DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Finding Our Foundation

Written by: on March 30, 2020

The issue of morality is one that each of us wrestles with throughout our lives.  Where does morality come from?  Why was it wrong for Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit?  Why was it considered evil for Cain to murder Abel?  Why is it wrong to steal the Hershey’s bar from the gas station?  Why is premarital sex considered to be morally wrong for some, but completely okay for others?  Where once there was a system in which people could look to for the basis of morality, now the lines of right and wrong are becoming increasingly blurry.

One of the questions that Christian Smith asks in his book Lost in Transition, is that of where emerging adults (ages 18-23 year olds) find their sense of morality.  What makes it so difficult for young Americans to find a basis of morality?  Smith writes, “Six out of ten (60 percent) of the emerging adults we interviewed expressed a highly individualistic approach to morality. They said that morality is a personal choice, entirely a matter of individual decision. Moral rights and wrongs are essentially matters of individual opinion, in their view.”[1]  He notes later on that most emerging adults do not go to the extreme of moral relativism[2] but that they still retain an individualistic approach to morality.

Having an individual basis of morality is not bad.  Part of maturation is coming to the realization of where one falls on moral issues.  However, the problem is when morality does not cross the threshold into community.  In my church in Kentucky, one of my deacons frequently used the old adage, “God calls, but the church confirms.”  What he meant by this was that the individual call and individual growth is important, but it is ultimately realized in the face of the greater community.  In the same way, emerging adults should be empowered to wrestle with moral issues individually while simultaneously testing them against the morality of the greater community.  For Christians, this would also entail a discernment through the church, which is is then filtered through the Bible, tradition, reason, and experience.[3]

Theoretically, this should be helpful.  But there are other challenges that must be addressed within this sphere.  For one, there is the issue of the global nature of the world and the church.  Because of social media, it’s easier than ever to post one’s thoughts for the world to see as well as for one to catch a glimpse of where others around the world fall on various topics.  The issue of globalism has created a cultural relativism for some that makes it more difficult than ever to find one’s feet on solid ground.  Part of this reality is that it is easier to become aware of the teachings of other religions, which has led to the creation of pseudo-religions where one can pick the teachings one likes from different religions and form them into a personal conglomeration.[4]

One of the more striking statements that Smith makes is that “fully one in three (34 percent) of the emerging adults we interviewed said that they simply did not know what makes anything morally right or wrong.[5]  While we can fault the education system for this due to its neglect of teaching proper critical thinking skills in favor of standardized testing[6], the passing of morality and values ultimately finds its deepest foothold at home.  Kendra Creasy Dean writes, “Since the religious and spiritual choices of American teenagers echo with astonishing clarity, the religious and spiritual choices of the adults who love them, lackadaisical faith is not young people’s issue, but ours.”[7]  As morality is often tied with religious institutions, we can see the church as a place where moral teaching can occur.  However, young people are only at church once (maybe twice) a week; the rest of their time is spent with family and friends.  What they are exposed to is what they get.

For young Christians, what can we do?  If what Dean says is true, that faith is most consistently built at home, how can we empower parents to model their faith and morality to their children?  Is part of the problem that we take for granted the morality that we were raised with and expect others to understand it?  How can the dialogue between parents and their children be opened in a space that allows for both sides to wrestle with their questions?  If this space isn’t created, there will continue to be a disconnect between the globalized youth and localized adult.[8]

For the church, it is also important that it be a place for young Christians to be able to dialogue about issues.  While in retrospect some issues are more black or white than others, it’s in the gray that we find ourselves most often.  The gray is where growth happens and it shouldn’t be ignored, but rather embraced.

 

 

[1] Christian Smith, Lost in Transition, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2011), 21.

[2] Ibid., 27.

[3] The use of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a tool that would be useful in introducing to young Christians who must learn to wrestle with concepts of morality.

[4] Recently I was talking to a friend who grew up in a fundamentalist Christian tradition who ultimately found it too stifling and rigid.  Since leaving that tradition, my friend has become found a more “personal” religion that acknowledges the love of Christ, but mixes it with New Age and Buddhist teachings.

[5] Smith, Lost in Transition, 35.

[6] An interesting article on the subject can be found here <https://www.google.com/amp/s/observer.com/2018/01/american-education-system-suppresses-critical-thinking/amp/>

[7] Kendra Creasy Dean, Almost Christian, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2010), 4.

[8] By “localized adult” I’m referring to adults who are unaware/indifferent of what is happening in different parts of the world in favor of what is happening in their immediate local contexts.

About the Author

mm

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

12 responses to “Finding Our Foundation”

  1. mm Joe Castillo says:

    Independent morality. With the various names of positivist, scientific or natural morality, attempts have been made to build a morality independent of God.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      What I find interesting is that even in trying to create a system of morality independent of God, we still end up with traces of God in it. I’m not sure we can ever truly divorce the two from one another.

  2. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    You might just have the potent-phrase-of-the-week award again with the potential dichotomy between globalized youth and localized adult. One thing that is challenging is age-appropriate formation. I wrestle with this with college students. I need to give them a vision for a life-long walk with God, while giving them their developmental step.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Yeah. Part of education is learning how to provide appropriate training and education for different age groups. I think part of issue we’re facing is that we assume what people’s needs and problems are without actually asking them. I think some problems transcend generations (or if you look at the core, it’s something that’s already been dealt with, just repackaged), but how we address that current manifestation is crucial. Part of it as well is giving them a sense of empowerment in moving forward, not just telling them what to do. Doing that requires unravelling the narratives of consumerism.

  3. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Dylan,
    I wonder if the lackadaisical parental teaching on morals stems from a generation of Christians that were morally shamed and belittled? I’m wondering if much of what we are seeing in these emerging adults is the morality pendulum swinging hard in the other direction? If so, how do we correct it?

    Having a high schooler and a college student, it’s very difficult to instill what we believe to be moral when they are surrounded by SO MUCH that I consider to be immoral. Conversations are had, thoughts shared, but at the end of the day, they make their decisions, and as a parent, I cannot control them. I can only hope for the best, and that in some way we have communicated what it means to honor the imago dei in others.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Right. I think that most of what we see is a reaction to how previous generations were raised. Part of correcting that is realizing that it’s a reaction and asking ourselves why we’re reacting against it. I think that the identity emerging adults have had thrust upon them by the media and culture are part of this. When we’re constantly told that we’re supposed to act one way or we see how media portrays other areas of life, this shapes us.

      I think trust is key to what you’re saying though. We can pass down our thoughts and beliefs, but there’s no guarantee that the next generation will adhere to them (and maybe it’s best that they don’t sometimes if the narrative isn’t correct in itself). But what we need to do is equip emerging generations to be able to think critically about these beliefs and measure it for themselves.

  4. mm Greg Reich says:

    Dylan,

    I agree that the gray is where we struggle and where we all grow. I stopped asking why there are so many gray areas in life when I finally realized God gave only 10 commandments to his people. Throughout time those 10 turned into over 600 rules that held people in bondage. Jesus in turn boiled it down to 2: Love God and love people. In Christ we have been set free to walk in the grace and mercy of God yet we still prefer bondage. It is the gray areas in life that allow us to share and experience grace at its best. As you live in Hong Kong away from home what grey areas have become spaces of growth and grace?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      One of the common examples I use is alcohol. While my parents drank on occasion, growing up General Baptist meant that alcohol was something you aren’t supposed to consume. I went to a small General Baptist University that was a dry campus and drinking could get you expelled, so I never grew up around it or felt any social pressure to drink. However, moving to Hong Kong, I found that my friends (who were all devout Christians) never saw a problem with drinking. It became gray area for me as I began too see it wasn’t a cut and dry issue like what I was exposed to in the Bible Belt. Adding to it the fact that several of my closest friends here are Germans (and German Baptists), it became even grayer for me. When I reflected on my journey, part of it was unraveling cultural narratives and beliefs and invited me into a space of grace with my family.

      There’s also the issues of consumerism and nationalism that are so intertwined with faith. Being away from the US in that aspect has been extremely valuable in recognizing how connected faith in the US is to these systems.

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    Now that parents are all home-school teachers and home-church pastors, I’ve been curious to see the various approaches. Some boast of how much tv and wine they are consuming. Others are uber creative with activities and memory-making. I’m mostly interested in the parents in the middle- the ones who are trying model a faithful disposition, solid work-ethic, balance and peace. I think this pandemic will have a lasting impact on the school-aged kids of our country and I think much of the forensic evidence will be traced back to how their parents led the families during this season.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      It’s definitely a unique opportunity for parents. It’s been interesting to see the responses here in Hong Kong as well. Some of my friends who teach at international schools have told me how the parents complain that the technology they’re supposed to use isn’t sophisticated enough, others that it’s too complicated, some who are complaining that there’s not enough homework for the students to do while others complain there’s too much.

      However, I think at the heart of the matter is that parents don’t know what to do with their kids. Part of the culture here is that it’s also common for families to have helper (usually from the Philippines or Indonesia) who in effect act as the primary caregiver for the kids. Now that they’re home all the time and parents are also working from home more often, I can imagine those tensions beginning to rise. My prayer for the families here in Hong Kong is that they’ll use this time wisely.

  6. mm Steve Wingate says:

    “the passing of morality and values ultimately finds its deepest foothold at home.” So true. When I was ‘beginning to mature’ into adulthood I had friends who would share their pot pipe with their preteens. They didn’t know better by the example, but I’ll never forget little Liz saying things like Mommy I don’t like this. Mom said something like, it’s okay it’ll get better. O my.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I don’t think we realize how much our upbringing affects us until much later. When I moved to Hong Kong, I began hosting a lot of dinners for my friends and small groups or I would buy dinner when we were out. My friends would make comments like, “Oh, Dylan is so generous.” I reflected on that statement a lot and realized it wasn’t something of my own doing, but rather it was something I had observed my parents doing a lot growing up. My parents are both very generous when it comes to hosting and random acts of kindness like buying people’s dinners. I didn’t realize how I had taken that in as part of my own personality until people pointed out my actions.

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