A litmus test of Christian morality: the film North Country

north countryMy wife and I wanted to watch a light film at home this past Saturday night and then go to bed early. We made the mistake of putting in the movie North Country, which came out in 2005. It was inspired by a landmark sexual harassment case that took place in a Minnesota coal mine. As I was watching the film, I was shocked by how mercilessly the protagonist Josey Aimes was treated by her co-workers, her family, and even the other women in the mine who were victims of the same sexual harassment. I said to my wife, “This seems a little bit over the top,” and she said, “Oh no, this is what women really deal with.” As I saw Josey standing up for her dignity with the whole world against her, I thought a real test of my Christian morality would be if I had the guts to stand up for her if I were working in that mine.

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Is morality the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?

apple on tree

This past weekend, I got to hear my favorite podcast preacher Jonathan Martin live for the first time at Renovatus Church, preaching a sermon about the Garden of Eden titled “Playing God.” He made a number of provocative claims, one of which was basically to say that morality is the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Continue reading

Is morality about becoming “fully alive”?

My brother John Meunier recently responded to a blog post from Episcopal priest Martin Elfert in which Father Elfert had contemplated a question from a woman about the morality of living in a polyamorous relationship. As the foundation for his answer, Elfert quoted church father Irenaeus who said, “God’s glory is the human being fully alive,” basically intimating that the moral criterion for evaluating polyamory was to ask whether it makes the people involved “fully alive.” This made me a bit uncomfortable. But read both Elfert’s post and John’s response. What do you think? Is it valid to say that Christian morality is about making us more fully alive? Continue reading

The moral question of gun collecting

The 2005 film “Thank You for Smoking” is about a tobacco PR executive who wins a public debate about smoking by sidestepping the health questions and reframing the debate as an issue of consumer choice and individual rights. I wonder what would happen if the gun debate were reframed in the opposite way. Instead of asking whether people should have the right to own semiautomatic rifles with unlimited capacity ammo clips, my question as a pastor is whether it is morally compatible with Christian values to collect guns. Not to have a gun to defend yourself and even carry around the shopping mall with you if you live in Arizona. Not to have a gun to use for hunting (I love it when guys from my church give me venison). But to collect guns. Lots of them. Not ancient muskets to be displayed in cases, but powerful guns that you take to some out of the way place to show off to your friends. Is that morally compatible with Christian values? Continue reading

The moral crisis of mental illness

When we admit that mental illness has been a factor in many of the mass shootings that have happened, we are confronted with a moral crisis. As someone who takes pills every morning to make my mind work, I have often concluded that the world is divided between people who take mental health pills and those who don’t. People who don’t take these pills live in a world where a morality of individual responsibility works. Good choices get rewarded; bad choices get punished; and there’s no reason to blame anyone else for your bad choices. But when you go through the experience of actually losing your mind, that moral system crumbles and you face a true existential crisis. Continue reading

Morality: therapeutic or forensic?

I just got back from a meeting to discuss my older son’s progress in school. He qualifies for special education because of several developmental issues that he has. There’s a part of me that grumbles about the way that kids growing up today cannot possibly do anything wrong, because their behavior is analyzed through a therapeutic moral lens rather than a forensic one. If they jump out of their seats in the middle of class, it’s ADD. If they have strange inappropriate emotional outbursts, maybe it’s bipolar. In the evangelical Christian world, the therapeutic view of reality is often ridiculed as secular humanist nonsense. The assumption is that kids would be better behaved if they got smacked with a ruler when they got out of their seats instead of sending them to the school psychologist. Part of me sympathizes with that view; part of me is revolted by it. How do we understand sin in the age of therapy? Is it wrong to see it as a pathology that needs to be healed (the therapeutic perspective) rather than a violation that needs to be punished (the forensic perspective)? Continue reading

Sabbath healing as a paradigm for Christian morality

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This is one of the most radical statements that Jesus ever made. Within it is the revelation of not only Christian but also Jewish morality. I read something similar from Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, who said Torah was always meant to be a gift for the sake of humanity’s flourishing rather than a burden for the sake of entertaining God’s capricious fancy. But in evangelical Christian culture today, it’s as if Jesus never said these words. Because we measure our spiritual credibility according to how toughly we talk about sin, we are invested in making morality burdensome. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the same way in their zeal for the self-justification they gained through the burden of the homage they paid God. What made Jesus’ Sabbath healing so offensive to the Pharisees was not merely His violation of Jewish law but the way that He called out their morality based on conspicuous gestures of “honoring” God  by exuding a morality that really did honor God through its compassion for human need. Continue reading

Why does God make eunuchs? (Matthew 19:12)

As I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store this week, I saw a news story about a five year old transgender child. It elicited a mixture of reactions inside of me. I get angry at the way that our scientistic world so ruthlessly diagnoses and categorizes everything. How many 13 year old kids today do not have some variation of attention deficit disorder? How many young children today are not in some form of occupational therapy for developmental delays and sensory disorders? (My older son does OT and my younger son is being evaluated for it.) Part of me is tempted to categorize this kid’s transgender identity with all the other diagnoses of the parenting expert industrial complex that has overtaken our society like kudzu. At the same time, I’ve met people who were clearly anatomically female and hormonally male and vice-versa. I’ve seen boys who acted completely like girls at too young an age for it to be a product of socialization. Many social conservatives assume transgender identity was invented in the sexual revolution. But what if it’s always been around among people who have lived in the shadows? What if God has created some people not male or female, but male-and-female? Jesus says that He can. Continue reading