Friday, January 11, 2008

What I've Learned About Christian Ethics

This was a very interesting week for me, a week of discoveries. I have discovered so many things this week that I did not know before. I have always suspected that something was missing in my theological education here in Truett Seminary. Thank God that this week I discovered what it was, a Christian ethics class. Before I took this class, my notion regarding the dramas and problems faced by the world was that they were so insignificant that it is not worthy to mention. Today, while I am writing this last paper and remembering each case debated in class, I am struck to see how life is complex and sometimes ugly.

It seemed to me that I have lived my entire life in a bubble, far away from people’s problem. However, this was not the case. I must admit though, that I have never faced so many hardcore problems in life, such as, sexuality, war, environment issues, rigor and responsibility, in just one week. Well, I have always heard about these cases, and eventually I have even emitted a judgment concerning them (limited by my lack of knowledge on the matter), but this week was different. Dr. Higgins skillfully led us to think about these issues in a different perspective. He placed us in the midst of the problem and asked us to judge it from the within and with a biblical perspective. Apparently, this was a simple task. Just look what the Bible says, and obey it. However, as the cases were passing by and the complexity of the issues was increasing, it became clear to all of us that not everything that the Bible teaches can be applied in real life. The ideal of God sometimes is minimized by the reality of a sinful and broken world. After the fall, life became so different from what God had first designed to us, that in order to preserve life, peace, justice, we must act differently from what the Bible instructs. However, to get to this point, we have to have first used all other options available in the Word of God. If nothing that is in the Bible could be used, our response must be toward the greater good. This is the tension between the ideal and the real.

To make morally relevant and wise decisions, we must be very sensitive to God and to the situation we are involved in. This is what I also have noticed during the classes this week. The cases that our class studied were very complex and demanded a very careful analysis of the circumstances around each character. I believe that we too should approach the issues presented to us like this. It would be irresponsible, unethical and unloving to approach the issues of life as if they were all the same. Each case is different because each person is different. It sounds like a cliché, but, this is the reality. Each person carries his particularities, emotions, and dramas which make them unique.

Ethic is fascinating. I have really learned a big deal from this class. But unfortunately, when we look at our world and its huge problems, and then, look at our churches and try to see what they are doing to solve these problems, we realize that there is not much being done. To engage in problems such as, social and economic, environmental, life and death, racism, war, teen pregnancy, etc demands a lot from the churches. Many pastors are really not very interested in dealing with the brokenness of the world. In many churches, the prevalent culture is still the one that says that church is only responsible for spiritual matters and only exists to preach the gospel and save souls from hell. This mentality keeps many people in their comfort zones.
It is interesting that Leadership Magazine this fall 2007 has an article about reaching people on the margins of society. The article written by Helen Lee, quotes the book Empowering the Poor (by Robert Linthicum) to mention three approaches the churches take in their relationship with the community. The first approach is “the church in the city.” This approach occurs every time that the church does not identify with the community that they are in. The second approach is “the church to the city.” In this case, the church decides to meet certain needs of the community. Lee says that these are the two more common approaches. However, there is still a third approach, which is “the church to be with the community.” In this approach, the church is “incarnating itself” with the community and becoming “partners with the community in addressing that community’s need.”

I personally recognize the difficulties of the third approach. In Alicia’s case (teen pregnancy) studied this week in class, I was the first person in class to say that some issues of the community is not our (church) business, especially if the people involved are not Christians. And that in this case in particular the family should look for help from the State. However, now while I am writing this paper and pondering on the successful cases mentioned in the Magazine’s article, I really am confused about what the church should do to better represent Christ to the community. I hope that the struggle I am feeling now will eventually come to an end. I do want to serve the Lord and do want to be His hands and His feet to the people, but I also want to be faithful to His word. Perhaps, my struggles are due exactly to not being willing to sacrifice or compromise the message to better serve the community. However, as it was already mentioned here, we must always look at a greater good in our ethical decisions.

I do not know where God will place me after I graduate from Truett. He knows my desires, but He has the final answer. One thing I know though, that any place God leads me to serve Him, I will try to be as faithful as possible to Him. However, knowing that all the many ethical decisions I will have to make will be a mix of love, balance and wisdom.
Rodrigo Serrão

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