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Have Christians lost their ethical footing?

Written by: on November 20, 2015

I’ve grown up in churches for most of my life, and ethics isn’t a subject that has been widely discussed or taught. Instead, I’ve more frequently observed church leaders talk about being holy, living a pure life, and abiding by Biblical principles. Many denominations have developed church disciplines in efforts to articulate their beliefs on how people should live and act. The church constantly seeks to translate biblical values into the current cultural context, as people are forced to decide what is right or wrong in situations that aren’t always clear. We live in a very grey world.  Lately, I’ve been concerned that people aren’t critically evaluating right vs. wrong and identifying their moral values, rather they react to situations strictly on their cultural and traditional ‘Christian’ ideas of what is right or wrong.

In The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context[1], we are presented with the idea that “morals refer to principles and values accepted within a specific culture. Ethics is essentially scholarly reflection on morality as a whole”. The author’s Nullens and Michener have attempted to build a system that helps to explain and understand morals.  Scripture dictates that we go beyond just understanding what is morally right or wrong, and to live as Christ would have us to in our day-to-day actions and behaviors.  Thus, acting ethically requires we take a systematic approach to first understand how we should act. As I ponder this, I am reminded of the fact that even church leaders often struggle with moral failures and understanding how to apply Scripture to answer life’s difficult questions. In the daily living out of our values, we need systems to help us intentionally consider how our values and actions reflect Christ.

I’ve been disappointed at the response that some Christians have had in the wake of terrorism and the recent the attacks in Paris. Christian Americans have been forced to think about how we should act and respond to suffering around the world. Do we close our borders in efforts to protect our own citizens? Do we stop refugees from entering our country? Do we increase military efforts to try and stop the terrorist activities? In order to stop the terrorists, do we make military moves that could put innocent people in danger? In response, many people in the Christian community have been quick to speak their opinions on social media. I’ve seen fear and hatred spreading like a virus through some church groups, as people seek to figure out what is best for Americans and their own family.  My observation is that too many people don’t care to critically evaluate or ethically consider the right action in light of our moral responsibility and Christian response.  Humility and compassion have taken a back seat to arrogant attitudes.  We are quick to react and make judgement calls, often based on news coming from unreliable sources like random social media postings.

Nullens and Michener remind us that we don’t live in a black and white world, and thus we must seek to understand what is superior and best before we act. “It is a matter of wisdom to discern how we use our Christian freedom in different situations.[2]” Our ethical response must be tied to who we are in Christ, and to the way we reflect Christ through our actions and behaviors.

 

[1] Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Paternoster, 2010).

[2] Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Paternoster, 2010).

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

10 responses to “Have Christians lost their ethical footing?”

  1. Travis Biglow says:

    Hi Dawnel,

    I have grew up in church environments that acted the same way. They were really into holiness and purity as well. But since things are not white and black did they miss a lot with just looking for purity in their cultural and Christian context. I see now how many things affected me and how I grew up thinking. Its a blessing to be able to critically think through things rather than blaming everything on the devil. Which many of them did without realizing that they may not have done something that was ethically right. I deal with preachers now who are very unethical in their thinking. And sometimes when people have the purse strings they are arrogant and cant see their ethical mistakes. Blessings

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Travis,
      In my experience, legalism has never taught a person to have better moral values or to make ethical decisions. Giving a person strict rules doesn’t teach them how to manage themselves when the rules don’t apply.

  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, Your post, like Nick’s, provoked me to think of “legalism” in the church and how that could possibly be the evil that has played a major role in stripping the church of a rooted ethic and the ability to approach a thinking, contemplating, conversing, orienting engagement with ethics in our lives and society. A black and white, right and wrong, holy or unholy, blinders-on, closed-minded, Christianeeze seems to have emerged that doesn’t approach the integrating of theology, philosophy, psychology, and sociology in our world. I know the Wesleyan Church has been marred by legalism and in some sense I think we are unfortunately only now seeing its greatest detrimental effects. Again, great post!

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Phil,
      It seems many see the damage that legalism and corruption has done, and yet I still see so many poor practices in day-to-day operations and decisions made. Sometimes I struggle to understand the ‘church’ environment. I’ve seen too many practices that are acceptable churches, yet the same practices would be considered unethical in secular organizations.

  3. mm Dave Young says:

    Dawnel, We can spend years learning lessons about loving our enemies, about Jesus’ compassion on the needy, about washing the feet of the least but given the opportunity to act we choke. You’re right in your disgust (maybe thats too strong) that we church going Christians aren’t translating our beliefs into our actions. You post reminds me of the “what would Jesus do movement”, those youth are now adults – I hope they don’t think Jesus would turn away refugees. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Dave, I wonder if we really want to hear the answer to ‘what would Jesus do?’ Sometimes it seems we justify our actions instead of weighing whether they are morally right.

  4. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    I’m with you Dawnel on the responses, no edit that – reactions – that so many people have had in regard to the attacks. I’m not sure what makes me sadder – the unnecessary loss of life at the hands of extremists or the reactions of people who could be considered acting out in another form of extremism. When you wonder about compassion and humility, I want to cry out to God – when will we get it right? Then I think of those who have sacrificed their lives in an effort to change how we engage one another. With Jesus Christ as our guide, he became the scapegoat so that the dynamic of sin could be broken. Now I wonder, how can I do that on a daily basis, especially in light of a global world with problems that seems to overwhelm me?

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Mary,

      Sometimes it is overwhelming when we listen to the voices all around us, and try to decipher the truth in the midst of the noise. You ask a profound question, “how can I do that on a daily basis?” In my personal life, the Holy Spirit gives me discernment. Do you think that American Christianity has failed to teach people how to discern and follow His Spirit. I often think about the fact that His presence is with us always, but it is often ignored or disregarded. How might we be reacting differently to the terrible things of this world if we more diligently listened to the Spirit?

  5. mm Brian Yost says:

    “Lately, I’ve been concerned that people aren’t critically evaluating right vs. wrong and identifying their moral values, rather they react to situations strictly on their cultural and traditional ‘Christian’ ideas of what is right or wrong.”

    I see this as well. The problem with cultural and traditional views of right and wrong are that they tend to have a life of their own. They lack an absolute standard and can change quickly. Even traditions, which by their nature should be more consistent, tend to drift and look very different from one generation to the next. Not to mention the fact that many “traditional” Christian values are conflict with Jesus’ teachings.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Brian,
      I agree with you that cultural and traditional views of right and wrong seem to evolve and change. People need to be taught how to make ethical decisions, instead of being told what is and is not morally right. We have made ‘following’ Christ’s ways complicated. As you indicated, what is being taught isn’t necessarily in alignment with Scripture. And, there is much disagreement and disunity on major moral issues that our country is facing. Hence, I believe the American church (in general) has lost it’s voice and authority to speak on what is and isn’t morally right. So, I believe the challenge for American churches is two-fold: 1) how does the church find it’s voice, and 2) how can the church better teach a person to apply ethical reasoning?

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