I’ve been reading the book The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Post-modern Martix by Brian D. McLaren the last few days. The book itself is a sort of argument that church needs to be done differently in this post-modern age. I will reserve any comments about the book itself until i am done reading it, but McLaren has a chapter called “Trade Up Your Traditions for Tradition” in the book and one of the things he writes caught my attention…
On the other side, we will exhange both our “Trivial Pursuit” moral agenda and our “new morality” nonaganda for a rediscovery of basic, time-tested Christian morality.
We who have lived through the last three decades of the transition zone should have learned at least three things:
a: Societies and individuals alike need healthy families. Two-parent, heterosexual families, whenever possible, are a pretty good idea after all.
b: Such families depend on solvent marriages, and, we have discovered, staying the course “till death do us part” is tough under the best of circumstances. Therefore, we are finding that tolerating infidelity and sexual indiscretions is like running a marathon with wine cooler in our water bottle or bathroom slippers on our feet – they possess a certain adolescent appeal perhaps, but they are patently stupid in the long run if we intend to finish the race.
c: If we want to have a good life, we sooner of later have to surrender to the remarkable concept of being – surprise of surprises – a good person.
In contrast, many of us grew up in the old-world church where the moral sun rose and set on what now seems trivial: Should women wear headcoverings over their hair? Can they have short hair, and men long? Can guitars be used in worship? Drums? Can one watch television on Sunday? Eat red meat on Friday? Can a man worship without a tie? Can a woman speak in a public service, and if so, when, where, and how? [Meanwhile, Mr. Jones hasn’t spoken to Mr. Nelson since their wives had that spat seventeen years ago. And meanwhile, when blacks showed up at our all-white church, they were referred to a “colored” church in our denomination downtown. And meanwhile…]
In the new church, we won’t have the luxury of these kinds of moral mousehunts. I believe we will be a little more basic: Can we please stay out of bed with people we aren’t married to? Can the Christians of the world agree to stop killing each other over petty political issues? Could our faiht by chance overcome our racism? Might we actually make friends with a needy neighbor of another cultural or demographic background, Good-Samaritan style? Husbands, will you stop beating [or browbeating] your wives – now? And parents… And about forgiveness…
True, between here and the other side we have a few huge moral issues to face, including abortion and homosexuality. But even these difficult areas [difficult to resolves in practice, even if we think they’re clear in theory] may fall into place. Seeing our moral struggles, two very unlikely forces have graciously stepped in to help us deal with them: the media and lawyers.
The media have helped us by uncovering our sexual and financial scandals, by shining their flashlights under our covers, leafing through our IRS returns, publicizing our behind-closed-door deals, and broadcasting our hypocrisies. Some of us used to think we could indulge in private immoralities [alcohol or drug abuse, sexual misconduct, financial malfeasance] as long as we took a strong stand on public issues [ poverty, racism, war]. Some of us thought the reverse – that a little racism or sexism was no big deal as long as we stayed in the right bed. Too many of us thought we could do just about anything as long as we said the right things and didn’t get exposed.
But the media have virtually fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy about things said and done in secret being broadcast from the housetops [see Matthew 10:26-27]. They have taught us what we had ignored in our great Christian moral tradition: that we need to integrate both public morality and private morality to have something called “integrity.”
The lawyers then stopped by to help us in a second way. As lawsuits were filed dealing with clergy pedophilia and clergy sexual harassment [whether hetero- or homosexual in orientation], churches had no choice but to get serious about at least their leaders returning to Ten Commandments-style morality, for legal and public-relations reasons if not for moral conviction. And if the leaders must become more traditionally moral, the people in their congregations probably will, too. Isn’t it interesting how history has a way of being self-correcting? And think of it: the media and the lawyers, like a rewriting of the Balaam story!
So in the new church, in spite of the unsolved dilemmas of abortion, homosexuality, and the like, we may just find ourselves united as never before in trying to help our people toward moral living, in public and in private. We will realize what wonderful assets we had in the Christian tradition all along: the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Love Chapter [1 Corinthians 13]. And maybe, we’ll accept this modest proposal: that for, say, the next twenty-five years we will dedicate 95 percent of our moral effort toward living these basic, unarguable elements of our moral tradition. Then we can reevaluate and see whether the other issues – the trivial questions and the big dilemmas alike – have taken care of themselves. Even if the haven’t, with twenty-five years of moral exercise we will be better equipped to address them with… integrity.