Three ethical dilemmas, each of them a true story. What do they have in common, besides the obvious?
I didn’t make up these stories. These are friends of mine. At first when the one friend mentioned the Chick-fil-A issue I thought he was exaggerating for effect, but he assured me he was deadly serious.
Obviously all three of these are about dilemmas they’ve faced at work. Here’s the less-obvious thing they have in common: Not one of them has ever heard any clear advice from the pulpit on how to handle tough situations like these.
In one case the church’s pastor was closely involved, giving personal counsel. I give him high credit for that; he didn’t leave his friend and church member to figure it all out for himself. Otherwise, though, I can’t help thinking “abandoned” is the right word for it.
Those were work situations. Similar things happen in families, in schools, even in churches, too.
A Christian friend had to decide whether to attend his daughter’s lesbian wedding. A grocery store’s obviously transgender employee made some other believers uncomfortable by his manner of dressing and acting. A gay college student shouted another student down — loudly and unstoppably — for denying gays their “rights.” A woman told a church leader she was looking forward to the upcoming couples’ event, then introduced the other woman standing next to her as her wife.
None of the Christians in these cases had ever heard a sermon on how to handle those situations, either.
So here’s my question: Where are the churches on this? Where is the preaching?
I’d like to know how many other Christians in the Western world face issues like these. My guess: A lot of us.
How many of them are finding real help with these questions at church? Is any pastor preaching on how to handle these moral tough spots? My guess: Very few of us. I haven’t heard of any. Not even one. If you know of exceptions, I’d be glad to have you point it out to me.
Also: Has anyone written advice on how to approach dilemmas like these? If so, I hope someone will point it out to me, because I haven’t seen it.
As far as I can tell, the vast majority of committed, conservative Christians live with moral dilemmas for which they are completely unprepared. And aside from a Sunday School or two, or maybe some home Bible studies here or there, their churches are leaving them to sort it all out on their own.
I’m sure there must be exceptions; that pastors in some churches are equipping their congregations responsibly for life in a gay-friendly world. But there can’t be that many of them. If it were, it would have bubbled up all over in online conversations by now, or else in Christian websites and magazines. I haven’t seen a sight of it.
Again, I’d be glad if someone could tell me I’m wrong. At any rate, I say it’s time for pastors to start preaching again about standing strong for Christ — especially when standing strong may put them at risk.
Preaching on this can’t be easy. The pastor must assume from the start that his congregation includes diverse views on homosexuality. There may even be LGBT members or attenders.
I was speaking on homosexuality for a charismatic women’s group not long ago, and a lesbian woman interrupted me with a tirade that wouldn’t stop, beginning with, “Heterosexuality causes abortions!” That told me right away that my rational, reasoned approach so far wasn’t the thing that would resolve her issues. I offered to meet with her afterward to talk about her concerns; she ignored it. The meeting host made the same offer; the woman shouted right over her. Finally the host directed two people to escort her from the room.
Conflict doesn’t often reach that level. But I’m also aware of a youth group talk on homosexuality, where two girls walked out because they were “bisexual,” and thought the speaker was insensitive. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether he was or not. I do know that pastors need to be ready for anything when they open their mouths on LGBT matters.
So the pastor must pray before he preaches. Then he has to explain, persuade, bring the church along to the truth with him. He must take the role of apologist for biblical morality. Simply saying, “The Bible says so,” won’t always do the job, unfortunately; some listeners will just harden in their positions, saying, “Well, then, I don’t think much of the Bible!” A preacher needs to persuade in other terms as well. (I’ve covered some of this in Critical Conversations.)
That was the easier part. The harder part is explaining what the Bible says about moral courage and prudential wisdom, and how to balance the two on the job. Since no two job circumstances are the same, the preacher must preach on principles. And he must be prepared to call his people to make hard decisions. He has to be willing to set the pace in that, if circumstances call for it.
There’s plenty to preach on, anyway. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow to the idol. Daniel refused to eat the king’s food or to give up his daily prayers. Joseph refused to sleep with Potiphar’s wife. All of them got in severe trouble for it: the fiery furnace, the lion’s den, the dungeon. God honored all of them. Yet we also see all of them treating their pagan rulers with great respect, obeying and even serving them to the full extent possible without violating God’s commands.
These examples illustrate a principle: Do everything you can to do your job and live in relationships cooperatively and well. Hold firm to your Christian morals. Don’t raise a stink unless the stink’s already there and justifies it. If you do need to speak up, seek good counsel first so you can proceed with wisdom.
Suppose you do need to speak up. How should you proceed? What should a pastor include in a sermon on it?
I had this conversation not long ago with the person in the third situation I listed above. There I admitted freely, “I haven’t been in this position. I can’t decide for you what’s best. But I do have some ideas to offer.” Here is some of what we discussed there. This case was very job-related, so I could have mentioned to him my Master’s degree in organizational psychology, too — except he already knew about it.
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:28-30)
What would you add to these nine points? Have you been through one of these ethical dilemmas? I’d love to hear from you on it.
Image Credit(s): Riccardo Mion/Unsplash.
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