I believe people are good for the most part. So how is it that some believe that women should be quiet and submissive while others have women preachers? How is it that some believe the LGBTQ community is defined by their genetics and should be allowed to choose whom they love while others think they should be killed or imprisoned?
Where we stand on these polar opposites, and everything in between, is based on what our cultures have taught us is right or wrong. It’s known as ethical relativism.
What is Ethical Relativism
Ethical relativism – In ethics, the belief that nothing is objectively right or wrong and that the definition of right or wrong depends on the prevailing view of a particular individual, culture, or historical period.
Does that raise some major concerns for you? It does for me but it warrants consideration.
When it comes to determining what is ethical, many of us rely on our religious upbringing or that of our parents. Why not, what else do we have to base them on? It is interesting to apply ethical relativism to a few controversial scripture verses and see where it takes us. I encourage you to search your own heart and expand on these thoughts.
Scripture Worth a Modern Review
A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this. (Deut 22:5)
- This truly depends on the cultural definition of what constitutes men’s and women’s clothing. Does this include theatrical costumes?
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet (1 Timothy 2:11–12, NIV)
- Some societies are matriarchal.
- Some have women preachers with God-given inspiration to share.
- Some have women CEOs.
- These do not separate anyone from God.
[In worship] Every man who prays or prophesies with long hair dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with no covering of hair dishonors her head—she is just like one of the “shorn women.” If a woman has no covering, let her be for now with short hair; but since it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair shorn or shaved, she should grow it again. A man ought not to have long hair. (1 Corinthians 11:7)
- Praying women internationally have been cutting their hair for centuries.
- and the long-haired man that comes to my mind is Samson, one of God’s own people.
- God cares more about what is in a person’s heart than what they look like; hair length has nothing to do with reverence.
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Tim 1:8-11)
Historical cultures exhibit much diversity in what is covered in this verse, but here are a few jumping off points.
- Have you ever run a red light or parked illegally?
- Let us thank God for Jesus the rebel.
- Are we not all sinful?
- God gives us free will to be irreligious or not.
- Some societies have practiced human sacrifice as normal.
- Where people draw the line defining sexual immorality fluctuates between cultures and periods in time.
- Recent history has not been kind to homosexuals but there were periods of ancient history when it was quite acceptable, and some societies are moving in that direction today.
- The slave trade in the Southern USA in the 18th and 19th century was common-place and rationalized as acceptable, even by some professed Christians.
- I don’t know anyone who doesn’t lie occasionally, even if only to avoid hurting someone’s feelings; some lie to themselves.
There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. …Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you. (Lev 11:4,12)
- Here is an example of the Old Testament law that was retracted by God in a dream to Peter in the New Testament. Did God change His mind, or did humanity find healthy ways to prepare the ‘unclean’ food?
Time and Place Matters
So, here’s the point-we can’t always apply Biblical statements to every culture but must understand them in the context of the time and place they were written. Then apply that understand to our current time and place. Too often we cling to our well-ingrained dogma, thoughts, and behaviors, searching in spiritual texts for those fragments that support our position, that of our friends or what is generally socially acceptable.
“Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.” (Luke 17:1 NIV)
Leading someone astray from God includes being a poor example in how we correct, undermine, or denigrate their life, behavior or personality, as well as, leading them into addiction, prostitution or numerous other degrading behaviors.
So, we have a conundrum; do we allow our culture to define what is right and wrong? Do we allow scripture to define it? Do we just do whatever seems right to us at the time? My thought is to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
As thinking, believing adults, we need to question whether our heart and actions hurt or undermine another person. As you may have heard, whenever possible, it is better to be kind than to be right.
Scripture to Live By
Following are a few scriptures that remind us to implement kindness in our lives. The principles they express are universally accepted by the 5 major world religions.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:12-14)
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
I have heard people redefine who their neighbors are to fit their biases. However, if we look at the context of this verse, we find that the neighbors of Jesus’ time included Romans, Greeks, other Gentiles, Sadducees, Pharisees, Samaritans and those of various peoples who were often present in Israel. Our ‘neighbors’ are everyone.
More thoughts related to this topic can be found at these links:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy,” (Acts 2: 17–18)