It is amazing (and amazingly disheartening) to see how much political energy is put into attempts by various people and groups to regulate personal moral behavior. Huge amounts of time and energy have been invested into attempting to regulate who may marry whom and into trying to restrict the choices women may make with regard to their own reproductive health. Attorneys for the Governor of Michigan just filed court briefs taking the position that the state had an interest in regulating the sex lives of its citizens.
Meanwhile, huge issues of public morality — like accessibility of health care, homelessness, joblessness, immigration issues — largely make no headway, receiving only a fraction of the political energy invested into trying to regulate personal moral conduct.
Many of those who spend so much of their own energy on these personal moral issues claim the mantle of Christianity. They seem to believe that this is primarily what Christianity in particular, and the Judeo-Christian tradition generally, are really about. They see to believe that God’s primary locus of interest is on each person’s personal moral conduct — so much so that attempts to move forward on the larger issues often get labelled as somehow unChristian (witness the debate over health care).
Yet this constitutes a great misreading and distortion of the Christian tradition. While there certainly are references in the Bible to personal moral conduct, the great theme that runs throughout the Bible when it comes to morality is justice, not personal conduct. The Hebrew Scriptures are far more concerned with how Israel, as a people and as a society, is treating its most vulnerable citizens. The prophetic writings are full of warnings about the consequences of ignoring the needs of the poor. In the New Testament, Jesus directs much of his ministry toward the marginalized and the vulnerable, making it clear that the bigger issue is not the personal behavior of “sinners”, but the way in which those people have been treated by the larger society. The reality is that a truly biblical, truly Christian perspective on American society would be far more concerned with climate change, health care, homelessness, joblessness, and immigrants than with marriage or abortion.
Too many people these days — including far too many politicians — are carrying a cracked moral compass. They spend their time worrying about what people are doing behind the closed doors of bedrooms and doctors’ offices, believing that this is somehow the primary interest of God and the Christian tradition. And their approach to the larger issues of justice is primarily to yell, fight, and make sure that no progress is made. It reminds me of the religious legal experts of Jesus’ time who were fighting constantly over the finest details of law while their society and culture slowly slid toward destruction.