June 30, 2010
Last Sunday’s readings have set me on a path of thinking more about how Paul provides a basis for making ethical decisions on just about any controversial issue and at the same time how an ethical ‘rule of thumb’ (or indeed any rule or law) will never be able to save us from the real complexities of life which require our regular acknowledgment that we are not God and are in need of forgiveness. Here is how I get there:
• I assume Jesus’ bias toward the poor based on his concern and the prophetic concern of the tradition for the weak, the widow, the children, the sick, the stranger and the outcast.
• I think of 1 Thessalonians 5:21. “Test all things and hold fast to that which is good.”
• Paul outlines what is ‘good’ as the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 (almost a summary of the whole epistle which deals with the relationship of Gentile Christians to the Mosaic Law.
• So in any given controversy I ask whether we can identify an increase in peace, joy, hope, kindness and the like (especially among those who identify as less powerful).
• The I listen to the claims of those (especially those who we identify as ‘more powerful’) that they are experiencing loss, factions, anger, dissention, envy and the rest as a result of whatever change is being brought about by emphasis on any particular ethical issue.
• Next, I ask whether the outcome of any debate in any way reduces the capacity of those who believe themselves to be ‘losing’ for peace, joy, kindness etc. This is not to say that there might be real loss: income, status, influence etc in any Magnifcat change, but that such loss is not the same as loss of capacity for the fruits of the Spirit which I do not see as dependent on such things.
• Finally, I recognize that even the best rule of thumb or process does not guarantee that there will be no moral ambiguity when we are addressing complex issues. I note, for example, that those who stress ‘individual responsibility’ are often directing such emphasis at the poor; and that those who abuse ‘community responsibility’ are frequently the poor themselves. There is no simple answer and in all our broken relationships lie opportunities for confession, forgiveness, grace and an increase in our enjoying the fruits of the Spirit.