Christian ethics and the UTech beating
David Pearson, Contributor
I have been rather disappointed to hear much of the public reaction to the security guards' beating of the allegedly gay youth at the University of Technology (UTech) recently. I was in a restaurant watching the noonday news on one of our local TV stations when the video was aired publicly.
The vitriolic response of a patron mirrored that of a few young persons I had spoken with a few moments before - as far as the man and the students were concerned, the youth should have been killed. Many of those uttering such views couch their angry words in the language of the Bible.
As a Christian theologian myself, I find this particularly disappointing, since there is nothing Christian about that position, even if people quote the Bible to support their points. The discipline of Christian ethics shows clearly that such a position is decidedly not Christian. I wish to show that here.
When we speak of the discipline of ethics, we have in mind the examination of the processes that we utilise in moral decision making. There are various approaches to ethics, most with something of value from which we can learn. For instance, deontology is the approach that says we have a duty to always do what is right, like speaking the truth and protecting human life, because such is right.
DETERMINING WHAT IS RIGHT
Consequentialism says that we can know what is right based on actions that produce good results, while virtue ethics say that virtuous people can be trusted to do virtuous things.
Whereas all have weaknesses, just a bit of examination of each will see that they all have strengths. And there are more approaches to the subject of determining right and wrong, which will demonstrate the same truth. In some senses then, a best approach to moral decision making will draw on elements of many approaches to the task.
What is the difference with Christian ethics? Most Christian ethicists will admit that it is the person of Christ that makes Christian ethics different, even if some of its approaches to the subject might mirror that of other philosophies.
Christ is seen as the embodiment of God and His approach to moral decision making, and it is in Him that the Christian gets his/her clearest example of how to navigate the difficult decisions that confront us. With no biblical reference to Christ's confrontation with abortion or homosexuality, how then do we see in Him a paradigm to follow in our much more complex world today? Perhaps if we saw His general approach to right and wrong, we would get some clearer directions on the matter.
Maybe it would be good to point out what Jesus did not do when making ethical decisions. For instance, He neither mirrored His moral standards on that of the religious leaders/people around him, nor did He blindly or legalistically quote from the Old Testament.
I find that many Christians follow precisely these approaches in a kind of straitjacket way in dealing with the troubling situations that face us. "The Bible says that homosexuals must be put to death (Leviticus 20:13). That UTech student should be shot!" "My church does not stand for such slackness! We are Bible-believing people who understand that homosexuality is all about people turning their backs on God and going after what is unnatural (Romans 1)." This was not the way of Jesus.
In her classic 1957 work, Christian Ethics, Georgia Harkness outlined the following: Jesus' ethics were totally integrated with His religion, meaning that He did nothing outside of His concept of God and His relationship to Him.
But as He did this, He placed a stress on "ethical and spiritual inwardness", meaning that external religious posturing was not part of His modus operandi. Whether it had to do with praying, fasting, giving to the needy, or doing any other religious duty, Jesus warned that the external demonstration of such was really nothing, if indeed it did not spew forth from an inward life committed to such.
Jesus was not surprised about human sinfulness. But He also knew the possibilities of 'the redeemed life', and He gave plenty opportunities for so-called sinners to walk the more righteous path through His acceptance of them. Zacchaeus, Levi, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the woman caught in adultery were just a few such.
Jesus could do nothing else with these, given His God-centredness, since such was (and is) committed to the supreme worth of every individual to God. Harkness concludes that with such in mind, Jesus' central teaching was the establishment of the kingdom of God, where everyone benefits from the kingdom's ethics.
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
Let us apply the above to the UTech situation. Reports suggest that the young man who was beaten by the security guards was alleged to have been caught in a 'compromising position' with another male in a bathroom at the institution. On being attacked by a mob, the young man raced to the security post for protection, where he was beaten by two guards.
Though many have rightfully called for the guards to be fired, at the least, many still believe that the youth should have been beaten because of his 'nastiness'. How would Jesus' Christian ethic respond? Here I suggest a few points:
1. Allegations are just that - allegations. I suspect that it would not have been a concern of Jesus that it was alleged that the young man was caught 'in a compromising position'. His greater concern would have been why people act on allegations without checking the facts. In fact, even without Jesus, we have a legal code that says that "all persons are innocent until proven guilty".
The administration at UTech must rightly be concerned about the possibility of illegal and maybe even immoral activities taking place on their compound, privately or publicly. But alleged lewd acts taking place behind closed doors must never be treated as seriously as proven public atrocities.
2. Jesus would never have quoted any legal code to pronounce judgment on anyone. The fact is that the powerful in society, wherever their power comes from, always find it easy to use the law to trample on the weak. The mob was the powerful on that night, as were the security guards. Together they found an immoral strength and used it on this young scapegoat, perhaps to salve their own waning ethical consciences.