The results of a very interesting study have just been released. The study has interviewed 750 NZers on their morality. The question was this: 'I'm going to read you a list of issues. Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal, for each one, please tell me whether you personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong. How about...?' The margin of error for the sample size of 750 for a 50% figure at the ‘95% confidence level’ is ± 3.6%.
The results are fascinating. Asked whether certain things were morally acceptable here is a list of the outcomes:
Divorce:81% (Men 78%/Women 83%)
Sex Between and Unmarried Man and Woman: 77% (Men 79%/ Women 75%)
Having a Baby Outside of Marriage: 71%
Medical Research Using Stem Cells Obtained From Human Embryos: 63% (Men 69%/Women 57%)
Homosexual Relations: 61% (Men 53%/Women 69%)
Doctor Assisted Suicide: 55%
Abortion: 55% (Men 54%/Women 56%)
Gambling: 52% (Men 61%/Women 43%)
Medical Testing on Animals: 52% (Men 63%/Women 42%)
Buying and Wearing Clothing made of animal fur: 48% (Men 59%/Women 38%)
The death penalty: 43% (Men 47%/Women 39%)
Cloning Animals: 27% (Men 37%/women 18%)
Married men and women having an affair: 13% (Men 19%/Women 8%)
Polygamy, one man has more than one wife at the same time: 11% (Men 17%/Women 5%) Cloning Humans: 7% (Men 11%/Women 4%)
The press release does not indicate the breakdown of age. However, on Radio this morning, a spokesperson indicated that on the whole, younger people were more liberal and permissive than older. This indicates a trend toward a more liberal morality.
So what do we make of this as believers? First, I have to say I am a little surprised at how liberal we are becoming. I kind of naively hoped that NZ still had a Judaeo-Christian heart. This reveals that it does not and we are moving at pace toward a new NZ with a liberal ethic.
Secondly, as a Christian who bases his moral ethics on the teachings of Christ and the Apostles as revealed through Scripture I find myself increasingly out of kilter with NZ.
As far as I see it, divorce is not morally permissable in Scripture except in cases of sexual infidelity (and analagous contexts like violence), and when an unbeliever seeks to leave. The emphasis does fall on remarriage in the teachings of Christ. So, while I would want to nuance it, I am out of kilter with witih 81% of NZers on this one. Sex outside of marriage of any sort between a man and a woman is clearly not gospel morality; this puts me in with 1 in four NZers whereas 3 out of 4 will disagree with me. Similarly, homosexuality is not endorsed in the Biblical data, so I am now in a 40% minority which is dropping fast. Having a baby outside of marriage is now permissable for 7/10 Kiwis; I am in a 30% minority. Apart from exceptional circumstances to me abortion and the use of embryonic stems cells form aborted children is utterly reprehensible; I am in the minority on this one (63% of NZers disagree on stem cells and 53% on abortion). The same goes for euthanasia, I am out of kilter with 45% of Kiwis. On the death penalty, which I oppose, I am still in the majority, yay! Thankfully NZers are rejecting Polygamy, affairs and cloning! There is hope!
One stunning point is that people reject gambling, medical testing on animals and the buying and wearing of clothing made of animal fur at about the same level as abortion and euthanasia. That grieves me deeply. We are losing our sense of the value of human life as sacred. The unborn child and the elderly and infirm are now on a par with animals. That is so very sad it is tragic.
It is clear, I am in the minority on most moral issues, and the rejection of traditional Judaeo-Christian moral values is growing. The question then becomes, how do I now live? Here are some thoughts and observations.
First, I am now in a situation like that of the first Christians in the Graeco-Roman world. They lived in a world with a very different moral compass to that of Christ and the gospel. This informs me. So to the ideas.
1. I do not compromise or soften the biblical ethic to accommodate that of the world. This is tempting, to get soft at the edges and allow certain things to reach them. If we take sexual immorality as case in point; the first Christians did not soften their stance on this. We must not either. I have seen this in the church in protestant liberalism and sense it growing among some in the church today. We must not go there; it will lead to an erosion of the gospel not only in the nation, but the church.
2. I need to take account of this in my proclamation and social relationships outside the church. I need to be full of grace and conviction. I need to hold my ground with good sound reason. But I need to do so in a non-judgemental way. I must not moralise, but recognise that my gospel is going to clash with that of the world. I must continue to share Christ, the full gospel, and allow for rejection. I must do so with 'gentleness and respect', with humility, with patience, with grace, showing the grace of Christ as I do so. I must not back off the world, but engage; but do so without compromising the truth and grace of the gospel. Jesus walked among sinners with grace and truth, I must find a way to do this in this 'crooked and depraved generation.' I must shine like a star in the universe among them.
3. I need to be ready to be rejected for Christ, to suffer. I should expect that, while I might find and interested person, in the main the ethics of the gospel will suffer. I should expect this increasingly as I engage with society standing against libertinism. Christ showed us the way, as he emptied himself, humbled himself and served. They killed him, but his blood is the seed of all life.
4. My witness needs to demonstrate a new ethic. I need to live the ethic of the gospel and not trumpet it in their faces, arrogantly. After all, Christians are in the main, little better than the world. We are simply forgiven and have a fresh power to overcome. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. Where we do, we don't trumpet our superiority but are humble. Where we don't we demonstrate humility and repentance. But, I need to be determined through my attitudes, relationships, family, integrity, purity, grace and love, to demonstrate that the way of Christ is a better way.
5. I should expect to see social problems in NZ continue to increase as brokenness increases. I need to model a different way. I need to graciously and non-coercively hold forth the gospel in its fullness as a way forward, in hope that they will begin to see the futility of this way.
6. As Church communities we will increasingly look wooden and ethically out of touch. We need to stand by the gospel, uphold its morality. However, we must do so in love and grace and openness; or they will never come. We need to allow people room to grow in their understanding. We need to be inclusive. We need to model the values of the kingdom so that they see the difference. We need to be the community of love that will transcend such moral questions, they being absorbed in a community of love, grace, joy and hope. This will take time, perhaps generations. We need to take the long term approach.
7. We need to go out into the world and work to use all our resources not to stand in judgement over them, but be salt and light among them, sowing the ethics of the gospel in our leadership, relationships and lives. We need to show them a new way on the sports field, in schools and universities, in workplaces, in parliament, in every part of God's great world.
8. We need to keep bringing things back to Christ and what it means to be truly human. He is the centre of what we say and do, not morality (although that will follow). As we do, hopefully they will meet Christ, encounter him through his Word, and be transformed from the inside out by the Spirit. This means mission and engagement with the world will be messy as people get it to varying degrees at different speeds. We must allow room for failure, bring back authencity, and grace more and more.
So, I now know more clearly that I am out of kilter with NZ in a moral sense. I need to be shaped by the gospel, its truth and grace, and go among them and show them Christ. This tells me it will be hard and that we will struggle and suffer. We may find our churches shrink where we uphold the gospel. All we can do is pray and be faithful!