Carillon edition of The United Methodist Reporter
The First United Methodist Church at The Chicago Temple
November 19, 2004
‘Christian’ moral values
There has been a lot of talk about the role “moral values” played in the recent election, sometimes with the modifier added, “Christian” moral values. By this, most commentators have concentrated on two positions: anti-gay-marriage and anti-abortion. I can agree that these are stances based on genuine moral values that people have taken, including Christians, but I suggest that does not make them Christian moral values.
I have two general tests to see if an ethical position is “Christian:” does it grow out of the core of Christian belief and practice based on the New Testament scripture and especially the gospel accounts of Jesus Christ’s teaching; and, is the principle universal in that it transcends particular cultures and epochs and applies to all Christians at all times?
The anti-gay marriage initiative, often taking the form of defining marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman, is an interesting case. For many of us the conventional marital arrangement is what Jesus refers to when he talks about how a man and a woman shall leave their families and join together as one flesh.
It is curious, however, and I point this out to wedding couples when we are choosing scriptural passages for their ceremonies, that there are very few models for modern marriage in the Bible. Adam and Eve aren’t it. Abraham, Sarah, and the concubines aren’t it. David and Bathsheba don’t help us. Jesus says precious little about it. And Paul advises it because it is better than burning in Hell. (Anyone married to Paul might have disagreed!) So, marriage of any form is not a major theme in the scriptures.
Of course, in the Roman Catholic Church marriage is forbidden for the clergy and the religious sisters. It is a lesser state, somehow, than being “married” to Christ. Methodist bishops in Africa might make up for it, however, since some of them have more than one wife, and it is accepted as commonplace.
So, there are some “variations on a theme” that ought to caution us from being too hasty to make blanket pronouncements. I think that we can agree that there is great value in monogamous relationships of loving commitment. I consider that a Christian ideal.
The fact that some same-sex couples have demonstrated such a covenantal love has been part of my learning over the years. I am interested in us finding ways to encourage such fidelity rather than discouraging it.
The anti-abortion stance is based upon the assertion that human life begins at conception. Undoubtedly, life in some form begins at that point, and it remains very precious life in all the subsequent forms of development. However, in the past our culture has not treated such nascent forms as full human existence, otherwise we would have established laws that declare every miscarriage as a death, requiring that a name be given, a death registered, and in a religious context, a funeral or memorial service held. No, we might think of a miscarriage as a “loss in the family” because it is death to a certain hope, but it is not considered the death of a viable human life.
About a century ago it was pretty clear that life started at birth and ended at death. With all of our scientific and medical advancements, those defining moments have become much more complex. But, to assert that there is only one “Christian” way to think about it simply is wrong since Christians think several ways about it.
The families with whom I have met as they struggled to decide to abort a fetus or not were very thoughtful and faithful. In some cases they decided that an abortion was the wisest and most ethical thing to do, especially when the mother’s life was at risk. In other instances the families decided against an abortion. In no situations have I been with families who were casual, uncritical, or jubilant, whichever way they decided. And in every case that I observed I believe that those in the best position to decide made the best decision.
So, what, then, are true Christian moral values? Jesus speaks them in the Beatitudes, the Great Commandment, and the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. I believe that it is universally true for all Christians that we are doing God’s will when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for children, tell the truth, house the homeless, insist upon justice, work for peace, and show mercy. I will be very pleased when we have an election decided on these values.
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