Speaking of Morality
If you enrolled in a class with the title, “English Grammatical Issues in the Twenty-first Century,” you would expect to discuss the fine points of English grammar at the cutting edge of decision-making. You would assume that no time would be spent memorizing parts of speech, because knowing those basic elements of the language would be the barest foundation for discussing the way the language is changing daily. You would likely expect the teacher to promote discussion of the reasons to embrace or reject changes that litter the landscape of daily usage in conversation. You probably would not find it odd if you and your teacher had differences about the way certain changes ought to be handled now and in the future. By leaping into the fray between those who tie themselves in knots trying to avoid using the masculine pronoun when gender is indefinite and those who simply fall into the usage of third person plural for everything, you know that you are in a conversation where people disagree. Yet you would expect to have the conversation and to include every possible nuance of difference over the issue.
A dispute over the right grammatical solution to a cultural problem can be contentious, but even those who advocate that real grammarians ignore the nonsensical attitude of the culture will recognize that the discussion does have more than one side. It would be shocking if a college professor shut down the discussion of one side in order not to offend the advocates for the other side.
Recently, a student enrolled in a class titled “Theory of Ethics,” where he fully expected that classroom discussion would often involve at least two points of view, perhaps more. However, he was completely baffled when the subject of gay rights came up, and the teacher chose not to discuss that subject. The discussion centered on the application of philosophical theories to modern political controversies. At the beginning of the discussion, there was a list of modern controversies on the blackboard: gay rights, gun rights, and the death penalty. The student reported that after discussing gun rights and the death penalty, the teacher erased “gay rights” from the blackboard and said, “We all agree on this.”
The student was disturbed about the refusal to discuss gay rights, and after class, he asked the teacher why she refused to open that discussion. When she responded with her point of view, he explained why he disagreed. Then she asked him if he knew of any homosexuals in the class. This question is ridiculous, because it implies that it makes sense for the student to know such a thing about the people in a group around him. The student did not know one way or the other. At this point, the teacher proceeded to explain that she did not think it was proper to discuss gay rights in the class, because someone in the class might be homosexual and take offense at some points of view. The student was dumbfounded. This teacher asserted that in a college level class on the subject of ethics, it was inappropriate to discuss the various points of view surrounding the contemporary issue of gay rights, because it was possible that someone in the class would be offended by the views that might be expressed in such a discussion.
The student attempted to assert a right as a citizen to hold an opinion in opposition to the opinion of other citizens. The teacher said, “You can have whatever opinions you want but I will tell you right now – in this class homophobic comments, racist comments, sexist comments will not be tolerated,” she said. ‘If you don’t like it, you are more than free to drop this class.” In those words, the teacher asserted that the expression of an opinion in opposition to gay marriage or gay adoption or anything else that is on the agenda of LGBTQ activism constitutes a homophobic comment.
People who express themselves on the subject of homosexuality are frequently called “homophobes.” Even pastors who claim to be Christian have been known to use that word when referring to people who understand the Bible to teach that homosexual behavior is sin. Still, it is shocking to discover that a college professor will not permit discussion of one of the thorny issues of contemporary culture in a class whose title invites exactly that discussion.
It is important to note here that the student who had every right to express his view in the cultural conversation about gay rights did something execrable. He recorded the conversation without telling the professor what he was doing. The student was upset, and he must have suspected what the teacher would say. He apparently turned on his phone as he approached the teacher but did not tell her what he was doing. It does not speak well of the character of someone who would do such a thing. We all feel rightly outraged when we hear that somebody could be spying on our phone conversations or our reading our emails without permission. Likewise, we all feel that we have a right to keep private conversations private. It is not hard to imagine why the student felt that he wanted a record of this conversation, but his concerns do not justify his duplicity. Readers who might have believed he was on the moral high ground in standing strong for biblical teaching about homosexuality will be disturbed and disappointed to read that he made a secret recording of the conversation.
This situation points up the truth that honor and integrity are tough standards. It is hard for any of us to do the right thing in every case. Sometimes we truly cannot sort out the conflicting issues and see what is right. In other cases, we talk ourselves into believing that the wrong we face justifies the wrong we do in self-defense. Nobody can read this student’s mind or search his heart, but he has tainted his testimony for Christ by doing something that demonstrates a lack of integrity. The old saying, “Two wrongs do not make a right,” applies here. It was wrong for the professor to refuse to discuss the ethical issue of gay rights over a fear that someone in the class would be offended, but it was equally wrong for the student to record the conversation without telling the teacher what he was doing.
Some who read this post will wonder why I make such a big deal of the recording. I make a big deal of it, because it plays into the hands of LGBTQ activism for a Christian who takes a moral stand against their agenda to do something that is also immoral, not to mention illegal. It is very hard to be a Christian in today’s culture. The secular view of Christians is that they are harmless when they are inside their worship buildings reading their dusty old Bible and singing stodgy hymns to their imaginary friend in the sky. Secularists do not care what Christians do inside their buildings. It is when we come outside and act on our rights and responsibilities as citizens to speak for high moral standards that the LGBTQ activists take umbrage. That is the place where we must be light and salt as Jesus taught us, and when someone does something such as secretly recording a private conversation, then we undercut our standing to speak of morality.
The men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution had high regard for the value of religious teaching in a society. In their view, the church was a valuable force in the culture for morality and integrity. They wanted the church to speak and act in the civic debate over any and all issues. In fact, by forbidding the existence of a state church, they hoped to avoid the inevitable pollution of the church’s moral standing by political involvement. They wanted citizens to bring the moral substance of their religious teaching with them into public life to add weight and perspective to civil debate.
If Christians could give their testimonies without the weight of sinful human nature constantly at work in their lives, then it would be simpler. This situation with the student is a real example of the complications that arise when sinful human nature acts with the context of very real outrage at the behavior of a college professor, one person in our culture whom we all expect to uphold the value of free and open discussion. The college professor’s attitude is suspect. The student’s behavior is suspect. It is hard to make a clear statement on the moral issues active in the story. It would certainly be a simpler matter if the student had not complicated the discussion by introducing a distracting issue.
Christians must be vigilant with themselves. Christians who want to participate in the public dialogue on complex social issues must not complicate the discussion by bringing personal baggage into the mix. Christians who want to be leaders in the social discussions must not muddy the waters by introducing issues that give their opponents justification for outrage of their own.
It is a call to a high standard, but then Christ calls Christians to a high standard: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 None of us ever will be that perfect, of course. We can only presume to speak a testimony if our testimony confesses our need for grace and forgiveness. Nevertheless, when we make choices in our lives, we must keep in mind that we have a high calling always to testify to the truth as revealed in Christ, and our behavior must not blemish that testimony or give occasion to anyone to ignore the truth of our words. We are called by God to these discussions. We must respect that calling by living lives of integrity that add weight to our comments rather than distract people from God’s truth.