Teaching ethics in a local junior college is a great opportunity to impact minds in my community. A somewhat ancillary discussion we have had in class is the usage of moral and ethical–terms with no meaningful distinction, though sometimes associated with different quadrants of society (e.g. business & ethics, religion & morality). Within evangelicalism, we similarly have our own usage for these terms, adding to the list Christian living and growing in Christ, among others. Again, no meaningful distinction, except that for many Christians, ethics/morality is often associated with the hotly debated issues in our culture such as abortion and gay marriage whereas Christian living and growing in Christ generally relate to personal spiritual maturity. But couple this softer ethical language with statements such as “Christianity isn’t a list of rules, it’s a relationship” and suddenly right and wrong are undermined with “I’ll pray about it” which in many cases means “I’m not going to let a reasoned argument influence a very emotional and private decision.”
Yes, ethics is my academic hobby horse, but I am also motivated by ministry, concerned for families and the crucial life decisions that are made without full consideration of the implications and never learning to think Christianly about them. For many families, its just a medical decision or an economic decision–they are surprised later to learn that there were moral implications to be considered, or they knew that there were and they chose to “pray about it” instead of actually saying “this is right” or “this is wrong.” As a matter of sanctification, we need to discover how to bring a more deliberate role for ethics in the church, so that encouraging ethical reflection is not like walking on eggshells.
I’m so honored to be a part of this blog and look forward to the many conversations that will take place here. As I have been reading and reflecting on the meaning of “evangelical” I kept going back to what evangelicals think and do. I’m not sure we can do anything to change the way we talk about ethics in the church, but I believe any attempt to move away from trite or insincere language has the potential to make real impact on the church at large.