Ethics is not a popular topic among church folks.
One simple reason for this is ethics is about “right” in action.
It begins with thinking, philosophizing and theologizing about what is right, but it doesn’t end there. It applies the theory by focusing on doing right in our daily decisions and actions.
For Christian ethics, it is more than just “knowing” Scripture, it is “doing” Scripture.
For the religious and for those who profess Christ, it has always been a challenge to do right as God sees the right. There are so many reasons why this is the case.
First, doing right in our world always has “fine print,” wherein we set out in our mind and heart all of the exclusions for doing right.
Doing right is mediated by circumstances, people, commitments to others and our own reluctance to just “do it.”
I would suggest this is not a new issue for the church.
We have been challenged ethically to do right when the culture has a profound dissonance to the gospel. Sadly, much of the time the culture wins.
It was that way with slavery, when many religious folks in the South, rather than doing right, chose to do what was culturally acceptable. In fact, churches in the South went so far as to provide the theological rationale for slavery.
That rationale ran contrary to the gospel and the notion of doing right. That rationale was perpetuated in the South by Jim Crow laws up to the present.
I would also suggest doing right is a problem in our economy. The movement of capitalism is toward a dichotomy where the rich get richer, and the poor grow poorer.
This is easily demonstrated by the wealthiest Americans seeing a $1.3 trillion (44%) increase in wealth during the pandemic.
COVID-19 has only accelerated that trend, as identified in Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty.
So, what does “doing right” economically command?
What does “doing right” demand when certain groups are targeted for harassment or even abuse, including death at the hands of law enforcement?
What does “doing right” call us to do regarding the current uptick in violence toward people of the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
One of my LGBTQ+ clients spoke of her concern regarding “coming out” to her father and her sense of anxiety and fear. She is not alone.
To the seemingly intractable issue of Israel and Palestine, what would “doing right” look like?
Ethics asks the hard questions. That is why ethics is not popular.
For people of faith, it asks the questions, “What is at the heart of God on this issue?” and “How does God call us now to respond?”
Ethics stubbornly, consistently asks the question, “What is the right thing to do?”
John Claypool correctly said, “To the mystery of God, the man Jesus gives a face.”
It is not that there is one God pictured in the Hebrew Scriptures and a different God pictured in the Christian testament.
Rather, for Christians, we begin to see the eternal, unchanging heart of God in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus puts a face on the nature, character and heart of God.
So, what do we see?
First, Jesus was a people person.
He saw the poor, the outcast, the hungry and the sick. He saw those who were drowning in hopelessness. It is critical to understanding the ministry of Christ to recognize that he first saw people.
Sadly, some of the most strident in the Christian community spout hate overlayed with condemnation, which they justify by picking and choosing Scripture. Others militantly forget persons in pursuit of a “righteous end.”
Second, we see in Jesus not a tolerance for sin but a forgiveness of sin.
“Go and sin no more!” (John 8:11) is echoed throughout the Gospels. If anyone had the right to order one’s ministry in this way, it was Jesus.
Mark 10:45 states, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” How powerful it would be for the modern church to see people first and forgiveness following.
The Great Commission is predicated on this very idea. “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It knows no limitations based on ethnicity, nationality or language – no limitations or exclusions of any kind.
To see, to love, to forgive is what we’re called to do, taking our guidance from the life and teachings of Jesus.
This ethic, this imperative to “do right,” is summed up in Micah 6:8 as follows, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”