Of course you have a moral code. Everyone does. In this posting, I explore the importance of knowing what your moral code is based on when pressured by rapidly changing moral norms in our society. As a leader, what do you do when your moral code does not align with society?
Moral leadership is most heavily tested under pressure. The strength of your character is revealed in how you respond to difficult people or circumstances. Everyone admires the forgiving spouse, even when many would say, “Throw the bum out!” Parents are tested when their teenager is caught lying, stealing or doing drugs. Bosses have the daily challenge of accepting work as offered or demanding a higher standard.
If only the problem ended there! Many basic moral issues in our society are being challenged and changed. In recent years, we have permitted gay marriage and now euthanasia is spreading fast. In the more distant past, divorce and abortion were illegal. It is hard to believe that Sunday shopping was against the law only twenty-five years ago! Living together was once heavily frowned upon as was having sex outside of marriage. Marijuana is becoming medically legalized, requiring someone to make a moral judgement about which pains justify taking this medicine.
We have shifted away from a society where group norms trumped individual norms. Now individuals want equal rights and demand that group norms be changed to accommodate them. People who identify as transgender are demanding the right to use their biologically opposite bathroom. These rapid changes probably explain why politics are more volatile than ever, as witnessed in this year’s US presidential election thus far.
As with every cultural revolution, however, the new set of moral norms solidifies. Two of Canada’s three political parties will not allow a person to run for office if he or she is not in favour of abortion. Isn’t this how humanity works? The freedom-fighters of yesterday become the tyrannists of tomorrow, no matter which side of the moral code they originally stood.
It is human nature to want to impose our moral code on everyone else. Christians did this successfully for the last several hundred years in the Western world, broadly speaking. Now the new moral code is pretty much the opposite of the Christian-based code.
All of this upheaval may be fine if the moral code you live by is allowed to co-exist with everyone else’s. Why should you care if two men get married and live happily ever after? Does it matter if serial monogamy is the new norm? Why shouldn’t a person have three wives or two husbands if all are consenting? If it harms no one else, surely they should have this right?
You and I are faced with a moral dilemma, one that is inescapable. At what point does a moral code based on individual rights begin to break down our society to a destabilizing level? At what point does one person’s right to walk publicly in the nude cross another person’s right to walk their children along the beach without seeing naked people? (if that offends your moral code)
The real problem here is that governments cannot legislate morality. Lord knows they have tried! I love the old by-law I once read from the 1800s that made it illegal for a man to not make love to his wife regularly! That too was Biblical.
Each of us has to decide individually where we stand. When new group norms arise that are imposed on us, each of us has to decide whether to fight or fold. Does it harm our society to let boys go into girl’s bathrooms because they say they feel like a girl? Some parents might think their daughters are at risk.
Jesus gives us an answer. He says, “Stop judging by appearances but judge with right judgement.” (John 7:23) This is where your moral code gets tested. Whichever side you stand on, is it a right judgement? His acid-test is simple yet can only be known in the depths of your own heart: are you coming from a place of love or fear?
Fear seeks control. Love seeks to serve. Jesus often demonstrated breath-taking wisdom in response to moral dilemmas such as whether to stone a woman for adultery, a rules-based cultural norm. He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” No one did and she walked away freely.
Can we convert our bathrooms to be individually safe, eliminating the need for gender-based bathrooms? Probably. Can we let mothers kill their unborn babies because society deems a baby as “part of the mother’s body?” Can we support the right to kill yourself because you are done with life and its sufferings? After all, who is harmed?
My moral code is based on the Bible. I have tested it personally countless times, always at my own peril. When I side with the Bible, things always work out even if the price includes conflict. I feel peace within- a fruit of the Spirit. Many Christians died a happy death standing up for their moral code in the face of societal pressure to conform.
If you don’t believe in something bigger than you, than you are the author of your own moral code. The only danger is when the lines get blurry. Who decides when someone has suffered enough, can’t decide for themselves and needs to be put out of their misery? Once started, who can stop it?
The Christian moral code is the only one that I know of where each person is given complete freedom to follow or not follow, as taught by Jesus. Many Christians have failed to live up to that but that was their own doing. Jesus said it plainly, ““If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Following the moral code laid down by Jesus has set me free by making it clear how to make a right judgement when facing difficulties, and how to make up for it when I mess up. This is priceless to me.