one of these talks?
CV: Look, everyone lives by a moral code, it just might not be the same as ours. Therefore, suggesting people are immoral is both technically wrong and it puts up walls that keep us from getting to know each other and sharing our stories.
E: How can you say that? Immorality is running amok!
CV: Amok? Nice. You’ve been dying to put that in a sentence haven’t you?
E: Yeah. But it’s still true.
CV: I’m not suggesting that people are perfect or never do or think things that are immoral. I couldn’t just on the basis of my own thoughts and actions.
E: Speak for yourself, I am very moral.
CV: O.K., let’s say you are, we still need to acknowledge that lots of people who don’t follow Jesus still live by a moral code. Remember our Anthropology studies. Cultures around the world who don’t follow Jesus still develop a morality and they pursue it.
E: So Jesus doesn’t make us better than everyone else?
E: Then, what are we doing this for?
CV: Wow, E, that’s unusually honest for you to ask.
E: Don’t get excited, I don’t think I agree with you, I’m just asking.
CV: O.K., as a starting place then I think we need to own a couple things. First, Jesus didn’t come, die and get resurrected to make us morally better people.
E: But he said, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect…” and what about all this holiness talk.
CV: Good questions. I think that you’ve got a fundamentally mistaken idea about what “perfect” meant as Jesus used it. It’s not your fault, it’s coming up with English words to communicate original concepts that gets us in trouble. Luke takes the same comment from Jesus and in his telling it’s translated “be merciful”. The big idea or concept is not about making mistakes or being better but being complete, be whole, don’t live by double standards and treat people you like one way and people you don’t like another. It’s about morals, but it’s not about being “perfect” the way we use the term today.
E: And being holy, how are you going to wiggle out of that one?
CV: Not trying to wiggle out, I don’t think I am, but holy is about, has always been about being set on one thing and one thing only – following Jesus or God – and living his way as opposed to being my own selfish pig. It doesn’t mean being better than anyone, it means, in fact, that I can’t boast because it’s not MY way, it’s HIS way and the only way I get there is by Him making it possible.
E: So you’re saying we don’t have to be moral to follow Jesus?
CV: I’m saying that if you’re following Jesus it will affect how you live towards yourself, your neighbour and the world around you.
E: Ah! I get it, you’re one of those “emergent” types that will never answer a direct question with a simple yes or no and keep trying to come up with clever answers that seem spiritual but are just ambiguous and meaningless.
CV: We’re down to name calling now are we? Tell me, have you stopped beating your wife? Yes or no?
E: What??? Beating my wife? I…
CV: Yes or no please, or are you one of those “emergent” types?
E: But, but, I can’t answer that question! If I say “yes” then I WAS beating my wife and if I say “NO” then I AM beating my wife.
CV: Sometimes the question is so wrong that no simple answer will suffice.
CV: As followers of Jesus we need to accept that we can talk about what we believe and share our stories that reveal the things that matter to us without being offended or upset that someone else doesn’t agree with everything we think is right, true or good. Not too long ago I got sucked into a facebook discussion with Jack, remember?
E: Do I ever! Talk about fun!
CV: Or not. But I let my buttons get pushed when I read his comment that Christians can’t vote for Obama. It boiled down to two big issues: abortion and same sex marriage. The problem for me was that morality is much bigger than either of those two issues.
E: Bigger how?
CV: Well, I think that how we treat our environment is a moral issue, how we treat the poor. The real trouble began when I suggested that there might be some morals involved in an invasion of a sovereign nation on false pretences. I suggested that torture at military prisons might be an ethics issue and that things like healthcare and education might be “moral issues” as well.
E: And this relates to your theses how?
CV: Simply that the Church has built walls with our claims of being more moral than everyone around us but the world doesn’t believe a word of it when we act rude, close minded, hurtful and dismissive. How can we possibly share Jesus when we claim the moral high ground while prominent leaders are busted for sex offenses, money scams and lying?
E: I’ll have to get back to you. I still think I’m better than everyone else, I just have to figure out how…
CV: Thanks Ego, we’ll pick this up again I’m sure.