When Christian Ethics aren’t Christian Ethics

Note:  For the purposes of this discussion it should be understood that when I’m referring to that which is properly “Christian Ethics,” I’m referring to the idea that that which is Christian is also Biblical. So for the purposes of this post and any discussion about it, think of Christian Ethics as Biblical Ethics and, more specifically, the ethics demonstrated in the New Testament and by the early Christian Church as described in the New Testament.

Recently I’ve discovered a new and masochistic pastime of listening to a Christian talk-radio station called American Family Radio on my long trek home from work at night. I discovered this program on the night of the election, looking to confirm the news when NPR called the election for Pres. Obama, and heard a number of exclamations about the apparent lack of ethics and morality in our once Christian nation. Christian ethics, the lack thereof,  or the symptomatic persecution of Christians seems to be the rotational topic of this station, or at least the programs that are on while I’m in the car.

These programs have featured a number of guests  who all lay claim to the idea that Americans are moving away from their heritage of Biblical Christianity being intimately entangled in every facet of life, most especially government and politics. They claim that Biblically grounded Christian Ethics ought to be the guide for the way Christians vote and, as a result, should be the foundation of the laws of our nation.

Stopping abortion, refusing homosexual equality, guarding capitalism, and  protecting both monuments and prayer to their god in the public square are examples of these supposed Christian ethics I’ve heard lauded on this program and in my daily conversations with believers. But are they truly?  Are they even Biblical principals ?

 Abortion

A quick disclaimer: Because I know this is a touchy subject –  I’m not using this as an argument for legitimizing abortion, I’m not qualified to have that particular debate. Simply put, what I’m trying to convince you of is this: if you believe abortion is evil because the Bible says so, I think you’ve chosen the wrong document to argue from , because not only does the Bible NOT condemn abortion, as we’ll see, it promotes it.  Personally, I have major reservations about late term abortions, and I’m glad that they are rare. Obviously I also believe that personal responsibility should never be shirked, but I also believe that women should have safe ways to deal with undesired pregnancies (and at the earliest time that they can).

Somewhere down the line, surely soon after Roe v. Wade, abortion became a “front and center” issue of the evangelical Christian discussion when it had previously been more of a non-issue. Pro-life advocates use such verses from the Bible to justify their morally superior position as:

 

Luke 1:44b , “…the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”

 

Jeremiah 1:4-5 ,  Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, ” Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”

and

Exodus 21:22-24, If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

 

These verses on their own might lead one to think that the authors of this text believed in the sanctity of the fetus in the womb, but do these themes exist consistently throughout the Bible?

Not only were infants not counted in the census of Numbers 3:15-16 until they were at least 1 month old, they held no value until that time as well (Leviticus 27:6). Furthermore, there are numerous occasions in which YHVH gave direct orders to kill infants or fetuses still in the womb:

Hosea 13:16 - Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.

Numbers 31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Christian ethics?  Maybe. But it doesn’t seem like the pro-life position is very much a Biblical one. All this not enough to convince you?  What if the Bible included the equivalent of a morning after pill that was administered by a priest in a ritual used to determine whether or not she had been defiled by another man?

It does in Numbers 5:21-31:

 

21 Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot , and thy belly to swell; 22 And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell , and thy thigh to rot : And the woman shall say , Amen, amen. 23 And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water: 24 And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse : and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter. 25 Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman’s hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar: 26 And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water. 27 And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled , and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell , and her thigh shall rot : and the woman shall be a curse among her people. 28 And if the woman be not defiled , but be clean; then she shall be free , and shall conceive seed. 29 This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled ; 30 Or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law. 31 Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.

 

Many readers will proclaim that this simply isn’t the case, that this is some sort of godly endeavor to determine whether or not a woman sinned, but read it again. This is precisely what happens with chemically induced abortions – the uterus swells and contracts and issues all of the tissue lining it, including the zygote.

Homosexuality and Marriage

It’s no secret that many Christians find themselves enthralled in a fervent pursuit to preserve for what they call “traditional marriage.” Strangely enough, this fight has had little to do with how churches deal with marriage and has done even less to curb the divorce rate among Christians in this country.  From the Phelps Family of Westboro Baptist Church picketing any funeral they can think might grant them some TV air time to American Family Radio’s constant barrage of ads, blurbs, and shows that tout the dangers of “gay marriage” and the value of “traditional male/female marriage”.

Unfortunately for those with such a penchant against homosexuality, there have been no credible reasons to find any possible or likely harms that might come about as a result of homosexual marriage. Even when the excuse comes down to the fear that children adopted into such a family might be exposed to dangerous things and end up with some grave abnormality as adults, these claims fall flat in light of any study that’s ever been done to determine the validity of such a claim.

Even with perceived harms, those who calls themselves a believer must ask whether or not this is a fight they are actually instructed to take on and, like abortion, any serious attempt at determining the answer to this will end in a profoundly loud NO!

The Bible DOES indeed discuss homosexuality, it NEVER discusses the marriage of homosexuals.

Once again, it’s unfortunate for the believer that the Bible says the same thing about homosexuality that it does about polyester blends and putting cheese on your burger: It’s against the Law, corrupts you, and makes you unclean.  Still, Christians persist on attempting to outlaw unions between two homosexuals, but not meat and cheese, or cotton and polyester.

Why?

Because it’s easier to pick and choose what you want to reject – it’s even easier when society makes it permissible to bully and condemn people that aren’t within the accepted status quo.  Furthermore, the few verses that actually discuss homosexuality and condemn it apply directly to the nation of Israel. The Laws of the Old Testament were never intended to be followed by anyone who wasn’t a Jew. These were G-d’s laws for G-d’s people. Likewise, as Christians in the New Testament weren’t people with any sort of power over the political system, they had no ability nor intent to control the morality of others – unless, of course, it was through converting them. The New Testament Christians and the Early Church’s only prerogative in having any control over morality was inside the Church itself. They disciplined one another, but never anyone who didn’t adhere to their belief system.

 

 Capitalism

Somewhere in American history, and I’m not sure where – but the argument could be made that it happened at the very beginning – Christianity became synonymous with the virtues of capitalism. From the American Revolution to The Civil War, McCarthyism, and even now with the Religious Right’s insistence on President Obama’s dedication to Islam and the Communists, the banner of capitalism is waved proudly by a great number of Christians.

Recently while listening to AFA, I heard one of their trademark talking heads taking listener calls and one lady asserted that Pres. Obama was an evil socialist and a Muslim. About 10 minutes later, an advertisement played for a type of medical insurance company called MediShare – boasting:

“For over 19 years, Medi-Share members have been helping one another through medical bill sharing—over $675 million has been shared and discounted! It’s God’s way of helping His people care for one another while providing healthcare that works.”

It seems that the socialists are spending advertising dollars with AFA, not recognizing they they are precisely what they fear so greatly.

I’m not disparaging MediShare, either.From what I can tell they are practicing a sort of compassionate Christianity that takes care of one another vs. the very dog eat dog version that many have adopted. Socialism, sharing what you have with your community, is a Biblical concept outlined by the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles in Chapter 2 verses 44-46.

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.

What these Christians, trembling in fear at the threat of Socialism or Communism, are actually protecting is an idea of Christianity that is entirely anathema to it’s roots. A Christianity built upon the ideas of American Exceptionalism and an Anglo-supremacy  that reinforced selfishness and greed even at the expense of other peoples lives, homes, and health. If Biblical Christianity has anything going for it at all it was demonstrated by the Apostles in these few verses – verses often forgotten in today’s ear tingling sermons.

The Public Square

Despite belonging to an overwhelming majority and having enjoyed the fruits of hundreds of years of previously embedded Christian heritage, many Christians, and especially those at AFA, are convinced that evil atheists and the gay mafia (no, seriously, I heard this said) are encroaching on their religious freedoms. Whether it’s because secularists are demanding equal treatment or attempting to remove the monuments to faith from schools and government buildings – where we don’t think they belong – many Christians believe doing so is an affront to their faith as opposed to a struggle to enforce the Rule of Law.

First, it’s important to understand that the goal of the secularist isn’t, at least in any case I’ve seen, to inflict any harm or to oppress the members of any religion. Instead, what we want is for the religion of the believer to belong to them and not be automatically indicted upon those to whom it doesn’t belong simply by our  mutual association as Americans. Much like today’s Christians would find themselves at arms were Sharia law being imposed upon them, we too are unwilling to have any Judeo-Christian ethics imposed upon us if their sole claim to morality is that they are Judeo-Christian or Biblical in origin.

Next, in order to appeal to our Christian friends taking this effort as their own, can we defend the idea that Christianity is inherent to the public sphere Biblically?

I don’t think we can.

Often times these Christians like to point to a collective morality, as if the direction of our nation is somehow a reflection of what they believe. They often point out the godlessness of Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of what we should collectively avoid if we want to be saved from God’s Wrath. They often think that if we remove monuments to god or “remove prayer from schools” it somehow prevents them from having their own monuments to god and prayer when and wherever they like – and I don’t think any of us have any intention to remove from people the right to pray.

This idea of collective sin is very Old Testament, it’s very Judeo-centric and doesn’t really have any bearing on an alleged “Christian Nation”.  The early church pillars instructed believers to not be conformed to the world, they never said anything about being political activists to see to it that everyone in a nation upheld the morals of Christianity:

Rom 12:2 KJV – And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

The new testament looks at the Church as it’s own nation of sorts, a group of people so separated from the rest of society that they built a communal living environment so that they could support one another as they crucified themselves daily. Their ministries included discipline and molding minds, but only those already within the confines of the Church. What they dissipated to their communities was much different. Justin Martyr, when addressing the morality of early Christians and any possible ill affects they might have on the Roman Empire, said in his First Apology to the Empire of Rome:

XI: And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid. (Source)

Conclusions

The tension between Christianity and what it refers to as “the world” is a long standing one. In no way does the Bible ignore that there is a great difference between what ought to be expected of Christians and what ought be expected from the rest of the world – but in the ways it recommends dealing with those outside of the faith there is a great disparity between what the New Testament authors encouraged and what actually occurs today.

I don’t recall reading anywhere in the Bible that my sins had any affect on you, nor do I recall the Church being encouraged to force me out of my sinful ways lest it be by Grace.  Yet, because it is so easy to look at and punish the alleged sins of others rather than deal with the planks in your own eye, this is the popular route of the Christian Faith today.

Christian ethics have been transformed from what was once a struggle to destroy one’s carnal desires and selfishness into a populist collectivism too busy critiquing the rest of the world to see it’s failures and achieve it’s most fundamental goals.

Here I am, again, an atheist encouraging Christians to read their holy book and do what it says.

(Jam 1:27 KJV) – Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Start there.

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  • http://www.meatofthematter.wordpress.com Jim Etchison

    Fantastic post. Christian Ethics are not Bible-based. Why are women speaking in church–and why aren’t they covering their heads? Those are New Testament edicts. Modern Christian ethics are a hybrid of a few selected social values with a few convenient Bible verses sprinkled in. While I don’t think it was done on purpose, the two “biggies”–abortion and gay marriage–are doomed to fail. Short of the U.S. becoming a Theocracy, Christians will never ban abortions and they will never stop the social tide that will lead to the legalization of gay marriage. But here’s the brilliant part: adhering to *failing* movements is better for establishing Christian solidarity than if they were to succeed. Imagine if abortion were banned–many Christian organizations would suddenly lose steam and funding. But as long as they’re failing, they will continue to wring their hands and fight the good fight, contribute money, and tune into their radios at night. :)

    • http://www.ragingrev.com Matt Oxley

      I suspect you are on to something Jim, perhaps making enemies of those they shouldn’t is a genius marketing campaign.

  • Kyle Atrus

    People that claim to be Christian live by values that appear nowhere in biblical canon. In other news, water is wet and the sun is bright. :D

  • Joshus

    In your arguments regarding abortion you reference many old testament passages(written to the )nation of Israel) as evidence the Bible supports abortion. Then, in your arguments regarding homosexuality you assert that the laws condemning homosexuality were to the Jews(nation of Israel)? (Which isn’t entirely true to begin with, but I’ll leave that there)

    If we should not use the verses concerning Homosexuality because it is(to the Jews), then by using the same argument are we to conclude that what it says about abortion cannot be used either?

    • http://www.ragingrev.com Matt Oxley

      Josh,

      Christians often use the OT as an argument against abortion and no NT references exist to my knowledge that could be construed to fit such a matter. The point isn’t really what part of the Bible an idea comes from though, it’s what the intent was. The passages about abortion display the lack of condemnation against abortion in the Bible, and even the command to perform them granted by it’s god. These were historical narratives mostly, while the references regarding sexuality are matters of the Law that the Jews were expected to uphold.

  • http://www.meatofthematter.wordpress.com Jim Etchison

    Josh brings up an interesting point. If the OT was intended as laws only for the Jews, then that evokes some questions.

    Are those laws not to be seen as a reflection of God’s nature? If that is true, then God gave the Jews instructions for abortion even though God is against abortion. God told the Israelite soldiers to rip fetuses from the wombs of their enemies, but God is against abortion? This is obviously absurd. I think Christians *do* believe those laws reflect God’s nature–which is why they decry Homosexuality as an abomination. If those Jewish laws DO reflect God’s nature, we can conclude that God is not opposed to abortion. If those Jewish laws are not intended to reflect God’s nature, then Christians really should stop invoking them in regards to homosexuality.

  • http://www.guyvestal.com Guy R Vestal

    There is no such thing as “Christian Ethics”, it is yet another line of BS from the current incarnation of the New Testament Church.

    There is only one thing:

    Acts 16:25-34

    (25) About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, (26) and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (27) When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. (28) But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” (29) And the jailer[a] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. (30) Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (31) And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (32) And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. (33) And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. (34) Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

    Once you get past “Step One” (see above Bible verse), then all that is left to do is “Believe” (not “know”) what Jesus says, then react to what He has said.

    Why is this so hard?

    Why does this have to be a big circus?

    Why are people “reading inbetween the lines”?

    Is anyone even reading the Judeo-Christian Canon anymore?

  • Geoff

    You’re 100% right in saying “there is a great difference between what ought to be expected of Christians and what ought be expected from the rest of the world,” and further in saying “there is a great disparity between what the New Testament authors encouraged and what actually occurs today.”

    I do take issue with your exegesis re: the permissibility of abortion/homosexuality/gay marriage; I’d love to take that up with you elsewhere and elsewhen. But even then, my expectations of a congregant versus my expectations of a self-proclaimed apostate would be miles different.

    As for capitalism/socialism/communism: I share with the brethren, and they with me. Not to the extent we should, to be sure. But we share freely. My complaint is against being forced to share, through taxes, with causes that are anathema to me. You think the church meddles in civil affairs, and I’m certain you’re right to an extent, but I do not think it unjustified for me to point my finger at government and lay the same charge. Hence, I can say confidently, “I love sharing, but I hate socialism.” — one is voluntary, one is forced.

  • C.L. Bolt

    Matt,

    I appreciate you questioning the sources of ethical stances within evangelicalism. That’s important to do. I am curious though, what ethics books, if any, you consulted for your post? Maybe we could chat about these sometime in the future. Man, I’d love to have some conversations with you, but time is so limited.

    P.S. Thanks for your good sportsmanship regarding other matters! ;)

    • http://www.ragingrev.com Matt Oxley

      Had I consulted any ethics sources I would have stated so.

      and always ;)

  • Pingback: "When Christian Ethics aren't Christian Ethics"?: Response to Matt Oxley, Part 1()

  • J. Denton

    Hey matt,

    Just curious, Why is it that you are so determined to attack the christian faith for what you may consider to be hypocritical, poor ethics or whatever you want to call it. Im sure you are aware of the fact that many other religions in the world have a very different view of how to deal with homosexuals. But not just homosexuals, infidels of any sort are all pretty much dealt with the same way. Why then are you not speaking out against them. Could it be that you know Christians are told to turn the other cheek and therefore you have no fear of retaliation. Why dont you set up an interview with al-jazeera television and criticize the muslim faith as you do the christians after all they are guilty of far worse atrocities. Matt, dont you find it odd that the government can limit salt intake, ban big gulps, and force restraunts to display calorie counts all in the name of our health, but justt cant seem to find the moral courage to ban the killing of the unborn child. This is not a womans rights issue this is a right to life issue, which last i checked was gauranted within the our founding documents (LIFE, liberty , and the pursuit of happiness). Your position on these issues is perfectly in line with the mainstream secular progressives, I have to admit I figured you to be much more independant in thought, never imagined you would be so quick to follow the crowd.

    • http://www.ragingrev.com Matt Oxley

      Jared,

      I believe I’ve already addressed this via a thread on Facebook but I’ll do so again. Please note that you’ve not addressed any of the points made in this post though.

      Again, nearly any criticism I make of Christianity can be applied to Islam – but you might be surprised to find that there are few Muslims, especially fundamentalist Muslims, in or around the area that we live in. They simply are not the demographic I’m working for.

      You also, incorrectly, assume that my life has never been threatened in the name of Christ.

      In regards to your argument on abortion, in my original post I was extremely clear about this not being an apologetic for abortion – it is an argument against using the Bible as the moral standard for outlawing abortion. I made that disclaimer for a very distinct reason and I hate that you’ve ignored it.

  • J. Denton

    actually you might be surprised to learn that there are muslims in our area and fundamntalist ones at that. But that is beside the point, Your reach is far wider than our area. For instance this site itself can be seen anywhere but surprisingly no references to other faiths just christianity. Another question I have is this, does the truth you claim to offer contain within it salvation? If not than what benefit is to others? In other words why is it you work so hard to devangelize the saved? As christians we believe the message of the Gospel contains within it the power to bring about salvation and thus we share it. You have based your truth off of your own personal experiences within the faith, but what do you say to the one who has done likewise and come to a completely different conclusion. Are we to accept your truth over theirs, and if so what gives you the credibility to offer such insight. Much of what you have written leads me to believe that in your mind you have discovered some hidden truth about christianity and the church. Yet, the examples that you cite are typically that of those who have been sold a cheap Gospel and may not be save at all, You use these examples as evidence to back up your accusations against the church. Whatever you may believe about Christ and the church remember that it is the church He died for. That being the case If he was willing to die for it he will most certainly defend it. What other religions offer by way of the truth is no different than what you are offering to your disciples. They claim to show, lead, or point their followers to the truth, But Jesus offered a much different alternative in that He said ” I am the Truth” so until you can make such a claim, as to the truth that you are proclaiming. You are indeed preaching a false Gospel and like the pharasees you are an unmarked grave leading people to their death. In addition I was not attempting to address the persecution of the church in my original reply but just as you have taken the liberty over and over again to address the hypocrisy of the church so have i taken the liberty to address yours. In reality you do not speak out against other religions because as you said “that is not your target audience or particular demographic”, your vendetta is against the christian church. You have also stated that you do not speak out directly against those of another faith because you do not have the peigree, that is purely by choice, You do not know because you do not seek. I would venture to guess that the reason you stopped short of finding it (truth) is that because you discovered something that has plagued man since eden and that is a desire to be like God. To have your own followers looking to you for the answers. I would even venture to guess that you have a counter on your site to moniter the amount of traffic traveling through your domain, and that you pay particular attention to the amount of friends you have on facebook. maybe im wrong but I dont think so. I know this all sounds very abrasive and I apologize if i have offended anyone. especially you Matt. I want you to know that my family prays for you regularly.

  • http://kasamaproject.org Stacy

    I have always looked at this verse differently:

    Exodus 21:22-24, If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

    If men fight and harm a pregnant woman and cause her to abort then they should be punished by a fine. The crime committed is not causing the death of the fetus, but harming the woman. If any mischief follow – if the woman becomes gravely ill or dies then the punishment is equal to the harm – death for death. The fetus itself is not considered a person.

    To support this interpretation I go to the Jewish belief that the soul does not enter the body until the first breath is drawn. The Jewish people highly associated the breath with life as God breathed the spirit into Adam. Christian interpretations often do not consider the meanings the verses held in the Jewish faith.

    • http://www.ragingrev.com Matt Oxley

      I agree with your exegesis Stacy