A Brief Thought on Christian Moral Language
This article was written by Ransom Clark.
A while back I had a debate with a friend of mine on the practice of euthanizing oneself which has been legal in a couple European countries, and most notably has been legalized in California. The irony of the whole thing is that my friend, whose argument was "It's their right, and it'd be immoral to infringe on that", was Catholic, and the Catholic Church believes suicide to be the worst sin possible, perhaps higher than both apostasy and murder.
In that sentence, "It's their right, and it'd be immoral to infringe on that", one jumps to a new axis to ground ethics in. Rather than speaking about "righteousness/goodness/holiness" one grounds morality in "rights/freedom". Morality is not about whether it is one's "right" to do something or not, otherwise morality and legality would be identical. The judgements of the state and the church would be the same; to commit a crime and be convicted would result in excommunication from the church as well.
In using the language of the world to ground our morality, we submit in our thoughts to the judgements of the state and the world rather than that of the church. For rights to dictate morality is to worship freedom and construct an idol. Certainly, nuance exists within this. Politics are about what is moral for the government to do and one must give to Caesar what is Caesar's, be that taxes or a vote. However, Christians who offered Caesar incense in Roman fashion were excommunicated, as incense was reserved for God.
Offering incense is a symbolic example. Above all else, what is reserved for God is service in how we live our lives, how we determine value and meaning. How one lives is the truest indicator of what one loves (John 14:15). How one speaks, and whose commandments one espouses are a form of this. In arguing ethics with the language of the world, we submit to its ideologies and construct idols in our thoughts and our speech.
Unfortunately, this kind of linguistic submission to secular ideology exists in virtually every church across the political spectrum. Right-wing evangelicals frequently use the language of "rights" and "national sovereignty", whereas left-wing churches often use the language of "social justice" and "inclusion of marginalized groups". I am not arguing that such things do not have a point or are unimportant. However, the Constitution is not God, nor is "social justice", and Christians should be incredibly wary of using these moral languages to justify anything, especially amongst ourselves and from the pulpit.