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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Friday, May 02, 2003

Ethics: Whose gospel are we preaching?

Yesterday we talked about what makes ethics Christian, and specifically the use of scripture as foundational narrative. This class I got: put me back in Bibleland, and I’m happy. (^_^)

In Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be, Middleton and Walsh argue that the Bible “paradigmatically answers the worldview questions about evil and redemption and, in the process, highlighting its inbuilt ethical thrust and antitotalizing potential.” (p. 87) They identifiy two “counterideological dimensions,” consistent themes that “incline the Christian story toward... subverting violent, totalizing uses of the story by those who claim to live out of it.” The first of these two dimensions is a radical sensitivity to suffering; an awareness and continual reminder that pain, and suffering, and opression are not acceptable in any form. The second is the message of God’s overarching creational intent; what my more evangelical friends might term affirming God as Creator, willing goodness not just once “in the beginning,” but for all time, and as an ongoing plan for all of humanity, not just favored pieces of it.

These elements of the biblical narrative feed the Christian ethics of evangelization, liberation, and justice. And it’s the same message that allows folks (inside the church and out) to stand up and point out where we fall short-- when we’re not practicing what we preach, you might say. This is also what flies in the face of my fully embracing any human ideological system as sufficient, because inevitably “they all fall short of the glory of God.” and I think it’s part of my responsibility as a Christian to be willing to say that when I see it-- sometimes a hard thing, indeed.

One example of this was a sermon I heard last night. The Gospel reading for the service (the feast of Sts. Phillip and James) was a familiar one: the passage in John where Jesus’ states that “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one can come to the father except by me.” Now, as familiar as that is, it’s also hard to hear, when we’re trying to be warm and fuzzy and inclusive. And that’s precisely why I was looking forward to the homily, to hearing another preacher wrestle with the text. We need to live into the hard sayings if we’re going to be disciples, and leaders of disciples; and the way to do that is to do that.

Instead, the preacher chose to focus on marking the International Labor Day that is May 1st, and went off on a political rally speech about the virtues of marxism and socialism as iconographic movements, battling injustice and oppression for the betterment of humanity.

I’m sorry; that doesn’t fly. First, I was irritated by the selective reading of history. Marxist and socialist systems not riddled with examples of abuse and oppression? Please! Secondly, I was appalled by the embacing of fallible human structures as paradigm for God’s kingdom here on earth. This is precisely the sort of taking sides that I see the biblical narrative opposing, and I found its presence in the context of the Eucharist distasteful.

'nough said.


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