I heard a story recently about a fight between two wolves, which were both fierce and competitive. The question was asked ‘which wolf will overcome the other?’
The simple answer is whichever wolf we feed.
Ethics is rather like this. There is a growing awareness that ethics matter. We live under the shadow of the tragic findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. There has been story after story of the most horrendous misuse of power and of the failure to bring the perpetrators to account.
As a Uniting Church, thankfully we have become much more conscious of the essential need for the church to be a safe place for everyone, especially children. We have a strong Code of Ethics for people in ministry and a Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders that guides us in areas where there is ethical ambiguity, and points us to ethical wholeness. Ethics must matter to all of us. While the Gospel offers grace and forgiveness, it comes with the call to discipleship, to live a holy life; to pursue a lifestyle of behaviour that models the highest Christian standards of ethics.
As a church we need to be increasingly moving towards deeper ethical maturity and sensitivity, inspired by the just and compassionate life of Christ. Ethics is about feeding our minds and attitudes and behaviours with deepening understanding of justice, fidelity and veracity.
As John Wesley said, “Do no harm, do good.”
This involves constant vigilance of our attitudes and actions. I think about honesty, how easy it is to distort or exaggerate the views of others. When it comes to issues like same gender marriage or theological education, I occasionally hear comments that are just not balanced or fair.
We are also sometimes caught in the tension between confidentiality and the need for transparency. We need to check who is on our lists. Almost unconsciously, if we are not careful, we develop a mental ‘good’ list of people we like and respect, and a mental ‘black’ list of people who we don’t trust or agree with. These internal lists often prevent us from hearing the truth and truly loving. Sometimes I observe that the poor treatment of another comes from our bias for or against another. Ethics also means calling people to account; colluding with bad behaviour is not the ethical way to live.
With the help of clear conscience, the intuition of the Spirit, the guidance of the Scriptures and being open to the wise counsel of another, may God enable us to be a people of integrity and people who live out the ethics of the Kingdom.
Rev Steve Francis, Moderator Uniting Church WA