[This is the fourth (ethics) of a nine-part series on empowering a faith community to impact the world. Already hospitality, evangelism, and missions have been explored.]
Have you ever cheated on your taxes or your spouse? Have you ever disregarded systemic homelessness or human trafficking?
How long has it been since your church or faith community engaged in a conversation of ethics, both personal and systemic? There is no end to ethical issues. These issues could include physician-assisted death, capital punishment, living wage, gun control, drone war, and fair use of water.
Most churches avoid such moral and ethical conversations. Instead, churches possess thinly veiled and unwritten propositions that are flippantly bantered without any critical thinking.
Such avoidance of moral and ethical conversations can come from at least three places. First, the personal and corporate nature of the sins of commission and omission come into play. Second, the overwhelming fear of divisiveness within the fellowship stifles such conversations. Third, Baptist Christians are particularly shy about corporate declarations due to the distinctive of the priesthood of all believers.
Humanity looks for the ethical pathway to bring order out of chaos. This human pursuit for order advances the goal for finding purpose and meaning in life. The purview of the church surely includes this ethical pursuit through the life and work of Jesus.
Finding our way into purpose and meaning comes back to Jesus when he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The main test of ethical behavior for a Christian is whether an act or a failure to act is in keeping with Christ’s command that we love God and love our neighbor.
There is a well-documented decline in church acceptance by millennials and attendance by members. It is due in part to this avoidance of ethics discussions.
What is the practice of such discussion? First, it could be a series in Sunday morning classes or options. Second, it could be table conversations on Wednesday nights. Third, it could be a lunch discussion after worship. There is no goal for a church-wide vote. The goal is achieved in the critical thinking and the resultant faith formation.
Joe Phelps, in his book, More Light, Less Heat, offers this hopeful notion of dialogue:
Dialogue is an ongoing conversation between Christians of differing convictions who recognize their human limitations and who believe that God can use our various moral and theological conflicts to teach and re-form the church for holy living.
May it be so!