Are we losing the concept of objective moral truth within the church?

I participated in two discussions in the past few weeks that have me concerned. The first was a discussion with the members of the Advisory Council that works with the Center for Ethics that I am involved with at Taylor University. We were discussing how we as Christians should live in a society that is rejecting Christian moral values more and more. One member of the group is a recent graduate who is now in graduate school, but most of us were old enough to be parents or possibly grandparents of current college students. We focused on how we could stay true to our moral convictions and communicate them to our society while showing love, grace and kindness to those with whom we disagree.

The second discussion was with about a dozen students, another professor, and myself. In light of the current presidential candidate dates, we were talking about how our moral convictions and those of candidates for political office should influence how we vote. Several students expressed the thought that disagreeing with a candidate on a significant moral issue would not be a reason to choose not to vote for that candidate. Some were saying that there are many issues and we need to decide how to balance those issues since it is rare that we can find a candidate who agrees with us on every issue. But that was not what the students whose thoughts concerned me the most were saying. They were saying that the fundamental Christian value is love and that it would be unloving to say that someone else’s moral convictions were wrong. Therefore, it would not be right to say that someone who supported same sex marriage or a pro-choice position on abortion was wrong and to make that a reason to consider not voting for that person even if you personally believed that same sex marriage and abortion violated your Christian values. The students saying this were not saying they had doubts about their Christian faith or even that they personally disagreed with a traditional biblical position on these issues, but that it was unloving to say that someone else’s moral position was wrong.

These students are young men and women who have been raised in the church and have chosen to attend a Christian university that takes a strong stand for traditional biblical values, but they do not have an understanding of the idea that moral statements are objective statements that are either true or false irrespective of what a person believes. They appear to have learned from our culture that moral values are a personal thing that should not be challenged by anyone else. They have not learned that God and his goodness are the foundation of all moral values and that God’s moral standards are objectively true whether someone believes them to be true or not. They do not seem to understand that to believe in moral values that are not true is dangerous and that it is not loving to allow someone we care for to do something dangerous. They do not understand what the group in the first discussion was trying to say. We should respond to those who reject Christian values with love, grace and kindness, but we need to help them understand that there are serious problems with pursuing life based on moral convictions that are wrong. Doing that is not unloving. We should do that because we love them.

There is a significant gap between the understanding of the mature Christians in the first discussion and the students in the second. The church and particularly those of us in Christian education have a big job ahead of us to try to bridge that gap.

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Jon Holmlund
Jon Holmlund
4 years ago

My newlywed, 25 year-old son sent the following comments and suggestions for further reflection:

That is a great article and definitely one of the biggest challenges before us with my generation. The concept of objective moral truth does not compute with many of us, and trying to explain it is quite an ordeal. Emotions can flare up, and the patience necessary to have a civil discussion between dissenting parties isn’t extended on their end.

Not only do we need to explain objective moral truth well, but have patience that only the Lord can give to press through their indignant reactions and not react in an emotionally unhelpful way ourselves.

One result of this attitude we see is what we’re hearing about at Yale. It’s tough to confront and takes not only really good reasoning but a divine helping of patience and sanity.

And also the willingness to be slandered for upholding truth. Defensiveness doesn’t help anyone in this. We truly must be able to turn the other cheek as we lovingly correct and patiently push back.

Two potential [suggestions for further posts]:
1. How to educate young Christians who have already assumed the stance that moral disagreement is unloving.

And

2. How to lovingly and persistently morally dissent with someone who views that as hatred. How does Christ call us to live this out?