Moral Values: What I Learned Growing Up in Church

            The church today is deeply divided over our understanding of moral values and their biblical roots. Some people define key moral values as abortion and homosexuality, and some say key moral values are larger than that, the values of life and love. Some see black-and-white values taught in scripture, and others see shades of gray in a biblical tradition with its roots embedded in writings spread out over 1,000 years.

The choice is not either/or but both/and. There are some clear black-and-white moral teachings in scrip-ture (though not as many as some people think), and there are many shades of understanding of such concerns as marriage, family life, sexuality, religious life, the sanctity of all life, and the roles of men and women in society, to name just a few.

            In a small book like this we cannot consider all the moral teachings of scripture. And this is not an academic study of any of them. It is a personal witness to my faith. I want to focus on the ultimate moral values of life and love, especially love. What does the Bible teach us about love, and what are the implications of love in our concern for those who have yet to be born and our concern for the sacredness of marriage – two areas of moral values argued so vociferously during the 2004 U.S. election?

            Will the church survive its deep divisions? Will mainstream denominations in the U.S. find a way to continue to live together despite the seemingly insur-mountable differences of understanding about what we believe to be of ultimate importance in our faith? Will the different branches of the church – sometimes charac-terized as conservative and liberal – be able to accept each other as members of the same spiritual body and family and learn to live together without rancor and with respect? These are the fervent questions in my heart and soul as I write this book. … Read the entire book online….

Belonging – Behaving – Believing

Christians have always emphasized three things:

  1. Belonging – who we are in God through Christ   (relationship)
  2. Behaving – how we live as disciples of Jesus (practice)
  3. Believing – what we believe to be true (doctrine)

Some Christians have insisted that what we believe (our doctrine) is most important and defines what it means to be a Christian. And then our behavior (practices of daily living) come from what we believe. Our relationship to God and to each other is still important, but sometimes people make it less important than the other things.

What if we turned the list around and emphasize relationships and belonging as most important? And then “behaving” – our daily practices and how we live – as the next thing in importance? And then doctrine and teaching – what we believe. All are important, but what we consider to be most important makes a difference in how we see ourselves as a church.

What is God doing in this world?

What is God doing in this world? What is God’s mission? What does God’s kingdom “look like” today? How can God’s work be done other than through traditional church institutions. The 20th century church model was never sustainable. And other models over the centuries have not been, either. In the beginning, the movement spread through people who provided for themselves mostly, and collections were for the poor. Perhaps the not-for-profit business model (social entrepreneurship) will work for more and more people to sustain the work of people doing what God wants to do in this world.

I’ve come to understand the work of many nonprofit organizations as “kingdom work” – the work of God’s kingdom, the work of the church. Freedom, healing, compassion, grace, justice, forgiveness, empowerment – this and much more is God’s work in this world, the work we are called to do as we follow Jesus. It is the work of salvation and of life from God.

A Safe Place Covenant

Believing that love is the ultimate moral value because Jesus calls us to love God and one another above all else, we agree to ask ourselves and each other one core question: “Does this contribute to love?”

We agree to measure our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions by this one question, with the help of God’s Spirit. As much as possible, we will not speak or act until we have reviewed ourselves in this way. And if the group challenges our words or actions by this question, we will allow them to help us examine again what we said or did.

We agree that the practices of compassion, grace, and generosity are primary evidence of love, and we commit ourselves to engage each other in conversation and relationship by following these practices to the best of our understanding.

We agree to seek to live together in love by being faithful to these guidelines for our attitudes and behaviors:

  • Honor each person as one created in the image of God and loved by God.
  • Ask God’s blessing for each person and for ourselves as we seek to see and hear as God does.
  • Listen prayerfully, attentively, and without judgment to each person, being generous in our interpretation of what we hear and assuming a good motivation for what was said.
  • Speak for ourselves and not for others, using “I” rather than “You” as we tell our stories.
  • Ask for more clarification to ensure better understanding before responding, especially when what was said seems unclear or inappropriate.
  • Give each person appropriate time to finish his/her story or thought before anyone responds.
  • Agree to one exception – when something that is said feels hurtful or harmful, others in the group may interrupt to say, “Ouch! That hurts; that didn’t feel good…,” and may ask the person to say it a different way or to ask for clarification of what was said.
  • Invite full disclosure of a person’s story, feelings, and ideas, granting complete confidentiality – that nothing said will be repeated in another place without that person’s permission.
  • Allow for silence after each sharing of a story.
  • Grant permission for anyone to ask for a time of silence and/or prayer, suspending the flow of conversation temporarily.
  • Agree as a group to act with loving responsibility to provide emotional safety if any member of the group feels distressed or anyone becomes verbally or physically threatening or abusive.

Changing Churches in the 21st Century

The Church changes in every generation, certainly in every century. There are pivotal generations, however, and I believe we are living in one of those times. The history of the Christian Church focuses on such things as Creeds, Confessions, and Common practices. When people talked about “what we believe,” they most often meant what we can understand and explain – our doctrines and denominational distinctives, for instance.

As the Church moves farther into the 21st century, all that will change rapidly. We already see a deepening chasm between leaders and pastors who focus on these traditional foundations and those who focus on what I call Movements of Changing Churches:

  1. Compassion
  2. Community
  3. Cooperation

“What we believe” becomes more about how we live and how we demonstrate to the world God’s gracious love for all creation. Faith becomes more a matter of relationship with God and the world than a matter of intellectual and organizational uniformity. The Church is changing. The question is whether we will change with it.