Friday, November 07, 2008

Question of the Day: Moral vs. Political

Why is it that when someone talks about abortion or homosexuality, they are talking about moral issues, but when someone talks about greed, poverty, or just/unjust war they are being political?

For instance, our guest preacher at church on Sunday, brought up abortion and acceptance of homosexuality as examples that our nation needs revival, which is a perspective that I can appreciate, even if I disagree on approaches. However, if someone were to bring up social justice issues like poverty or greed or just/unjust war, those issues are considered "political" and shouldn't be brought up from a pulpit setting. Why the discrepancy?


DB Carden said...

I didn't hear the sermon Sunday, but I did listen to the podcast (thanks for doing that weekly, btw).

It's disappointing to me that the church has abdicated its moral authority to the government. Regardless of the issues presented it is the role of the church to advocate for the kingdom of God in society. So to hear a sermon that implies that a vote is a/the way to bring revival "to our nation" is disheartening.

On your subject, it is curious to me that the three "moral" issues that are always talked about are s**-related (pre-marital, homo, abortion). I don't know have an answer to your question but I do know if we add in talk about schools teaching evolution and not creation"ism" then we are right there as a typical CoC/conservative evangelical congregation.

Aimee said...

i had this conversation with my mother, who is still mortified that i vote democratic. i told her that when i say i'm pro-life, i mean all life. unborn, born, convicted criminal, iraqi and u.s. soldier. people who say they are pro-life certainly don't appear to be giving much thought to the baby who was born without a father, without a mother competent to take care of him, without healthcare, born into poverty which is proven to be a cycle that's very hard to break. poverty, healthcare, the environment - these are ALL moral issues. the thought of casting my vote for a guy (and his hideously unqualified runningmate) based on the possibility that he MIGHT have the opportunity to appoint a justice who MIGHT hear a case in which he/she MAY vote to overturn roe v. wade (don't get me started on how the stars will have to align for that to happen in any case) is ridiculous. God cares about unborn babies and homosexuality but i'm pretty sure He also cares that i have a job and the children already in this world have food on their tables.

believingthomas said...

My guess is that abortion and homosexuality seem to be an easy target. Most churches have a culture where no one would dare admit to either, so you can preach a hard line and the people feel good that they are not a sinner like 'those' people. Reminds me of a story I heard once about two guys praying.

The other issues will stomp on some toes. It would be hard to find an American that didn't struggle with greed or excess and any mention of war risks you being labeled as unpatriotic.

That's why I would guess they are divided.

Anonymous said...

Another distinction that may contribute to the preeminence of these 2 'moral' (political) issues is the whole 'sins of commission' vs 'sins of omission'. For whatever reason (expediency? lack of ambiguity?) religion tends to focus more on the former than the latter (though doubtful the creator makes such a distinction). This leads back then to personal morality: It's simpler to identify oneself as a 'moral' person when the rules are cut and dried, hence the allure of political issues of this nature.

Anonymous said...

That preacher probably will not be invited back. Homosexuality seems to be gaining more favor, even in our so called christian colleges.

Suzie said...

Sometimes it just seems that it has to be either/or...either you are pro-life and against homosexuality OR you are for fighting against poverty and injustice. They are not mutually exclusive. I also think people assume way too much about the "other side". Stereotyping can be dangerous and polarizing.

I also get frustrated hearing so much talk about fighting poverty and injustice when all the while I know that for all the talking there is very little action. I work in the non-profit world. We always have a shortage of funds and volunteers. How many large, contemporary progressive churches are located in the poorest parts of town? How many millions of dollars spent on the presidential campaign could have been better used directly assisting the people they claim to represent? It just seems that if there were less dialogue about poverty and more people actually carving time out of their schedule to volunteer or give regularly, then perhaps we wouldn't need the government to provide those services and we would have less to argue about because we'd be too busy doing.

Phil said...

Suzie, you're right on there. I didn't mean to say that any of those (and other unmentioned) issues had to be either moral or political. Most issues are both, including the ones that I listed.

And you're also right in zinging me about the work with the poor. I personally do better at that at different times in my life, but it's very easy to allow myself to be selfish with my time.

Anne Hamilton said...

'Greed, war and social justice' are all important issues that must be addressed. So are roads, education, taxes, and social security. But none of them mean a thing if you're killed without the opportunity to enjoy any of our society's basic benefits. Life and marriage are obviously the foundation of civilized society as established by God. "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Psalm 11:3

Hard to tackle welfare, housing, education, etc when there's no longer a consensus and foundation from which to refer? Or if you're dead.

Suzie said...

Didn't mean to zing you personally :)...just venting.

Everyone please pray for those non-profits you know right now because the need for their services is rising while their resources are dwindling.

Justin said...


I agree there is likely a lack of support of traditional non profits from progressive minded churches. That is unfortunate, and I agree that supporting a candidate for poverty relief rather then doing things oneself is not a Christian attitude. Its easy to be charitable with someone else's money.

However, among people I know, there is a move towards incarnational ministry to the poor... moving into the inner cities, and being intentional about helping those in need, as well as building relationships, which many of us believe is a key step in social justice.

Those people typically have disagreements with traditional non profits, fairly or unfairly I'm not sure, because many of them attempt give to people in order to convert them, requiring attending bible classes, or things of that nature. Many of us do not believe that that is what Christ was about. Conversion and salvation come through building relationships, living and being with the people Jesus lived among.

As to Phil's post, I agree that all of those things are profoundly moral and political. I don't really think there is a grand distinction between the two. There are arguments as to how or even if a governing structure, whose basis is rooted in violence, can acheive the goals we as christians want to acheive, but to relegate personal issues to one end of the spectrum (morality) and communal issues to another (political) is a distinction not found in scripture. Derek Webb says in one of his songs that we "trade sins for others that are easier to hide." Its easy to be morally superior when we look at individual acts that are easy to see, such as homosexuality and abortion, but the effects of our decisions that have lasting negative effects on those we will never meet, we like to ignore those things so that we don't feel guilty. That is something that I believe needs to change.

Anonymous said...

Never fear, take a look at what Obama has in store for us citizens.

jeffdod said... discrepancy at the congregation I attend. We talk about those things as sin issues without really identifying them as political versus moral.

Regarding revival for our nation...I believe what we really need is revival for the church first. Mysticism is creeping into the church, divination, lack of purity, unwillingness to help others, and an unwillingness to tell our neighbors of their need for repentance and faith in Jesus as their Savior.

When you do not presuppose the Bible (God's word) as the foundation for your beliefs, you will drift away into sin. So, of course that is what is happening to our nation. Our response should be to renew our committment to fulfill Jesus' command to evangelize.

Brian said...

Wow, guys. Great comments. I would love to sit in a group with you all and discuss this all in depth.

I've been reading "Mosques and Miracles" recently. It is about Islam, (of course) and how it has grown world wide to such a large extent. The big difference between Islam and the commonly practiced Christianity we know in the West, is that Islam NEVER separates life into segments. There is no such thing as spiritual, political, social... Everything is a seamless fabric.

I wonder how different the church would be if we Christians lived our lives that deliberately?

Phil, would you post a link to the podcast of the guest speaker? I would love to hear what he said. Thanks.

Phil said...

Here's the link to the sermon:

Tony Arnold said...

Phil, I think one main reason abortion and homosexuality get argued about so much while we shy away from greed and poverty is a subconscious, maybe even conscious, avoidance of topics in which I, the individual, can have direct affect, thus making me put into action my beliefs.

We can argue all day about abortion and homosexuality knowing we have have little direct effect on others and without requiring me to take action that is unpleasant or messy. It is easy for me, the individual, to not be involved in an unwanted pregnancy, not have an abortion, and to not practice homosexuality if I don't have those feelings anyway.

But for me to discuss greed and poverty then I put myself in the position of having to: give up some material wants (and I really want them); give my money away until sacrifice is required (C.S. Lewis on how much to give); go out and get myself involved in the lives of people that make me uncomfortable and will complicate my life and require my time and emotional resources.

It is much easier if I pick arguments in which I can take a firm stand without having to actually change anything about myself or take any action.

Brian said...

Hi Phil, thanks for the link. I guess I had expected a different topic for the sermon, given the tone of your posting.

However, with reference to that sermon, I often have difficulty, in this current age we live, knowing how and when to draw parallels to stories from the Bible. When are spiritual parallels applicable, when are they cultural events only related to that time (therefore not applicable to us) and so on.

In the story of Ezekiel and the prophet of Baal, we see a confrontation with the common spirit of the age. I would say that the common spirit of our age is hedonism. Everything in the western world is focused on achieving more for one's self. Its a me me me culture. In eastern cultures, people see their efforts in life being for the benefit of their family, community, company etc, and by helping these groups to succeed, they in turn will succeed.

Every civilisation that has ever existed, has brought with it, the seeds of its own destruction, and I wonder if it will be the self centered focus of our western capitalistic world view that will bring about the demise of our civilisation.

Brian said...

Tony, I do agree with you. It is so easy to see the specks in the eyes of others, but ignore the planks in our own, especially when we secretly like our planks, and don't like the specks.

Anonymous said...

Get real. Our capitalistic system has done more good for the world than any system on earth. If you don't realize it then there is something wrong with your education. What is your defination of greed? Sure there are a few CEO's that don't deserve their millions but that is the exception to the rule. I take exception to the fact we are self-centered. Americans give more to various charities than anyone on earth, twice as much in fact than the next highest country. Incidentally, conservatives, who are thought to support those greedy big businesses give more to charity than anyone else including those liberals who are always harping on poverty.

jeffdod said...

Capitalism may be based on greed in some sense, but socialism is based on covetousness and theft.

Here is a question I have for those on this blog: What should the Church's primary focus be? Should it be "social justice?" Evangelism? Both? Something else?

I don't know what answer you will give. The impression I get from reading the posts on this thread is that your primary concerns are social issues, not evangelism. Educate/correct me, please.

Brian said...

Jeffdod, I don't understand you comment that socialism (not communism) is covetousness and theft. I live in NZ which is based on a socialistic framework with a market economy, as are Australia, the UK and most of Europe.

Western capitalism is undeniably about gaining stuff for ourselves - just watch TV advertising for one night. Western socialism seeks to bring a shared prosperity to the nation by providing nationalised healthcare, education, retirement, etc. For me, healthcare and education are the most important. It means that no one is discriminated against due to their personal financial means. Everyone can get the same standard education and healthcare, thus setting a solid platform for the future. They may not take full advantage of it, but it is available to them.

I believe we are called to evangelise by our actions, not just our words. "They will know your faith by your works..." "Faith without works is dead..." Yes social justice is very godly and exactly what Jesus was about. He didn't condemn prostitutes, tax gatherers, adulterors, the Pharasies did that. JC forgave them all. He went to where the people were, talked and ate with them, and got condemned for his actions by the established church.

I believe the world needs to see a church that shows God's love, not our legalism, otherwise we are no better than the Pharasies.

jonmower said...


As Brian indicated, I think many of us here believe that the social justice/evangelism dichotomy you set up is not biblical.

For example, the meeting of physical needs was a integral part of Jesus' method of evangelism. The sheep and the goats passage from Matthew 25 makes it pretty clear that his followers were expected to have similar priorities.

jeffdod said...

brian and jonmower: thanks to both of you for taking the time to respond.

My original intention was not to discuss political systems, so perhaps I shot myself in the foot by inserting the smart comment about socialism!

Could I tell you what I was really trying to get at? There are some in the church today who believe that no one is living under God's wrath, and therefore we don't really have to tell people about repentance and putting faith in Jesus. These same folks teach that the job of the church is therefore one of social work rather than evangelism.

I was not advocating doing one without the other! Instead, I was asking what the bloggers here advocate in that regard.

Phil said...


Were you basing your question off reading other posts and comments on this blog or just this post? The reason I ask is I have talked about those issues, and this one was specifically about the distinction that is sometimes drawn between the issues I brought up on this post. If you click the Jesus link on the right side of the page, I think you'd find some posts on the other subject.

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