December 21, 2010
I mentioned Lawrence Kohlberg and his theory of moral development last Sunday as a way of awakening some recognition that we do, in fact, develop in some fairly predictable ways in many areas of our life. A friend said on the way out of church “I really didn’t expect to hear about post-conventional morality on a
Sunday morning.” I did not sense that she was distressed about this, --quite the reverse if anything. It seems to me that if Kohlberg’s theory has merit, and if it could be applied to Jesus in relation to the religious authorities of his day, he could be identified as someone who was by and large ‘post conventional’ over against a ‘law and order‘ orientation of many religious leaders of the day.
I realize that this is a pretty gross generalization on a number of fronts, but am struck by how often Christianity, the churches or Christian Faith are identified with a view that suggests that the will of God is somehow enshrined in a moral order supported by law. We have seen this recently in the move toward the ending of the policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ regarding gay and lesbian members of the armed services. We were told that military chaplains were opposed to any change in the policy on religious grounds. The New York Times carried a story on Saturday (December 17) about a debate at Belmont College in Nashville, TN as to whether it was going to remain true to its conservative Christian and Baptist roots or become more of a world class university with an “aggressively earned…reputation as a progressive, artsy place to study the music business.” The focus of the discussion was a lesbian soccer coach who was having a baby with her partner.
It seems that many people, including many Christians, assume that a large part of what Christianity is about is ‘helping us lead a better life’, ‘giving our children a moral upbringing’, ‘providing stability in society by teaching traditional morality’ and the like as though morality was somehow an enshrined set of rules and norms rather than a way of living that gets worked out in differing ways in differing situation as and contexts. I know this is an area of legitimate debate. What bothers me is how many people assume where Christians must stand in the debate. Surely Jesus did not “die to make us good” as I used to have to sing on Good Friday in Mrs. Alexander’s hymn of 1847, There is a green hill far away.