The hardest questions to answer in a seminary ethics class are those that put two goods in tension: If you select Option A, certain things will happen. If you select Option B, other things will happen. Each option has some good outcomes and some bad outcomes, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. How do you choose?
The easiest way out of these dilemmas is to appeal to some core value – a principle, or a rule – that will give you some perspective. If that is your approach, the challenge of your moral life is figuring out what your core values are going to be.
This pandemic has challenged me to re-think some of my core principles, at least in the area of ministry: Suspending in-person Sunday worship was unthinkable to me just a few weeks ago. Performing baptisms outside of a Sunday morning service was something I swore I would never do.
Some might say that I relaxed my core principles, but I would suggest that I refined them. When it became evident that many of the church’s familiar practices were creating a threat to public health, I had to ask myself a hard question: What really matters?
In my prayers around this question, I realized that what we do when we gather in the church building on Sundays is important, but it is not essential. Our Sunday practices are the means to an end, but not an end in themselves. The mission of the church is to reconcile all people to God and each other in Christ; we have proven in this time of separation that we can do that in many different ways.
I wonder if you may have faced similar dilemmas in your personal or professional life? I wonder if you might have refined your core principles or developed a more nuanced understanding of what is and is not essential? I wonder if you still could?
Moral discernment is hardly easy, but it is very important and it will serve you well for the rest of your life.