Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Respond to the Swinging Fist

Alright, let me start in on the Nehemiah Institute and their Mini-PEERS test. (See my earlier post "What Did You Call Me?" if you're confused.) One of my biggest beefs I have with the test is how poorly it seems to be written. Take question number nine -- probably the worst offender, in my opinion. Here is the statement: Individuals should be allowed to conduct life as they choose as long as it does not interfere with the lives of others. This sounds to me like the typical libertarian view of things. (I dated a guy in high school who was a rabid libertarian. He would say, "Your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins.")

For the record, I answered this with a "TA" (Tend to Agree) -- with the available choices being Strongly Agree, Tend to Agree, Neutral, Tend to Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. There are situations, such as those when individuals are under the authority of another who is responsible for their well-being, when it behooves one to interfere in the life of another. I'm not completely sold on the libertarian philosophy, but I certainly lean that way more than the other; thus, my response.

However, Nehemiah Institute indicates that a Biblical response would be to disagree with the statement. I wasn't completely surprised, but I was puzzled by their explanation for why we should disagree. "We are all accountable for helping our brother not sin," they say. They quote familiar scriptures about reproving each other when we are doing wrong. It is a loving thing, they argue, to warn people when they are on the wrong track.

Well, yeah. One for the duh file, as Jay Leno says. And when we do confront people, we hope and pray they turn from their erroneous ways. But if they don't . . if they hear our warnings and still choose to continue in their sinful behavior . . well, what then? Do we not then "allow them to conduct life as they choose as long as it does not interfere with the lives of others"?

I mean, unless they're breaking the law, what else would we do? Beat them over the head with a brick? Shame and humiliate them? Cry and whine and blubber until they give in to shut us up?

We can't force them to do the right thing. God doesn't even do that. I think that's a basic tenet of the gospel, isn't it? God wants us to choose. He doesn't force our hand. He wants us to obey him out of love and trust.

The concept in the original statement (people are allowed the freedom to choose wrong as long as others aren't harmed) and the concept in their explanation (we should lovingly warn someone we see choosing wrong) are not incompatible Biblically, as far as I can see. Warning someone of the dangers we see coming doesn't deny them their freedom; acknowledging they have freedom to choose isn't being unloving.

Either their explanation doesn't fit the statement, or it is a very simplistic response to the issue. Either way, I'm not impressed.

Am I wrong, friends? If so, please point it out. Lord knows, I don't want to be a secular humanist unawares.


Anonymous said...

You are dead on! I totally agree. Too often I hear in the Christian circles arguments like this.

I see this often with some of the "hot button" sins. Homosexuality for example. Yes - God's word says it it a sin but that does not mean we can make someone stop... nor that we should legislate it. We can only love them, show them what God's word says about it, and pray that God would work on their heart on this matter.

How about gossip? It is a sin and so many (most?) do it but you don't see people trying to make them stop.

I feel that I am rambling a bit... never was very good at putting my thoughts into writing.

Carla said...

I agree with you that we cannot force people to change their behavior. We cannot legislate morality. Change comes from within as a persons attitudes and beliefs are changed.

Having said that, there is an attitude out there that says "It's nobody's business what I do, as long as no one gets hurt. You have not right to criticize my behavior." I would disagree. If what you are doing is wrong, then YES I should speak up. Jesus showed love, but it was a tough love that didn't say "live as you wish as long as it doesn't affect me and those I love." How can they believe in whom they have not heard?

In addition, I think the idea that an individual's choices only affect that individual is false. All of our choices have an impact on those around us for good or bad, and the consequences of our behavior often affects those around us in ways we would never have foreseen. How those choices affect other people does matter. We do not live in a vacuum.

GJK said...

You make two good points, Carla. Obviously, sinful choices are going to hurt the people around us (which would have been a good thing for NI to have brought up in their response). And that's something we need to point out to those people, because they are usually deceiving themselves into thinking they AREN'T hurting anyone. But, again, if they refuse to listen, we have to allow them the freedom of their sinful choices. Then we have the difficult problem of praying about how to protect the ones being harmed.

I also agree with what you say in your second paragraph. You are correct that this is a good translation of what many people mean when they make this statement. Here is my problem, I think, with the way NI deals with this issue. If you simply say you disagree with this statement, it sounds like you agree with its opposite: that individuals should NOT be allowed to conduct life as they choose . . . and what exactly do you mean by that? That somebody out there should be dictating to them how they have to conduct their lives? That sounds like shariah law to me. And this is precisely what the suspicious part of the secular world thinks Christians want to do. Muslims, Christians -- we religious freaks are all the same to them. We have to clearly distinguish the gospel from the rest. And the NI explanation here was just not very clear.

When we say we disagree with this statement, what we really mean is, "If I watch someone make a horrible sinful choice and make no effort to warn them, I am essentially complicit in the behavior and I can't live with that. I must at least speak up." But that is a far cry from not allowing that person to conduct life as they choose, and that needs to be made clear to everyone involved -- sinner and reprover alike.

I also had a kneejerk reaction to the phrase "right to criticize behavior". We have an obsession with our rights in our society. I don't know if we have a "right" to criticize anyone's behavior. But we earn somebody's ear through our love for them. I know, personally, that before I would ever confront someone about a sinful behavior I think they need to change, I would want to know they are confident of my love for them first. This would unequivocably disallow the Fred Phelps approach. Excuse me while I shudder.

Carla said...

I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that I think it is our God-given right to go around criticizing people. I'm simply trying to point out the attitude that is often behind statements such as the one you mentioned from the survey. This seems to be a common reaction people have to anyone who would dare say there was anything wrong with what they are doing. In their minds, you are wrong to make any sort of judgement call. If we choose to remain silent, we are tacitly agreeing with them that that behavior is OK.

Like I said, I do not think it's our right to go around badmouthing people. We are to treat other people with love, respect, and mercy. And if we want them to hear what we have to say, then we need to earn their respect as well. I would rather use the word responsibility. We have the responsibility to speak the truth in love and address issues that we see in our society that need to be addressed, even if other people don't like what we say. This does not necessarily involve confronting individual people, especially those we do not know well. It may simply involve stating your viewpoint on a topic brought up for discussion or speaking up publicly against something you think is wrong,.....and many people will accuse you of "criticizing" them if you do.

On a different note, I absolutely hate taking surveys because I often have a problem with the wording. If NI would have worded the question differently, I'm sure many people would answer it differently. It's almost like they're trying to "catch" people, by making the statement sound like something you would want to agree with or at least partially agree with.

Carla said...

I wanted to add that in many ways I agree with the statement "Individuals should be allowed to conduct life as they choose as long as it does not interfere with the lives of others." I value things like freedom of religion, freedom to homeschool my children, protection of privacy, protection from discrimination, etc. that we enjoy in this country. And yes, I think we should be allowed to make bad choices as well as good ones. As a country we need to be reminded that with that freedom comes responsibility, that our actions do affect other people whether we want them to or not, and that one day we will be held accountable for the choices we make.

GJK said...

No, Carla, by no means do I think that you think that. And I don't think the Nehemiah Institute people probably think that either. But I do think that there are unbelievers who look at what NI wrote and assume that they think that. And I think there are confused immature Christians out there that read what NI wrote and jump to that conclusion also and act on it. This is why it's important for an organization like NI to be VERY careful how they word such documents if they claim to be demonstrating to the world and to the body what a "Biblical Worldview" looks like.

I agree with everything you said, Carla. :)

GJK said...

Hang on -- I just realized that it may look like my last comment was to YOUR last comment -- and it was supposed to be to your next-to-last comment. SIGH. This is confusing. I don't think that Carla thinks it is our God-given right to go around criticizing people. K? :)