The following post was taken from The Reflector, a publication of the IL/WI Church of the Brethren Newsletter May 2018: Volume 15/Issue 4.
Neal F. Fisher, president emeritus of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, offers these thoughts in an article in The Christian Century:
“What morality, we might ask, does one culture or social group create that another with equal authority could not revoke? On what basis should my personal perceptions make a universal claim? The issue here is not to challenge universal moral claims. The point, rather, is that many of those who make universal claims disavow any reasonable basis for explaining how that claim can be made,”
Fisher’s view opens the door to relativism except that he points to universal moral claims. Reading this paragraph more closely, though, Fisher is, in my view, less concerned with relativism and absolutism than he is in the ways we approach and understand authoritative claims. In other words, two divergent claims, seemingly authoritative to the beholders, may each have a nugget of truth. However, the possibility exists that the majority understanding may be revoked by an opposite majority understanding. And, if a reasonable basis cannot be provided in support of a claim, then the validity of that claim may be false or suspect.
This circular approach leads to estrangement rather than relationship. The goal is to win rather than to understand.
In averting a false claim, greater effort is made to provide a strong defense. In turn, a claimant with an opposite view may exert more energy and research into proving the other wrong. This circular approach leads to estrangement rather than relationship. The goal is to win rather than to understand. Or, as Fisher states, “Circles that lack confidence in religious categories of grace, forgiveness, and redemption have no obvious way of resolving moral conflicts. They often must then resort to judging some groups to be guilty and insisting on their own innocence or victimhood.”
Denominations, including our own, struggle with the handling of morality claims. An aura of hopelessness pervades our efforts. I am convinced, though, that it doesn’t have to be this way. Rather than investing heavily in winning, hopefulness will emerge more quickly and with greater pervasiveness when we devote more time in extending grace, forgiveness, and redemption.
Jesus provides the example. In times when he was asked to take a side, Jesus didn’t provide opportunity for each one to present its case. Rather he infused the situation with grace. Grace doesn’t declare one side right or the other wrong or that both are fully right. Grace opens the possibility for more to be known than is presently known. As a result of knowing more, we can ask for forgiveness for being closed to new insights. And in the end, we have more opportunity for relationships to be redeemed as we all strive to move toward greater understanding.
May grace abound!