Tag Archives: Ethics

The Way Forward, Part Five: Good People, Bad Systems: Steps to Liberation

In our contentious world, it is wise that we pause and examine some of the foundations of our current chaos. We are assailed with ideological inputs from all sides. The moment someone calls for personal responsibility for social ills they are labeled insensitive, racist, or worse. When another utters the words, “systemic injustice” they are branded a Marxist. Dialogues end in both cases and resolutions are far away.

This essay is not about ideological preferences or even specific public policies. My aim is unveiling a phenomenon that hinders human flourishing: we have many good people trapped in bad systems. For decades I have listened to thoughtful women and men offer innovative solutions in classrooms and over coffee, only to go back into their offices and organizations that stifle creativity and promote conformity.

These bad systems almost have a life of their own. They breed fantasies and fatalism – promising the world with just a bit more money or promoting a bureaucratic apathy of hopelessness that hopes next year’s budget includes them. These bad systems are in private and public agencies and recognizing the signs and refusing to submit to the inevitable are the first steps forward toward liberation.

There are three insights that will help us find freedom. First, we must recognize the phenomena of systemic captivity. These include losing sight of the mission, self-preserving activities, and forgetting that all systems are supposed to serve the mission, not become an end in themselves. Second, we must accept that real change is painful and includes many finding new employment or learning new skills. Effectiveness includes new efficiencies. Institutional systems must be nimble. Transitions can be compassionate, but they will not be easy. Third, advocates of systems change will be marginalized, even hated. The purest motives and the wisest pathways will still meet the inevitable resistance to change.

Here are two applications that can change history. The first is commitment to a balanced federal budget and more local administration of vital programs. We need the universal ethics of federal influence (to ensure fairness) and the efficiencies of local systems for many public programs. Of course, there will be many job changes if we get serious about this. A second application more fun: non-profit and for-profit partnerships that help further flourishing with each bringing the best of their ethos and systems to the particular causes they are working on together. Good ethics and best practices apply to both kinds of organizations.

Before we label or libel leaders, let’s pause and look at the systems in place and see if we can find common cause in reform that leads to better results.

The Way Forward, Part Three: An Ancient-Future Posture: Holiness and Hospitality

“You are invalidating and rejecting people with your narrow-minded intolerance.” “The Bible is full of ideas that are outdated.” “You preach about loving everyone, but where is your call for justice?” “Yes, abortion is bad, but it is not the only issue.” “You keep wrapping the cross in the American flag.”

Biblical Christians and their communities are attacked daily with the above accusations, and much more. On one hand, rejection and even persecution are expected for Christians. On the other hand, Jesus said we were blessed when persecuted for righteousness’ sake, not our self-righteousness or religiosity. Recent events have uncovered the church’s deep need to reckon with and repent of many historical and contemporary hypocrisies and injustices. No one and no institution are immune to the trappings of false idols and ideologies, the lure of power, and the temptations of narcissism and pleasure-seeking.

From a posture of humility and fidelity to the gospel, what is a way forward for Christian witness and the Church in our era of accusation, cancellation, and rebellion?

Mining the riches of Scripture and history, there is an “ancient-future” (thank you, to the late Robert Webber and Pastor Dan Kimball for this term) posture that can transform the life of church, improve the credibility of her witness, and open doors to spiritual seekers. The criticisms above are sometimes the words of rebellious enemies of the gospel. More often, they reflect the heart-cries and confusion of those that desire to know Jesus and be in community, but cannot reconcile the chasm between declaration and demonstration, preaching and practice.

The private and public posture for the path forward is uniting holiness with hospitality. There is no need for doctrinal and moral compromise and the doors of relationship and grace are wide open for all. Sounds great in theory, but what do these terms mean in practice?

Holiness begins with reverence for the Almighty, surrender to his will, and finding our identity in Christ before any other loyalties of blood or soil. Holiness is not a “holier-than-thou” attitude – just the opposite. It is fidelity to the covenant and community through the Cross and Resurrection and a continual conversion of life away from self and sin toward service rooted in love for God and neighbor. Holiness means the ways of God are not optional, yet life is not reduced to rules. Holiness is more than particular deportment and discipline regarding sex or lifestyle choices. Holiness touches all dimensions of life. We worship the Lord God, not our idols. We are becoming whole, not living for self. We have healthy relationships, and do not see people in merely utilitarian ways. We have a sense of calling that is more than our current work, and our work is offered to God as worship. We desire all come to Christ, and that people of all faiths or none share in the common good we help create. A holy life is one of integration, where joy and justice, generosity and liberty, truth and toleration, and open-handed leaning and service are brought together.

With holiness as both passion and practice, hospitality is the natural companion. Jesus ate and conversed with both religious leaders and the marginal, exposing hypocrisy and delivering from destructive patterns. Hospitality has been a hallmark of the church from here earliest moments of fellowship in Jerusalem (Acts 2-6) to learning to live in community with diverse people (I Corinthians 10-14; Galatians 3; Colossians 3), and inviting seekers to hear the gospel and join the Church (Acts 13-28).

Christian hospitality helped create the first hospitals and hospices, hotels and homes for orphans. I am not claiming a Christian exclusive on compassion, just noting the goodness of persecuted believers who cared for plague victims in the 3rd century and have pioneered the private and public institutions we take for granted today.

On a more personal and practical level, hospitality means welcoming seekers struggling with sin into the community, and walking with them as they consider the claims of Christ. Unconditional love and uncompromising holiness unite as we call everyone to submit to Christ and befriend and care for others. If our friends desire baptism and membership in the church, they are agreeing to learn to walk in the ways of the Lord and conform their lives to Scripture. This does not mean instant perfection nor should standards be changed. Business leaders must bring their daily ethics to the Cross. Addictions need counsel and healing. Lifestyles contrary to Christ are gradually abandoned in favor of pleasing God. Greed, classism, racism, sexism all yield to the Cross. And when we fail, there are friends and leaders ready as agents of forgiveness and restoration.

Keeping holiness and hospitality in divine balance will restore credibility and community. Loving God will open our hearts to repentance and loving our neighbors will create a receptive atmosphere for healing and hope. Knowing we are loved by God will help us confront personal iniquity and systemic injustice. Relativism yield to true righteousness and intolerance becomes inquiry. May we have the courage to take this pathway forward.

Rightly Ordered Loves, Part 1 Understanding Our Challenges

In these contentious days, it is hard for voices of sanity to be heard about the name-calling and ideological noise. In this four-part series, I want to present a new vision and voice for public dialogue that offers hope for both peaceful engagement and prudential solutions to our seemingly intractable problems.

It is my conviction that underneath all the anger and insults are disordered human affections. Our “loves” are confused. “Passion” has replaced principle and emotions seem to triumph over ethics. When politicians argue that, “facts do not matter if you are moral” we have a serious confusion of categories, a loss of critical thinking, and signs of inner chaos.

Ancient sages often speak of at least four kinds of love: familial bonds, brotherly/sisterly affections, the comradery of soldiers and workers, and romantic attractions. Whether the stories come from China or Greece, Africa or India, such affections and their proper ethics are universal.

There is another type of love that the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian theology have brought to the world: the covenantal love of the Almighty (Hebrew: hesed) the unconditional and self-donating agape love embodied in the person and work of Jesus. This altruistic, holy, and sacrificial love helps all other loves find their proper place. Familial and friendship love are now rooted in sacrifice, and comradeship is more than suffering together – it can take on nobility. And erotic attractions – powerful as they are – have boundaries of behavior and loyalty.

So much of contemporary confusion comes from eros overtaking agape and the perversion of other categories that arises when self-fulfillment overtakes service. Whether it is sexual attractions and actions, economic policies, political discourse, or cultural expression, disordered loves subvert the common good and leave everyone ultimately impoverished.

We need visions and voices rooted in agape that considers others before self, and refines actions according to their long-term consequences and not immediate power and success. Stay tuned for the applications of agape to the challenges of our day. There is hope – but not in the lowest denominator of human passion, but the highest aspirations arising from the image of God in humankind.

Real Freedom Includes Risks

In 1984, a Christian poet and dissident from the Soviet Union wrote a book, “Talking about God is Dangerous.” The wall has fallen – and our angry culture is building a new one. Freedom for one is liberty for all…let’s be civil and wise, but never give way to censorship of ideas. Disagreement is not intolerance and choosing moral and religious values does not make folks, “phobes.”

Debating our deepest differences with civility is the heart of ordered liberty. My Muslim friends regard Jesus as a prophet…I regard him as God, crucified and risen for my salvation. We disagree. I do not regard Mohammed as a prophet, but I respect my Muslim neighbor’s right to disagree with me. Atheists find my convictions quaint or even dangerous. I disagree with their arguments…and we can be friends. My biblical sexual ethic is at odds with many – and we can make the world a better place together caring for the vulnerable. But please do not castigate my ethics as intolerant. 

Will we continue our historical progress toward true toleration or retreat to oppression and castigate anyone not sharing our precise language? I am confident that a free market of ideas produces much better fruit than a world of self-appointed, politically correct marshals waiting to pounce.

Let’s get to work and make our world better, one conversation at a time.

Telling the Truth about Islam, Part 4

Courage and humility must find active expression as we confront enemies determined to destroy our cherished freedoms. Here are three more strategic insights for this long conflict:

One: We must repent of and repudiate all historical and present forms of oppression, including any divisions of class, gender, race, religion or political opinion. We will not always agree and should freely debate on all matters eternal and temporal. But we must want for all others the liberties and opportunities we desire for ourselves.

Two: We must humbly reaffirm our enduring values and offer genuine hope for better days in our neighborhoods and nations. Politicians must cease posturing and begin working for the common good. Moms and Dads need to place their children’s needs above their own and nurture their marriages. Local churches can commission their members for value creation in all domains of work.

Three: As we engage (tearfully) in military action, we fight to win without reducing our ethics to the dastardly ones of our opponents. We limit civilian casualties as best we can – yet we cannot tie the hands of troops with actionable intelligence. This will be very difficult, but necessary if we desire victory in hearts as well as military success.

The hardest parts of this conflict are the intractable attitudes of our enemies and the long, patient actions needed for victory. This is why character matters. Zealots cannotultimately win if met with greater moral/spiritual as well as military/political forces. Onlytrue humility can forge this better future.