“Morals are for You or Me: Ethics are for Us”

I believe it is time for all societies to stop using Moral Imperatives to guide our actions. Instead, Ethical Guidelines work much better and will always aid us in improving society. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, the President published tweets that suggestively urged his fans to take up arms against the leaders of their states. He referenced several states–such as Virginia and Minnesota–reminded them of the 2nd Amendment, and put his tweet advocating violence in all caps. By doing this, he got the point across while maintaining a tiny margin for deniability. He did not explicitely say to try and violently overthrow state governments. Therefore, if there is any violence based on his tweets, he will deny any complicity. That has been his pattern so far in 3.5 years in office.

I believe it is time for all societies to stop using Moral Imperatives to guide our actions. Instead, Ethical Guidelines work much better and will always aid us in improving society. Click To Tweet

As of the writing of this blog, the nation is facing a terrible ethical dilemma: Do we stay at home, sheltered-in-place and risk harming many citizens in our country because of the destabilization of the economy? Or do we end the shelter-in-place, perhaps prematurely, and potentially kill more people than the COVID-19 virus would otherwise kill?

I don’t want to understate how important an ethical decision this is. There are almost no right answers to it. Regardless of where you land on this decision, you should admit it is a tricky and dangerous dilemma.

This follows on the heels of a decision many churches and Christians had to make for the past few weeks. This decision is NOT an ethical decision. Rather, it is a moral decision, and not even a very convincing one. Many states have made it illegal to gather in groups larger than 10 people. For most of those states, this includes churches.

The vast majority of churches have seen the ethical value of closing the doors, choosing instead to host virtual gatherings of their members online. But not all churches have complied. Some have defiantly opened the doors of their churches. Not only do they feel they have a first amendment right to do so, they claim to have a moral right and obligation to do so, given to them by God.

For instance, Pastor Tony Spell of Baton Rouge, LA held services for several Sundays in defiance of that state’s orders not to. Over 1000 people attended. When interviewed, Spell said,

“The virus, we believe, is politically motivated. We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

NBC News

The concept of “religious rights” is not an ethical foundation but a moral one. And in many cases, ethical and moral foundations can be completely opposed to each other.

Recently, Stephanie Tait, who is an advocate for the disabled and how churches relate to their needs, had this to say about the church’s attitude toward opening up churches and potentially exposing many more people to the virus. She likens it to the church’s disregard for the handicapped by claiming they should be exempt from Accessibility Requirements according to the law. She states:

So I see abled Christians who are “shocked” to see some of their fellow Christians framing this as a religious freedom issue, and essentially fighting for the right to hurt other people in the name of their “liberty” being preserved above all else?

Churches have repeatedly asserted that their right to harm certain others with legal impunity is a religious liberty issue – including disabled ppl, LGBTQ+ ppl, and Black ppl. This is nothing new. This is not “shocking.”

So respectfully, if you find yourself “shocked” at people fighting to keep holding services in the pandemic, recognize that you’ve been living in a bubble of privilege, where you could remain blissfully unaware of our history of fighting for special rights to harm others.

Stephanie Tait, 2020 on Facebook

Stephanie is stating that some Christians are claiming their rights–which is a moral claim–above what is helpful for other people (which is an ethical approach).

At this point, I want to define two terms: Morals and Ethics. In doing many hours of research into this subject, I found few philosophers, ethicists, social scientists, or pastors who could agree on a definition. So I have compiled a number of them together to come up with a working model for this document.

The concept of “religious rights” is not an ethical foundation but a moral one. And in many cases, ethical and moral foundations can be completely opposed to each other. Click To Tweet

Morals are the principles underlying the ideal behavior of each individual.

Ethics are the principles underlying all of the acceptable behavior of members of a culture.

Morals are subjective and personal. Ethics are subjective and communal.

Morals are usually based on a philosophy or religious belief. Ethics are decided upon by a society after debate and trial.

Morals transcend cultural norms, but may conflict with them. Ethics are based on cultural norms, but may conflict with an individuals morals.

We use Ethical guidelines when we decide whether or not to open up the society to business and social events again during the virus. We will debate the pros and cons of any approach and decide as carefully as possible which approach would create the most advantage and good to the most people. There is no other way of doing it.

Morals are involved as people decide if they should be in church, if they should visit a loved one, if they should share their food or toilet paper with others during this crisis.

In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner shot several people in Arizona, including Congresswoman Gabby Gifford. After killing six people, he was charged with murder and attempted murder. His lawyers used an interesting moral defense. They said he firmly believed in the moral philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who taught that weakness must be eradicated in order for the race of Ubermensch to appear. (Ubermensch refers to “Supermen” or “Master race”). His legal team argued that his moral compass was pointing in a different direction than the rest of society and even though that compass directed him to kill people, he should not be charged with murder. He needed to be re-educated, not incarcerated.

The court disagreed and gave him 7 consecutive life sentences.

It is the argument that is intriguing. And it is not a new argument. The argument is that a person has a right to their moral beliefs, regardless if their society considers them ethical. This does not make every action a person takes based on those morals legal, just defensible.

Soren Kierkegaard spent years wrestling with this incongruence of morals and ethics. He used the life of Abraham in the Old Testament book of Genesis as his starting point for figuring this out. In the story of Abraham, he takes his only son Isaac up on a mountain to sacrifice him there. He believed that God had told him to do so. He trudged up the mountain also carrying an ethical dilemma: Do I kill my only son and lose him? Or do I disobey God and lose my standing with Him? It seems like a dilemma where Abraham (and Isaac) lose either way.

In the ultimate deus ex machina, God intervenes at the last minute and gives Isaac a reprieve. A ram is caught in the thicket and Abraham is ordered to sacrifice the ram instead of his son. God then revealed he was only testing Abraham to see if he would obey.

As Kierkegaard pondered this moral and ethical quagmire, he imagined what the biblical tale would have shown us if it had been told differently.

In his book “Fear and Trembling” Kierkegaard imagines four possible retellings of this story:

  1. Abraham decides to kill Isaac and tells him it was his decision alone to kill him, and doesn’t mention God. Doing it this way, God doesn’t look like the tyrant Abraham now believes Him to be.
  2. Abraham kills the ram instead. But because God didn’t trust him and put him to the test, Abraham loses faith in God.
  3. He decides not to kill Isaac and lives in complete dejection. He believes he is not a man of faith and sees himself as a spiritual failure.
  4. Isaac sees his father hesitate: That is when Isaac realizes it was God who told his father to kill him. Isaac loses faith in God’s goodness.

Here is what Kierkegaard concludes. There is no good solution to Abraham’s dilemma. It is one of the conflicts for which morals and ethics will always disagree. The moral solution sometimes must struggle with believing something is right to do even if it is not ethical. The ethical solution must struggle as it must sometimes disgregard the moral underpinnings of our lives.

Most people believe they will choose the moral position first. In practice, however, we see they choose the ethical position. Indeed, there are times when people do choose the moral position over the ethical one, that they are often condemned by society.

Indeed, there are times when people do choose the moral position over the ethical one, that they are often condemned by society. Click To Tweet

Look at churches who have chosen to open at this time. Even other Christian groups condemned that practice.

In 1978, Jim Jones brought 1000 members of his cult church down to South America to start a communal society. As their Jonestown cult began to deteriorate, and they murdered a US senator, they realized they would all be taken into custody. As a result, Jones gathered all 1000 people into their makeshift auditorium. He invited them to join him in a final Communion service. The drink was laced with a poison. This was a mass suicide and all but the smallest children knew what they were being asked to do. Some refused and ran out of the meeting, but most of the Jonestown group killed themselves. Over 900 people died.

They were acting upon what they considered to be a moral imperative. They believed a version of an apocalyptic belief: That they would be rewarded in the Afterlife if they were faithful in this life. We do not agree with their decision, but philosophically we must conclude they were trying to live according to their moral standards. And their morality was based upon the words of Jim Jones.

They were indeed moral. But just as decidedly, their actions were unethical. We consider it wrong to do what they did. The “wrongness” of it is an ethical consideration not a moral one. In our culture, mass suicide is always wrong, as is mass murder–for the same reasons.

To be fair, some ethical decisions can lack a moral foundation, depending on what culture one lives in. In cultures where headhunting is practiced, taking the head of another person can sometimes be ethical. That is, if everyone accepts it as a standard practice, then it is ethical.

In the Ancient Near East, a woman was considered property. It was considered ethical for a husband to physically assault his wife. But if he physically assaulted another man’s wife, he had to give compensation, since she was his property. This is why, in the Bible, when David sexually assaulted Bathsheba he is not condemned for the sexual assault but for taking another man’s wife. Nathan the prophet chastises David for taking Uriah’s wife–he does not even give her a name–not for raping her. But that fit the ethical climate of that day.

Though today in America, we would consider headhunting, sexual assault, and ownership of women to be unethical and even immoral, they did not consider it that way back then in Ancient Near East cultures.

Unfortunately, because the Jews–and now Christians–believe their Scriptures are both ethical and moral standards for all time, the two ideas of morals and ethics have become conflated.

In any theocratic nation–that is any nation that accepts a religious moral standard as a de facto ethical standard–the moral law is the ethical law. This is true with Sharia Law in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. It has been true in Israel’s history. And when Christians have enacted Biblical laws as mandatory in some countries, the moral and the ethical get confused.

In any theocratic nation–that is any nation that accepts a religious moral standard as a de facto ethical standard–the moral law is the ethical law. Click To Tweet

Philosopher and ethicist, Elizabeth Anscombe has noted,

“The impact of monotheistic religion was to transform morality into a set of laws that had to be obeyed. Laws require a legislator and a police force. God was that legislator, the Church the enforcer.”

The Quest for a Moral Compass (p. 296). Melville House.

Therefore, in any nation where the moral rules are governed by one religion or religious group, it gives power to the leaders of that group to decide what is moral or immoral.

In today’s America, the idea of “morality” or “moral standards” is almost exclusively applied to one’s sexuality. Social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt says that world culture encompasses six themes when it comes to their personal morality: liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority, care, and purity. But he also notes that in today’s America, authority, loyalty, and purity are mostly emphasized by Conservatives, and fairness and care are mostly emphasized by liberals. He notes that liberty is emphasized by both groups, and is seen as both a moral imperative and as a right.

Yet when it comes to ethics, liberty is sometimes shoved aside.

Unfortunately, because the Jews–and now Christians–believe their Scriptures are both ethical and moral standards for all time, the two ideas of morals and ethics have become conflated. Click To Tweet

He concludes that morality has focused way too much on sexuality: either sexual purity or sexual freedom. And he also says the problem is that most people will focus on those two things based on their personal viewpoints, whether religious, philosophical, or political.


Here is my contention. For the human race to move forward we must have an ethical dialectic. A “dialectic” is a discussion where two sides with differing opinions come together to discuss their differences. Out of that comes a new understanding of an ethical position. We have seen in the history of the world that society keeps trying to get ethics correct. And when they find out they have not got it correct, they keep having a discussion.

In other words, the ideal is to continue debating our current ethical guidelines until the majority of people are satisfied we are benefiting the most people.

Morality does not offer a changing dialectic, since it is based on some kind of absolute standard.

Here is how moral imperatives work. Christian morality told us in the middle ages that all peasants must submit to the authority of the King and the nobles. Christian morality said that men could beat their wives as long as they didn’t do permanent damage. Christian morality said that the Bible justified the owning of slaves, the subjugation of women, the fighting of just wars. All of these were placed under the aegis of morality. The people who decided what was moral were the Christian leaders.

In other words, the ideal is to continue debating our current ethical guidelines until the majority of people are satisfied we are benefiting the most people. Click To Tweet

There was no society-wide discussion on these standards. They were decided upon by religious leaders and all people were required to accept these moral imperatives.

Even today, Christian leaders tell their churches what moral sexual standards should be. They say homosexuality is wrong. They say that polyamory is wrong. They say that sex before marriage is wrong. They say it is wrong for a wife to refuse her husband sex. They say that marital rape is impossible since wives have a sexual duty to their husbands. Each of these beliefs is unassailable because they are held to be absolute imperatives. If one does not accept the moral imperative, then one must face the censure of their religion.

Now let’s look at ethics. Ethics are societal standards of behavior. Ethics have also been brutal at times through the centuries. The idea of an “eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” seemed like a good idea at the time. If someone causes you to lose a limb, cut off his limb. At least it limited the damage you were allowed to enact in vengeance. But it meant a lot of people with swords were cutting off a lot of appendages.

Ethics have also created justification for war. Ethics have concluded that some people have to die for the good of others. Ethics were at the base of the Final Solution where the Nazis sought to exterminate all the Jews. We know that ethics can be harmful.

And we know that morals can be harmful.

The difference is this: Morals are not supposed to change; ethics are supposed to constantly adapt and change depending on the current ethical understanding of the culture.

Which one then should we adopt to guide our society?

In his book “How Then Shall We Live”, Chuck Colson suggested that we use an absolute moral standard as the basis for how we craft our laws and live our lives. Why? He says that only a Moral Consensus gives people a tangible sense of security that something is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. In this book, he bemoans that so many people do not hold to a Christian standard of morality any longer. He believed that this lack of a clear Moral Consensus was going to ruin us as a nation.

Is he correct? I don’t think so. Even within the Christian Church, a moral consensus has proved to be impossible. On so many issues, the church disagrees with itself. On issues like divorce, war and pacifism, premarital sexuality, marital sexuality, birth control, sexual identity, euthenasia, capital punishment, separation of church and state, etc. there is no moral consensus. The disagreements outweigh the agreements. Consensus is usually reached only by denominational legislation and not through dialogue.

Let’s take the issue of birth control. My wife is a school nurse. She helped to found a local clinic. She and one of her close friends, an OB/Gyn, sought to be allowed to put out a bowl of condoms at the front desk of the clinic. A member of the school board opposed this. Why? Because she had a moral opposition to condoms, she would not vote to allow them.

This person’s moral argument against handing out condoms is simple. They believe the Bible opposes premarital sexuality. They believe that giving a teen a condom is giving them a way to practice sexuality without immediate consequences like pregnancy or STD’s. They believe this gives tacit approval to a teen to have sex. Since this is what they don’t want, the condom is the point of the spear.

The ethical argument for condoms is simple. Teens will have sex whether you want them to or not. Only condoms protect against both STD’s and pregnancy. Condoms prevent both unwanted outcomes.

The Moral Imperative is a personally held belief that teen sexuality is wrong. The Ethical Guideline is based on something both groups can agree to: No one wants a teen to be pregnant or catch an STD.

I believe that an Ethical Guideline ultimately can be a better way of governing human behavior because it requires the majority of all of us–regardless of religious or philosophical belief–to agree before we accept it. And Ethical Guidelines are not legislated first. They are felt first. They are things we know to be true among us.

For instance, look at sexuality. As we have moved on from the middle ages, through the Enlightenment, to the modern age, and now into a Postmodern reality, we have changed our views on what is ethical. And I think many of those changes are good and just. They could stand improvement, but they are changing much more quickly than the moral views of sexuality.

Here are Ethical Guidelines of sexuality that most people today can approve:

  1. That all sexuality needs to take place after all parties give consent and continue to give consent all through the sexual act.
  2. That consent must be informed. This means that if someone does not understand the deep significance of sexuality, they should not enter into it. This includes minors, the mentally disabled, and those for whom sexuality would be dangerous.
  3. That consent must be equal. This means that anyone who uses their authority, position of power, or position as overseer to have sex with an individual, the sexual act is not ethical and may be illegal.
  4. All sexuality should be carried on between two adults who are honest and straightforward about their relationship status. This excludes adultery and lying about one’s identity.

There may be many other ethical guidelines that we could come up with as a society. Other societies might have different guidelines. In the future, more guidelines might be developed.

But the advantage of an ethical guideline over a moral imperative is that it embraces everyone in a culture and doesn’t require them to first ascribe to a religion or a philosophy. I propose that even if we strongly hold to a religious or philosophical viewpoint, we can all participate in the discussion on the best ethical guidelines for all to accept and live.

Building a New Christian Sexual Ethic

[Update: So many people read the first few paragraphs and assume I am building a case for polyamory. I am not. This is because people aren’t reading to see my key point which is further on. If you’re going to read this article to discover my proposal for a new sexual ethical system for Christians, please read all of it before reacting].


“What does the Bible say about polygamy, polyamory, or Open Marriage?” The man who asked me this had been a missionary for 25 years and was not considering a change in his marital status. He was not contemplating cheating on his wife or taking another bride. He was simply curious.

He was curious because during the previous year, three separate people had asked him these kind of questions. All of them who asked these questions were committed Christians with a good grasp of the Bible and the church’s teachings on sexuality.

“What does the Bible say about polygamy, polyamory, or Open Marriage?” Click To Tweet

“Mike, the Bible doesn’t make it clear where it falls on any of those issues. Though we make excuses for the Bible, there are examples in the Sacred Writings of people who lived with multiple wives, who had sanctioned girlfriends, and who lived this way openly. And from what we can see in the Bible, God never condemns this practice.”

I couldn’t argue with him. The only restriction in the Bible regarding any form of Open Marriage is the 1 Timothy 3 admonition that an Overseer should not be a polygamist. It never expands on this concept by forbidding others to have multiple wives. In short, the biblical ethic regarding Open Marriage was non-existent.


Everyone has ethics; but not everyone has an ethical system. An “ethic” is a belief in how one should act. You can have an ethic that allows you to tell the truth one day and then not tell the truth the next day. But because this is not a consistent ethic, we would say it is not an “ethical system”. I define an ethical system as a series of beliefs regarding a particular behavior that are consistent with themselves. Therefore, if you have an ethical system about telling the truth, that system should apply to all situations. Let me give an example of the difference between an ethic and and Ethical System.

I might believe that it is wrong to kill. That is an ethic. I would not (and do not) kill anyone. But how widely do I apply that ethic? I might believe it is wrong to kill others unless they are trying to kill me. I might also believe it is wrong to kill others even if they are trying to kill me. In addition, I might define killing mosquitoes as killing, killing cows as killing, killing fetuses as killing, killing prisoners on death row as killing. I might believe killing all those beings is considered killing. That is an ethical system.

However, if for some reason I feel that killing enemy combatants on the battlefield is not killing, but killing someone invading my home is killing, then my ethical system is more complex, and perhaps inconsistent.

That is the problem with most ethical systems. Most systems of behavior are internally inconsistent, at least from a logical/philosophical viewpoint. Why is it wrong to kill some people but not others? Why is it wrong to deceive some people, but not other people? Why is it wrong to have sex one day, and then it is not wrong a day later (in the case of someone who may be single and then gets married)? Most people will seek to justify the complexity and variations of their ethical systems by explaining the exceptions.

Why is it wrong to have sex one day, and then it is not wrong a day later (in the case of someone who may be single and then gets married)? Click To Tweet

We will never be free of doing this. Not even those who believe in a so-called “Biblical Sexual Ethic” can get away with it. Let me show how this happens.

In the first paragraph, I noted the question about polyamory. The idea that all sex should be between one husband (male) and one wife (female) is the standard teaching of much of the Church for much of the Church’s existence. But is it a consistent ethical system?

Not really. There are many examples of prominent men in the Bible who married more than one woman. Jacob, Esau, David, Solomon all lived this way. In addition, several Bible characters had sex with sanctioned sex slaves–Jacob, Abraham, David, Solomon, Absalom, Judah and others. God does not condemn any of these men for polyamory. In many cases, God even approves of it. When David raped Bathsheba and had her husband killed, God did send the prophet Nathan to confront David. And in that confrontation, this is what Nathan says:

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

2 Samuel 12:7-8

According to these verses, Nathan is speaking for God and claiming that God gave King Saul’s WIVES to David after Saul died! And God says that he would have given him more women if he wanted. If we accept this as God’s inerrant word, then God not only passively accepts polyamory, but actively endorses it and supports it.

The biblical sexual ethic gets more complicated than that. The concept of virginity (the absence of sexual intercourse in a person’s experience) is touted as a virtue in the Bible. But it only applies to women! Nowhere are men told they must also be virgins. Even the Hebrew word for “virgin” is a word that only refers to females. There is no Hebrew word for a male virgin. There is no place in the Old Testament where men were even expected or ordered to be virgins.

The concept of virginity (the absence of sexual intercourse in a person’s experience) is touted as a virtue in the Bible. But it only applies to women! Click To Tweet

What can we say about all of this? Simply that the Bible does not present a consistent or relevant ethical system regarding sexuality. There are many more examples of this to give, but I want to move on to the solution, not just note the problem.

I don’t believe the Bible is helpful or realistic for building a modern ethical system for sexuality. There are many reasons for this, but they can be distilled down to these:

Patriarchy: Everyone who wrote Sacred Scripture believed in patriarchy. They believed that men had privileges and rights which women did not have. This affected everything they wrote, but especially their viewpoints on sexual relations. One classic example: In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John, chapter 8) only the woman is brought before Jesus and not the man. And no one, not even Jesus, openly notes this. It takes modern commentators to sort this one through.

Ancient Near East Focus of Sexuality: Virginity did not focus on sex; it focused on inheritance. A man wanted to know that his wife had not had sex with another man to ensure his offspring were truly his children. No claim could be made by another man on his children. Children and women were considered possessions of a man, even by the writers of the Bible. Even the teachings on “immorality” in the Bible are really focused on discouraging men from visiting prostitutes.

Misogyny: Women were hated in the days the Bible was written. A Jewish man prayed this prayer most mornings: “Thank you God that I am not born a gentile, a dog, or a woman”. How can an ethical system of mutuality with regards to sexuality ever come from that backdrop?

Homophobia: The writers of Scripture not only had a very low opinion of women, they hated anyone in the LGBTQ community–not that there was an established community due to fear. So, any ethic regarding those who are not cis-hetero men is going to be demeaning and incomplete if we rely on the Bible.

So how do we build an ethical system?

Christians have seen the problem with applying the Bible to many of our ethical systems: Money, power, marriage, reproduction, government, criminal justice, human interactions, etc. There have been many proposals through the centuries on how to build an ethical system which keeps some of the good teachings of the Bible but does not lean too heavily on them.

One of the most profound attempts at this was made by John Wesley. He spent years seeking to apply biblical truths to modern-day ethical problems. His view on Holiness required that our faith be lived out ethically and consistently. But he found that many in his day had widely differing views on what the Bible said on just about any topic. So, while keeping the Bible principles central, he added three more sources of revelation in building an ethical system:

  • Tradition
  • Experience
  • Logic

By tradition, he meant the traditions of the faith community one finds themselves in. By experience, he meant the experiences a Christian has which line up with the Bible. By logic, he is referring to the mind which has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to grasp deeper truths.

Thus, even with these four sources of input to build an ethic, Wesley still saw all of them revolving around the Bible and biblical truths.

I contend that isn’t going to work with sexual ethics. You can certainly hold to it if you like, but the Church’s history with strange teachings on sexuality and moral purity lead me in a slightly different direction.

I still think we can use four sources of input to build an ethical system, including the Bible. But here is how I fashion it:

  • The Bible: We can use the Bible as a source for ethics on sexuality if we strip away patriarchy, homophobia, misogyny, and virginity.
  • Tradition: In the sense that we rely on a trusted community of people whose practices of sexuality are consistent and respectful, we can use certain traditions we trust.
  • Experience: By this, I mean the collected experience of all humans with regards to sexuality. In our day, we are much more refined as a society on what should and should not be allowed in sexual relationships. The #metoo movement did not start the discussion on sexual assault, consent, and misogyny. It simply sought to apply emerging community standards world-wide…to everyone
  • Logic/Reason: By this, I mean that ethical standards need to make sense to a faith community and be reasonable to apply. If the faith community one is a part of does not apply logic or reason to sexual ethics, one might have to find a different faith community.

It should be obvious that this opens the door to many different ethical systems regarding sexuality. But if you think about it, that’s where we currently are. This is even true within the church of Jesus Christ. There are elements of acceptance of the LGBTQ community, and other groups which do not accept LGBTQ as valid. Some faith groups allow for premarital sexual expression and some do not.

But there is widespread acceptance of the following:

  • Consent must be applied to all sexual relationships
  • Honesty and integrity are vital to healthy sexuality
  • The practice of safe sex is paramount for everyone
  • Sexuality with minors is always wrong.

Most of these conclusions do not come directly from the Bible, but rather from experience, logic, and the dialogue of interested communities.

To which I apply my central idea: The Bible itself is only marginally helpful in creating a complete ethical system for sexuality. We should stop trying to make it the cornerpiece of such a system.

To which I apply my central idea: The Bible itself is only marginally helpful in creating a complete ethical system for sexuality. We should stop trying to make it the cornerpiece of such a system. Click To Tweet
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A Century of Trauma, Part 2: How Each War Affected America’s Trauma

Henry Lang came to Downton Abbey to take over as the Valet to the Lord Grantham when the Lord’s previous valet had to leave suddenly. This fictional account of a household of the English aristocracy is originally set during the early days of World War 1. The writers of Downton Abbey researched how the war affected different individuals in England. Lang’s short time at the Abbey is one of the most sublime.

Lang had to leave the war because of a condition we now call PTSD. At the time, it had various names: Shell shock, soldier’s heart, war neurosis, and Combat Fatigue. The general population did not treat these soldiers well. They were often considered cowards and treated like lesser humans.

Lang came to the Abbey and at first everyone was impressed by his skill set as a valet. But quickly he showed signs of emotional deterioration. What made it difficult for Lang is the Abbey was being used to convalesce injured officers. Eventually Lang collapsed emotionally after seeing too many wounds and groaning soliders, and he left the Abbey in shame. Nothing more is said of him for the entire series.

This poignant portrayal of a character is accurately written. It is estimated as many as 100,000 British soldiers had this condition. If one adds the American, Canadian, French, Belgian, and soldiers of other allied nations, the number of soldiers suffering PTSD may have reached 1.5 million.

It is estimated as many as 100,000 British soldiers had this condition. If one adds the American, Canadian, French, Belgian, and soldiers of other allied nations, the number of soldiers suffering PTSD may have reached 1.5 million. Click To Tweet

According to David J. Morris writing in The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Over half a million men were permanently evacuated from the fighting for psychiatric reasons, enough to man fifty combat divisions.” And though many of them were sent to mental institutions, they were not treated with any compassion.

David J. Morris

Despite its prevalence, shell-shock was often attributed to moral failings and weaknesses, with some soldiers even being accused of cowardice.

Continue reading “A Century of Trauma, Part 2: How Each War Affected America’s Trauma”

My Struggle to Believe in a Bible Without Errors

I have believed in the doctrine of Inerrancy at various times during my 50 years as a follower of Christ. But I can’t say I have always believed it. For me, the evidence that this doctrine is true gets slimmer as time passes.

I want to make this clear: I am not trying to convince anyone. This is just my journey. This article may help others who are in situations where they cannot express their doubts about Inerrancy and still maintain relationships with other Christians of their tribe.

Just so you know. You can believe whatever you want. These are my struggles.


This morning, I texted my wife and asked if she would read Numbers 31 again. I suggested she read it as if she was not a follower of Christ, and not someone with a high opinion of the Bible. As we digested its contents together, we realized it was saying that God had ORDERED the Israelites to:

  1. Kill all the Midianite boys
  2. Make all the virgin girls their sex slaves
  3. Kill all the women who had sex before
  4. Kill all the men
  5. Set fire to all their towns
  6. Reward the most violent soldiers with more spoils from the massacre.

Get your head around these stated “facts”: God commanded sex slavery. God commanded slaughter of children.

Get your head around these stated “facts”: God commanded sex slavery. God commanded slaughter of children. Click To Tweet Continue reading “My Struggle to Believe in a Bible Without Errors”

The Six Stages of Deconstruction

(This 2004 article appeared in its original form on the MTPastor blogger site I used to manage. The number of people experiencing Deconstruction has greatly increased since then. I decided it could use an overhaul).


“Tearing things apart is a powerful aspect of human nature.”

–Patti Smith

Greg and I had gone to high school together. We attended the same church and youth group. We graduated Bible College together and were ordained within a few months of each other. We genuinely liked each other.

So why did I want to punch him in the face?

I was just beginning to Deconstruct.

It was 1983 and my wife and I were at the national Congress of our Canadian denomination. The big issue being debated was whether women would be allowed to serve as pastors and elders in churches. For two years I had passionately advocated for full inclusion of women into ministry leadership positions. I had done my homework and was ready with all the theological arguments. I was ready to tear down the arguments of the Complementarians. I was even the person who brought the proposal to the committee which introduced the measure.

I had no idea Greg would make a complete ass of himself. I had no idea it would throw me into such an emotional tailspin.

He didn’t address the doctrinal issues. He didn’t appeal to historical precedent or denominational practices. He simply said: “Everyone here knows if we do this it will tear apart the church and God’s judgment will come on us all.”

With that, he was able to sway enough people to defeat the motion.

At that moment, I wrestled with whether to leave that denomination. They had already refused to ordain my wife at the same time as me the summer before. I had thought I would quit then, but she talked me out of it. When two of my close female friends from college had moved to a different denomination so they would be allowed to preach, I wondered why I was staying. Again, my wife talked me out of leaving.

When Greg used his scare tactic to convince thousands to make this decision, I actually decided to stay. But I was no longer, in my mind, part of the mainstream. I was tearing down the “good old boy, just stick with the majority” approach.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning what it means to deconstruct. Continue reading “The Six Stages of Deconstruction”

Myths and Misunderstandings about Demons

The 45 college-aged students were stunned and frightened. Some were weeping, and others were so angry they balled up their fists and held their breath. They looked around as if they were about to be the next victim in a Hallowe’en movie. “Jumpy” describes their mood. Some of them reported weeks later they had not had a good night’s sleep since that horrific weekend.

Was this a murder mystery experience? Did they just do a horror movie marathon? Or did they really experience a supernatural phenomenon?

Actually, none of those things happened. They went on a college-and-career church retreat with their church. They invited a group of seniors from a local Bible College to come and do some teaching and direction for their weekend.

“It will be fun”, they thought.

“It will be instructive”, they hoped.

“It will be the most chaotic moment of our lives”, imagined none of them.

The worst part was…I was one of the teachers that weekend. I and my fellow college students were zealous and ignorant–a very toxic combination. Continue reading “Myths and Misunderstandings about Demons”

How to Hang with God When you don’t want Church any more.

[Trigger Warning: This article contains references to child sexual abuse, religious abuse, church discipline, and bad treatment of members of the LGBTQ community which may trigger some readers].

She revealed to her Associate Pastor’s wife she was gay and hoped to find a female life partner. Within days, she was called before a meeting of the Elders. They demanded she repent from her wickedness.

She reminded them that she had just identified/admitted to herself that she was only attracted to women. She had not had sex and had not even kissed a girl.

Yet she was told it was time to repent or face church discipline. She told them she could not in good conscience pretend to be heterosexual. Days later, they informed her that the following would happen:

  • She was suspended from membership pending a time when she would publicly repent.
  • The Elders would read the notice of her suspension from the pulpit.
  • All members of the congregation–including her family members–would be told if they saw her or spoke to her they could only bring up the issue of her sin. They could not be friends with her or talk casually with her.
  • If she repented, she would never be allowed to do children’s or teen ministry. This was to prevent her from influencing young children toward lesbianism in the future.

She got angry at the church, God, and her family–who indeed shunned her–and vowed to never go to a church again. That was seven years ago. Continue reading “How to Hang with God When you don’t want Church any more.”

How Parent Teen Exchanges Work

A mother called me one afternoon all angry and confused. She got my name from her friend, one of my counseling clients. She agreed to meet me so she could discuss how to handle a disagreement between she and her daughter.

“Mike, I went into my daughter’s room and looked through all of her drawers. When she figured out I had done this, she became livid and won’t talk to me. It seems all year we’ve had this deteriorating relationship. I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Maria, can I ask you some questions to help you work this through?”

“Sure”.

“Why were you looking through your daughter’s private dresser?”

“Well, first, I don’t consider her dresser as her private space. I bought it, I brought it home, I own the house, I set the rules.” I let this one slip for the moment. She continued.

“But the real reason I was doing it was because her best friend Nicole’s mom called me concerned the girls were doing Ecstasy at a party last week. I wanted to find out if she was hiding drugs in her room.”

“To your knowledge, has your daughter ever used recreational drugs?”

“I smelled pot on her earlier this year, but she denied it.” I also wanted to bring up the issue of acting upon unwarranted suspicions without having dialogue first, but I left that issue to another time.

“I didn’t find any drugs, but there was some stuff that really scared me. I found condoms in the bottom drawer. I found “Fifty Shades of Grey” in there as well. It just makes me sick to think about it.”

“Do you and your husband own your house outright or do you have a mortgage?”

“I don’t know why that’s important, but yes, we have a mortgage.”

“And Maria, if the bank sent over tellers and loan officers and began ransacking your house, looking through your financial statements and searching in all your drawers, how would you react?”

“Listen Mike, I know where you’re going with this. It’s not the same thing. My house is still mine, even if I have a mortgage. I’m protected by basic rights.”

“Of course you are. But don’t you think the attitude should be the same even if the laws governing our teens does not explicitly recognize their rights to the space they call their own? Shouldn’t we afford them certain levels of respect and dignity?”

Maria didn’t know what to say to this, so I continued.

“Maria, the basic idea behind Respectful Parenting is that teens must be afforded the same level of respect we give other adults. And it teaches that they must be allowed to make mistakes and be held accountable for those mistakes without parents always jumping in to save them or head off the problems. Most of that overseer attitude is reserved for the time before children become teens. As they reach age 11 or 12, we must change the rules and recognize their rights as adults.”

This was a lot for Maria to take in. Since she had never really recognized her daughter’s adult status, she was still operating as if she was a taller more mouthy child. The daughter however was aware of this and resented it. And the daughter was correct in resenting it. It is not appropriate.

If you treat a teen as an adult, there is a greater chance they will act like an adult sooner than their peers. And if they don’t, they were never going to act that way in the first place.

“Mike, what should I have done?”

“First, you start with some agreements between you and your daughter. Continue reading “How Parent Teen Exchanges Work”

Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel”

As a sophomore studying theology in 1975, I read the textbook for my Pastoral Counseling class and was shocked. Though at that stage in my life I had taken no psychology courses–that would come several years later–I knew enough about the basic philosophy of psychology to suspect this textbook was not accurate.

Little did I know that book would sell millions of copies and affect the viewpoints on psychology for an entire generation. The book is called “Competent To Counsel” written by Jay Adams. The book, and Adams are the cornerstone of an entire counseling methodology called “Nouthetic” or “Biblical” Counseling.

Though the Nouthetic group (referred to now as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors ) has many other resources they lay claim to, none is more influential than this book.

I do not like this book. I can state that up-front. I also do not agree with its premise: All psychology is humanism and must be rejected. Continue reading “Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel””

Conflating The Preacher with Expertise

experts 2

He stood in his pulpit and looked intently at the 500 people attending. Then he made his pronouncement:

“All mental illness at some level is the result of sin in a person’s life.”

He went on to explain how depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mania, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, and a host of other disorders were caused by combinations of unrepentant sin, lack of faith, demonic activity, curses, and lack of knowledge of the Bible.

At one point, he claimed that all schizophrenia is demonic possession and the only cure is exorcism.

At the time, he had not written any books or appeared on television. Now, he has books, television and social media outlets, invitations to speak around the globe. Though he has downplayed some of his previous views on mental illness, in several interviews he has reiterated his global stance.

From the pulpit, preachers take similar approaches to other areas of “expertise”:

  • City Planning
  • Medicine
  • Law
  • Immigration policy
  • Monetary policy
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Business practices
  • Investment strategies
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical Exercise
  • Law Enforcement
  • Education (both grade school and college)

…on and on.

In our world, we rightfully acknowledge some people have attained levels of expertise in all these areas. Over the centuries, we have come to define the Experts by looking at their education, experience, what they teach, how accurate their assessments and proposed strategies have played out, how respected they are among their peers.

That is how we can identify an expert.

When members of the NRA spoke out against a doctor who criticized their position on gun ownership by telling him to “stay in his lane”, the medical profession hit back. What they said was extremely valid: those who are wounded by gunfire are treated by doctors and nurses. This is our lane!

Society would be foolish not to rely upon experts who are renowned and published in their fields. We would never want someone who has no expertise doing surgery, building a skyscraper, or flying an airplane.

Yet we allow preachers to make bold statements on subjects for which they have no expertise. Not only do they often disagree with the experts, but they demand congregations accept them as the Experts instead.

Why do preachers do this? And why do we allow it? Continue reading “Conflating The Preacher with Expertise”