Posts tagged ‘Morality’

The Big Apple And The Chicken Sandwich

A little over a week ago, Dan Piepenbring, writing for The New Yorker, derided what he called “Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City.”  He declared:

New York has taken to Chick-fil-A.  One of the Manhattan locations estimates that it sells a sandwich every six seconds, and the company has announced plans to open as many as a dozen more storefronts in the city.  And yet the brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism.

Mr. Piepenbring goes on to single out the chain’s headquarters adorned with Bible verses, its policy to close its stores on Sundays, and its CEO’s publicly expressed concerns about same-sex marriage as examples of its “pervasive Christian traditionalism.”  As Mr. Piepenbring points out, the company’s purpose statement also betrays its founders’ Christian commitments.  Chick-fil-A’s purpose is:

To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

As a Christian, such a corporate purpose statement does not trouble me, as it does Mr. Piepenbring.  A cardinal claim of Christianity is that what Christians believe cannot be divorced from the work they do.  The apostle Paul summarizes this spirit when he writes, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).  A Christian’s creeds, Paul says, should always result in gracious deeds.  Chick-fil-A’s purpose statement teases out this connection.  The first part of the statement explains that the company’s leaders desire to give glory to God.  This is a commitment to a creed.  The second part of the statement explains that the company’s leaders desire to positively impact all who interact with Chick-fil-A.  This is a promise to do good deeds.

There is a secular trend to espouse a kind of happy humanism that claims that people are perfectly able to do good deeds apart from having to appeal to ancient and, according to the secular mindset, distasteful theological convictions.  In this way of thinking, Chick-fil-A would do better to fashion itself as an inoffensively affable and vaguely moral corporation instead of explicitly appealing to, again, according to the secular mindset, burdensome and superstitious Christian convictions.

But why would Chick-fil-A want to do this?  Its founders certainly aren’t secular.  Furthermore, extracting faith from goodness is trickier than many secular humanists care to admit.  Even if something is perceived to be good, without an external source of authority like Christianity, secular humanism still struggles to offer consistent reasons why anyone ought to do good.  Furthermore, apart from faith, people not only have no unifying set of compelling reasons why they ought to do good, they also have no set of stable standards as to what is good.  A coherent morality without a transcendent authority will be inevitably fraught with fragility.

The age-old philosophical conundrums of moral authority aside, there is widespread agreement between Christians and secular humanists on the morality of things like human dignity, community involvement, and good, old-fashioned geniality.  All of these are values that Chick-fil-A, with its evangelical roots, and New Yorkers, many of whom hold more secular sensibilities, espouse.  For this, at least, we should be grateful.  Mr. Piepenbring, however, asserts that, in a city like New York, “Chick-fil-A…does not quite belong here…Its politics, its décor, and its commercial-evangelical messaging are inflected with…suburban piety.”  This may be true culturally if one assumes there is some inherent and necessary pitched battle between a down-home corporation and a high-brow cosmopolitanism, but it is certainly not true personally.  The people who work at Chick-fil-A in New York are from New York.  And my hunch is, they care about New York and desire to serve people around New York.  Maybe we should let them.  And maybe when they smile, chicken sandwich and waffle fries in hand, we should smile back.  After all, one does not have to agree with every value and belief of a particular slice of society to treat them in a way that is neighborly.

I’m pretty sure someone said something about that, somewhere.

April 23, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Debating DACA

DACA

Credit: NBC News

When President Trump sent his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, before the cameras to announce the reversal of the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals policy – an executive order signed by President Obama that allows certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors to receive a renewable two-year deferral of deportation –  he had to suspect that his announcement would spark controversy both on the right and on the left.  In his statement, the Attorney General explained:

As the Attorney General, it is my duty to ensure that the laws of the United States are enforced and that the constitutional order is upheld…

To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. That is an open border policy and the American people have rightly rejected it.

Therefore, the nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we admit each year and that means all cannot be accepted.

This does not mean they are bad people or that our nation disrespects or demeans them in any way. It means we are properly enforcing our laws as Congress has passed them.

It is with these principles and duties in mind, and in light of imminent litigation, that we reviewed the Obama Administration’s DACA policy…

The Department of Justice has advised the President and the Department of Homeland Security that DHS should begin an orderly, lawful wind down, including the cancellation of the memo that authorized this program.

Acting Secretary Duke has chosen, appropriately, to initiate a wind down process. This will enable DHS to conduct an orderly change and fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act – should it so choose. 

Key to understanding the Attorney General’s remarks is his acknowledgement that Congress can act to pass a bill that addresses the issue of immigrants brought to this country illegally as minors in the time that DACA is winding down. President Trump, in a Tweet, explicitly encouraged Congress to pass some sort of legislation that addresses this group of immigrants:

Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017

Though the issues involved here are many, I believe there are three specific concerns we must take into account in order to address the questions and controversies that surround DACA faithfully and sensitively.

The first concern is that of constitutionality.  Many are arguing that the action President Obama took when he signed his executive order on DACA was indeed constitutional.  Others are arguing just the opposite.  Just the fact that there are so many questions surrounding the legality of this executive order should at least encourage us to consider what other, less constitutionally questionable, options are available.  Operating squarely within the law brings a stability and sustainability to governmental actions that flirting with policies and positions on the legal periphery does not.  The Attorney General put it well in his statement when he said:

No greater good can be done for the overall health and well-being of our Republic, than preserving and strengthening the impartial rule of law. Societies where the rule of law is treasured are societies that tend to flourish and succeed. 

Societies where the rule of law is subject to political whims and personal biases tend to become societies afflicted by corruption, poverty, and human suffering. 

The law, when it is written morally and enforced equitably, can indeed be a force for great good and a guard against dark evil.  Thus, constitutional questions ought to be carefully weighed when considering the future of DACA.

A second concern in this discussion should be that of safety.  Since its inception, about 1,500 people who were once eligible for DACA have had their DACA status revoked because they committed some sort of crime.  Since President Trump took office, arrests and deportations of DACA eligible immigrants have increased, pointing to a more rigorous prosecution against those who commit crimes.  In the interest of “providing for the common defense,” those who appear poised to do citizens harm should be carefully monitored and those who have done citizens harm should be appropriately punished.  A well-ordered society where wrongdoers are held accountable “promotes the general welfare” by allowing people to live in reasonable safety and societal prosperity.  The safety of people has been – and should continue to be – a focus not only of this government, but of any government.

A final concern in this discussion should be that of morality.  We must never forget that the legality of something doesn’t necessarily ensure the morality of something.  Abortion, for instance, may be legal, but it is certainly not moral.  This is why, for decades now, biblically minded Christians have been speaking out against it.  We must grapple with the question of morality when dealing with issues of unlawful immigration.  What is the right thing to do with this or that group of undocumented immigrants?  Are we called to help others, even if they are here illegally?  In Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite missed an opportunity to be a neighbor to a man who had been badly beaten and was laying on the side of the road because of some legal concerns over helping such a man.  Mosaic law stipulated that touching a dead body rendered a person ceremonially unclean.  The beaten man, although he was not in actuality dead, looked dead.  Checking on him, then, if he did turn out to be dead, would have legally defiled them.  So, they passed by as far away from him as they could “on the other side” so as not to risk defilement.  A Samaritan, however, when he saw this man, opted to take a risk and help him.  Jesus commends the Samaritan for having done the right thing.  A spirit of helpfulness and neighborliness can and should be paramount in how we address this issue.

Most of the angry polemical positions people take on this issue come when one of these concerns – be that the concern of constitutionality, safety, or morality – is exalted to the exclusion of the others.  Some are concerned only with legal questions and never bother to ask, “How can I be a neighbor to everyone, even to those who are here illegally?”  Some love to paint themselves as morally superior neighbors, but are loathe to do the hard work of studying, supporting, and, when appropriate, critiquing immigration law for the sake of the long-term stability and equitability of our nation’s immigration policy.  Still others are so concerned with safety that they see threats where, sometimes, there are none and take a by-any-means-necessary approach to security, even when the security measures they support harm innocent people.

Taking into account all of these concerns, though difficult, may just offer us a path forward that will be legal, reasonably safe, and neighborly all at the same time.  Let’s see if we can’t find such a path – and then walk it.

September 11, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Christianity ≠ Morality

One of the topics I address often on this blog is that of morality.  With a collapsing cultural consensus on what morality looks like around issues like human sexuality, childbearing, childrearing, gender, justice, and political discourse – to name only a few examples – offering a Christian perspective on what it means to be moral is, I believe, important and needed.

There is an implicit danger, however, in spending all of one’s energy arguing for a Christian morality in a secular society.  Far too often, when we, as Christians, do nothing more than argue for a Christian morality in the public square, it can begin to appear that Christianity itself is nothing more than a set of moral propositions on controversial questions.  Like in the 1980s, during the height of the Christian Moral Majority, Christianity can be perceived to be conterminous with a particular system of morality.

A couple of years ago, an op-ed piece appeared in the LA Times titled, “How secular family values stack up.”  In it, Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, argues that godless parents do a better job raising their children than do godly parents.  He writes:

Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

Much of what these kids raised in secular homes grow up to be is good.  A resistance to peer pressure, an eschewing of racism, a willingness to forgive, a measured sobriety about the positives and negatives of one’s country, a desire to avoid violence, a willingness to serve instead of to command, and a charitable tolerance toward all people are certainly all noble traits.  Professor Zuckerman argues that since secular parenting has a statistically higher probability than does Christian parenting of producing children who act morally in these categories, Christian parenting serves no real purpose.  But it is here that he misunderstands the goal of Christian parenting.  The goal of Christian parenting is not to make your kids moral.  It is to share with your kids faith in Christ.  Morality is wonderful, but, in Christianity, faith comes first.

James, the brother of Jesus, describes the proper relationship between Christian morality and Christian faith when he writes:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  (James 2:14-18)

James here explains the absurdity of claiming to have faith apart from any sort of moral deeds.  He says that if someone claims to have faith and no moral deeds, he really has no faith at all.  He even goes so far as to challenge his readers to show him someone who has faith, but no moral deeds.  This, in James’ mind, is an impossibility.  Why?  Because James knows that faith inevitably produces some sort of moral action.  The real danger is not so much that someone will have faith and no moral action, but that someone will have plenty of moral action and no faith!  Indeed, this is the problem Jesus has with the religious leaders when He says of them, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).  The religious leaders were supremely moral.  But they did not have faith in Christ.

In our crusade to argue for a Christian morality in the midst of a morally relativistic secular society, let us be careful not to spend so much time trying to make people moral that we forget to share with them faith in Christ.  For a Christianity that only makes people moral, ultimately, leads them the to same place that a secular moral relativism does – it leads to death.  Morality, no matter what type of morality it is, cannot offer life.  Only Christ can do that.

We are not here just to try to make people good.  We are here to show people the One who is perfectly good.  Let’s not forget what our real mission really is.

June 26, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Michael Flynn, Intelligence Leaks, and Ethical Questions

michael-flynn

Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

When Michael Flynn tendered his resignation as National Security Advisor last week after only 24 days on the job, it marked the predictable outcome of what had become deepening concerns over some dishonest statements he made to the vice-president about the nature of a December conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States and the potential his conversation created for his blackmail by Russian authorities.  In a political climate where dishonesty is often dismissed out-of-hand as part of the job, Mr. Flynn’s forced resignation is a sobering reminder that character still counts.

Of course, in this story, there are not only ethical questions raised by Mr. Flynn’s clandestine conversation, there are also critical ethical questions that must be asked about the leaking of his conversation by shadowy intelligence officials to the news media.  After all, unethically leaking the fact the National Security Advisor unethically lied to vice-president seems, well, just all-around unethical.

Sadly, in our hyper-politicized climate, it is difficult not to filter this story through anything other than a political lens.  President Trump certainly filtered it this way, at least in part, when he complained on Twitter:

The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by intelligence like candy. Very un-American!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017

Yes, intelligence leaks are indeed scandalous – and dangerously so.  But dishonesty by the National Security Advisor with the vice-president is also scandalous.  Both sides of this scandal need to be addressed.  Sadly, most politicians only see fit to address whichever side furthers their own political purposes.

The problem with politicizing scandals like these is that we often overlook the sins of one side conveniently while decrying the sins of the other side forcefully.  Our argument becomes not that one side is truly good, but that the other side is really bad.  In this way, we justify one side’s sins by the sins the other side.  But when we address ethical scandals like this, we only wind up creating a circular firing squad, with everyone squarely aiming their barrels at everyone else.  We settle for hurting whoever happens to be our political enemy rather than holding onto what is actually right.

Jonathan Bethune, in an article for The Federalist, captures and summarizes our political zeitgeist well when he explains:

There can be no meaningful dialogue premised upon shared values if both sides only apply those values when it lets them score points. The class of moderately intelligent politically aware people are those most affected by this trend. They have become partisan ideologues.

An ideologue is at least consistent in his belief in specific policies. A partisan openly supports his gang above all else. But a partisan ideologue is worse than both. He is a Machiavellian creature: a supporter of “ends justify the means” approaches to pushing an agenda. The gang must be defended that the agenda might be defended, even when the gang violates core tenets of the agenda. Partisan ideologues are dishonest by nature. Worse still, they often cannot even tell when they are being dishonest.

Mr. Bethune is onto something here.  He understands that a politics that is more partisan than it is principled can only become pathological.  And when this happens, politics becomes a sinister force for moral decay rather than what Aristotle envisioned politics at its best to be – a guardian of societal good.  Such pathology in our politics not only points to a problem with Mr. Flynn and with dangerous intelligence leaks, it points to a problem with us.

Perhaps it is time, then, to look not only at the news, but in the mirror.

February 20, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

It’s Not About Gay Rights Versus Religious Freedom

Same-Sex Marriage

Frank Bruni, columnist for The New York Times, has written a refreshingly honest, even if somewhat frightening, piece in response to the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, which was signed into law last month by Governor Mike Pence.  The Act prohibits “a governmental entity [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion.”[1]  LGBT groups are furious, arguing that this Act will open the door for Christian business owners to discriminate against LGBT people by refusing to offer them certain services because these business owners will be able to claim that offering these services, particularly services that have to do with same-sex weddings, would violate their religious tenets.

Mr. Bruni offers the following take:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision.

They’re not – at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will …

In the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing …

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.[2]

Mr. Bruni is not only interested in whether a Christian small business owner should be forced to, let’s say, bake a cake for a gay wedding, he also launches into a critique of traditional Christian theology as a whole, stating that the faith should be “rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.”  This assumes, of course, that modernity is, in fact, enlightened – an assertion that Mr. Bruni seems to feel little need to defend.  This also assumes that the Western version of modernity that embraces LGBT beliefs about human sexuality is the rightful moral pacesetter of our world, something with which many modernized Eastern nations may take issue.  This also assumes that Christians should not only love LGBT individuals, but endorse LGBT lifestyles as morally acceptable.

The irony is not lost on me that although Mr. Bruni does address “the florists and bakers who want to turn [LGBT customers] away” because of the owners’ moral convictions, he is silent concerning the many businesses that are jettisoning the state of Indiana in light of its religious freedom law because of their owners’ moral convictions.  Why the inconsistency?  Because, for Mr. Bruni, this is not an issue of religious freedom or even of gay rights.  This is an issue of what version of morality should hold sway in our society.  In Mr. Bruni’s worldview, for a Christian to try to avoid baking a cake for a gay wedding is morally reprehensible.  For a business to avoid a state because of a religious freedom act is morally commendable.  Thus, it is not inconsistent that one business, whose owners are working out of a set of traditional Christian moral convictions, should not be able to avoid providing services for a same-sex wedding while another business, whose owners have more secularized moral convictions, should be able to dump a whole state.  After all, the Christian set of moral convictions is, for Mr. Bruni, immoral!  And immorality must be squelched.

Pastor Timothy Keller explains the necessary moral entailments of the debate over gay marriage using a brilliant analogy:

Imagine an Anglo-Saxon warrior in Britain in AD 800. He has two very strong inner impulses and feelings. One is aggression. He loves to smash and kill people when they show him disrespect. Living in a shame-and-honor culture with its warrior ethic, he will identify with that feeling. He will say to himself, That’s me! That’s who I am! I will express that. The other feeling he senses is same-sex attraction. To that he will say, That’s not me. I will control and suppress that impulse. Now imagine a young man walking around Manhattan today. He has the same two inward impulses, both equally strong, both difficult to control. What will he say? He will look at the aggression and think, This is not who I want to be, and will seek deliverance in therapy and anger-management programs. He will look at his sexual desire, however, and conclude, That is who I am.

What does this thought experiment show us? Primarily it reveals that we do not get our identity simply from within. Rather, we receive some interpretive moral grid, lay it down over our various feelings and impulses, and sift them through it. This grid helps us decide which feelings are “me” and should be expressed – and which are not and should not be.[3]

Being LGBT has often been cast in terms of identity.  Pastor Keller argues that the issue at hand is really about morality.  Is it acceptable or unacceptable to be a violent aggressor?  Is it noble or troublesome to be in a same-sex relationship?  Feelings and impulses do not give us the answers to these questions.  Only moral grids do.

Frank Bruni offers some refreshing candor in his column.  He knows that, ultimately, the fight over gay rights and religious freedom isn’t a fight over gay rights and religious freedom.  It is a fight over what’s moral.  And his conclusion bears witness to his moral conviction:

Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to LGBT people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”

Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”

His commandment is worthy – and warranted.

Mr. Bruni is clear.  Christians must be made to accept homosexuality.  To settle for anything less would be unworthy and unwarranted.  In other words, it would be immoral.

I would beg to differ.

But at least we know where he stands.

__________________________

[1] S.B. 101, 119th Leg., 1st sess. (Indiana 2015)

[2] Frank Bruni, “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana,” The New York Times (4.3.2016).

[3] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 135-136.

April 18, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Faith and Morality

Right and WrongOn this blog, I have written at length on moral issues.  I believe, quite firmly, that morality has a helpful role to play in the public square and, therefore, moral questions should be discussed and debated and moral standards should be regarded as useful and necessary for and in society.  For all my support public morality, however, there is a part of public morality that I find terrifying.  Here’s what I mean.

There can be little doubt that the experiment of societal moral relativism has failed. Throwing off the shackles of a transcendent and traditional morality for a culturally conditioned and convenient one that ultimately assumes that there is only amorality never got us Thomas Hobbes’ Epicurean dream.  It just left us Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich nightmare.  Leviathan, it turns out, wasn’t nearly as competent to do its job as Hobbes thought.

Moral relativism, then, can be quite deadly.  It does no society any good because, by definition, it is utterly individualistic.  And individuals, left to their own devices, seem to come up with awfully immoral relative moralities.  A traditional and transcendent morality is needed to order society in such a way that we do not (A) wind up killing each other, and (B) actually do some things that are helpful for each other. For these reasons, as well as for many others, public morality is needed.

But at the same time a traditional and transcendent public morality is needed, it is also terrifying.

Once a month, I teach a Bible study at a local business.  This year, I am working through the book of James when, a while back, I came to these famous words:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

As a Lutheran, James’ trumpeting of moral works as important to faith can sometimes arouse in me an almost allergic reaction!  As an avid reader of all things Pauline, I know that works do not help faith.  Indeed, I know that works can actually be in opposition to faith:

[We] know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

“Faith” and “works,” Paul says, do not mix when it comes to salvation.

Of course, James’ point is not that works somehow help faith when it comes to salvation, but that faith results in works that flow from salvation.  A saving faith, James argues, is inevitably an active faith.  Indeed, James would go so far to argue that a saving faith that is not an active faith is not even faith.  To quote his brother’s words: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16).  A faith that does not result in moral works does not exist.  Such a faith is a myth that belongs on the shelf with unicorns, leprechauns, and that time your mom told you that if you swallow your gum, it will stay in your stomach for seven years.

This is why, at the same time I believe public morality is needed, I am also terrified by it.  A faith without moral works is impossible.  James says so.  Christians should not be frightened, therefore, to declare moral works as “necessary” to faith.  What is frightening, however, is that the inverse does not hold true.  Moral works may be necessary to faith, but faith is not necessary for moral works.  One can be very moral and still be very damned.  And herein lies the good and the bad of public morality.  Public morality helps others.  It may even help you.  But it doesn’t help you before God.  Only faith can help you before the Almighty.

Even as I continue to argue for the merits of public morality if for no other reason than that I’m not a big fan of the Third Reich, I will continue to serve proudly as a pastor to point people toward faith in Jesus Christ.  I like morality that comes from faith a lot better than morality that is divorced from faith.  The second morality may be nice for society, but the first receives a “well done” in eternity.

March 7, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Wrong and Wrong-er

Candidates

Credit:  Huffington Post

Recently, I read a blog by a well known pastor who expressed concern over the lack of civility in this year’s presidential election cycle.  In his blog, he singled out one candidate who caused him particular concern.  Although I do not think it is always inappropriate to discuss a particular candidate in a blog (I myself have done so), I do believe that a pastor should enter into such discussions with more than a fair share of fear and finesse.  Political figures are notoriously hard to critique in a way that leads people to listen to and engage with the critique because these figures tend to engender reflexive emotions long before they inspire extended thought.  Such was the case with this pastor’s blog.  There were many commenters who were appreciative of this pastor’s words.  Others were deeply offended and even furious that a pastor would critique, even if gently, a presidential candidate.  Some argued that it is never appropriate for a pastor to critique political candidates.  Others, like this commenter, argued against this pastor’s critique like this:

Cute hit piece on [my candidate]. Now lets talk about letting [another candidate] in the White House … who wouldnt know the truth if [this other candidate] saw it.

This is a fascinating argument because it basically runs like this: “My candidate may not be all that great, but this other candidate is worse!  Therefore, I will support my candidate and will attack anyone who tries to point out a concern with my candidate, even if the concern is legitimate.”  In other words, this commenter is trying to excuse bad behavior from her candidate by pointing out what is – at least in her mind – worse behavior from another candidate.

It’s not just angry social media commenters who makes these kinds of arguments.  Professional pundits do as well.  Consider this from John O’Sullivan of National Review:

[One candidate] tells falsehoods loosely and spontaneously in a sort of stream-of-consciousness lying to boost his prospects, win over doubters, crush opponents, and save his face. Details can be found all over the Internet. Most of them strike me as trivial. But none of the [leading candidates] have been exactly models of truth-telling in this campaign. So the relevant question then becomes “Compared with whom?” Let’s compare [this candidate’s] boastful and evasive untruths with the very different lies of [another candidate] on various immigration bills he has tried to sell.[1]

Mr. O’Sullivan explicitly and unashamedly justifies one candidate’s lies by pointing to another candidate’s lies.  Since when did lying become okay at all?  How does the fact that presidential candidates lie make anything better?  Did Mr. O’Sullivan ever stop to think that it might be best – rather than excusing a preferred political candidate for his bad behavior by pointing to some other bad behavior – to argue and ask for better behavior?

These kinds of arguments, it should be pointed out, are not only the stuff of election year politics.  They are also the arguments of nearly everyone who desperately wants to excuse some bad behavior.  “Yes, I may have stolen that dress, but it’s not like I’m Bernie Madoff!”  “Yes, I may have had an emotional affair, but that’s completely different from a physical affair!”  “Yes, I may be a drunkard, but at least I’m not a self-righteous religious person!”

Whenever I hear these kinds of arguments, I’m led to ask:  so what?  What do these kinds of arguments accomplish?  What do they prove?  Does pointing out someone else’s wrong somehow make you right?  My mother used to tell me, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”  Do two wrongs of perceived unequal wrongness somehow make one wrong right?

The answer to the above question, of course, is, “No.”  One cannot right a wrong by comparing it to another wrong-er wrong.  All such a comparison does is inevitably lower all moral standards because it points only to that which is below it rather than aspiring to that which is above it.  And when a comparison only looks down, where else is there to go but down?  Thus, this comparison inevitably drags those who make it down into deeper immorality rather than spurring them on to a more carefully considered higher ethic.

It is impossible to make a wrong right by comparing it to something else that is wrong.  This is why, when He wanted to make us right with Him, God didn’t just send someone who wasn’t quite as bad as we were, He sent someone who was truly good because He was fully perfect.  Our Savior raised the bar of morality all the way to perfection and then gave us His perfection by being raised on a tree for our salvation.  From His perfect morality comes not only a way of salvation apart from our merits, but a way for daily living that is to declare His merits.

So whether we are a candidate for President of the United States or an everyday citizen working a job and raising a family, let’s look to Christ’s standard of morality rather than wallowing around in the mud of someone else’s immorality.  Let’s aspire to that.  Let’s hold each other to that – not because we can ever attain that by our own merits, but because we should actually want that.  To settle for anything less is just plain wrong.

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[1] John O’Sullivan, “The Rise of the Undocumented Republicans,” National Review (2.26.2016).

 

February 29, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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