I have become convinced that not everyone is able to enter into a beneficial moral discussion with regards to the “huge” and more sensitive ethical categories.
Just about everyone is mature enough to have the debate about whether or not getting drunk everyday is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet, if anyone is going to enter into a moral discourse about the larger and more sensitive ethical issues of the day, that person, him or herself, must not be sensitive. The first step to proper moral discourse, in any setting, is maturity, or, in the language of the Bible, the producing and bearing of the fruit of the Spirit.
Allen Verhey, in his book Remembering Jesus
, while discussing how
to use and apply the teachings of Scripture says, “We must read and use Scripture humbly. ... If we must read Scripture humbly, then surely we must make proposals for the use of Scripture humbly” (p. 55). Before any conversation, before any moral discourse can ensue, it is important that the parties around the table are capable of entering into the conversation.
Students studying Marriage and Family Therapy are too often taught that when a couple is having trouble in their marriage, or in the marriage bed, their real problem is a lack of communication. Yet, as my favorite sex therapist David Schnarch teaches, “Marital difficulties are often not about an inability to ‘communicate.’ We've confused ‘good communication’ with consensus and feeling accepted and validated. Communication is no virtue if you can't stand the message.” The ability to stand a tough message requires maturity.
In our country, which my father appropriately calls "The United States of the Offended,” we are constantly up in arms when someone exerts any authority over our life, even “Hey, can you do the dishes?” When anyone tells us what to do, or simply suggests something, we throw a fit like a two-year-old. “Don’t judge me!” we cry out in disgust, effectively shutting down any opportunity for a meaningful conversation or moral discourse. Some of my other personal favorites include: “What right do you have…?” “How dare you?” “That’s my business!” “Who do you think you are?” “That’s offensive!”
Sadly, these critiques are not just of American culture, but of the culture in many churches. We have become The Church of the Offended. How can beneficial, instructive moral discourse continue if people in the church continue to speak this way?
When the “offended” are not required to enter into moral discourse, which is too often the case, then our personal and collective ethics too often become defined by the lack of conversation. We live in a country where we cater to the least mature person. Instead of calling the immature to mature, we all regress, and thus, our ethics suffer to from a collective failure of nerve. If, in the church, remembering Jesus is our central task it would be good to remember that He did not soften the call to discipleship. For example, the rich young man/ruler was not given an easier assignment, even though Jesus’ words probably offended him; at least, they offend some people today.
In a society where we no longer allow others to speak into our lives, in order for the church to be a community where mutual exhortation and moral discourse can constructively occur, we must also remember how to have the conversations. We must remind each other of the need to mature in faith and character, producing the fruit of the Spirit. With that foundation, it seems that constructive discourse, deliberation, and discernment will prove much easier and beneficial.What are some ways we can avoid becoming offended by open moral discussion? Are there some people who just shouldn't engage in such conversation?