What I know about moral values I learned growing up in Protestant churches and in a Christian home. We went to church on Sunday as a matter of choice, perhaps of habit. Whether out of choice or habit, we went both to Sunday School and to worship. And as a teen, I went to youth group and to choir. Some years it seemed we were at the church more evenings than not. After 40 years in ministry, my heart and mind still yearn for confidence that God is behind my convictions and moral commitments, that the Spirit guides my moral choices.
Given the changes here and there in how I live out my fundamental values as a Christian, the moral values I hold and the choices I make still come out of the core of what I learned as a child growing up in church and in a Christian home. I learned early in life simple lessons like these:
Be kind to others.
Forgive people who hurt you.
Stand up to bullies without fighting.
Be honest without hurting people.
Let other people be who they are.
Be faithful to your friends.
Love God and other people.
These simple values form the concrete foundation for the life God calls me to live out in the church, as well as in the world. I am convinced that God calls the whole church to live by them as well. As I experience the church today, I see a large crack in the foundation.
Listening with empathy and attentiveness to other people tell their stories is hard, but it’s a necessary step toward gaining a hearing for our own story. If I want other people to listen to me, I must listen first to them. I want other people to know what has happened in my life and my own experiences that have led to the situation we’re in. If I will listen to them first and find out what their experiences have been, they will be more willing to listen to me.
No two people ever see the world the same way. We all have our own perspective of the “true” situation which is formed out of our stories, our experiences in life. As a Caucasian, heterosexual man with graduate degrees, my perspective will always be different than someone without that mix of experience with life. As someone who is over 60, I will now see things differently than someone who is 20. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles and loves city living, my perspective will differ from someone from a rural background who longs for that environment.
Our stories involve where and how we grew up, our ethnic and cultural background, our religious experience, our family background, education, career, and on and on. The factors affecting our perspective on some conflicted situation in our life or our church are complex, and only as we listen and tell our stories to each other will we be successful in resolving the conflict and transforming the situation.