Let’s take the centre ground
High ground is an advantageous position from which to engage in a fight and the moral high ground is so tempting when we are fighting over issues dear to our hearts.
Jesus, however, warned the guardians of the Jewish faith that closeness to God could not be measured by the height of the moral ground on which they stood. In fact, sometimes it was quite the opposite!
Zeal for the law and for justice is only a virtue when it embraces with care all that it seeks to influence.
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey argues for the pre-eminence of a principle-centred ethic to guide our choices and our behaviours.
He says, “These principles are part of every major enduring religion, as well as enduring social philosophies and ethical systems … part of the human conscience.”
Consider the principles of fairness, integrity, honesty and human dignity — an excellent place to start when we need to deal with the big, complex and divisive issues of church and state.
For example, if the tenor of the current political and social debate over asylum-seekers is any indication, we have strayed far from a principle-centred place, which perhaps explains why there is so much floundering about.
One notable QC has even ventured to suggest that a solution would be easier if Australia withdrew from the Refugee Convention — one less set of principles to worry about!
The same applies to the debate about same-gender marriage. By all of us re-examining our strongly-held beliefs in the light of the principled centre of our faith, it may be possible to find that sacred ground where our convictions overlap and provide us with the possibility of transformation.
The 13th Assembly set a strong example in this regard. Within a context of Christ-centred worship and fellowship, Assembly members worked together with courtesy and a willingness to listen. The space between strongly-held positions and convictions became truly holy ground; the place where transformation happened, sometimes with difficulty but always with deeply respectful interaction.
The resulting agreement, along with a deeper and stronger bond with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, sets the tone for continued unity in our community of faith as we face issues where there can be wide variance of conviction.
When zeal for the law clashes with passion for justice, and purity and compassion collide, how much better would it be if we all moved to the heart of the matter, the moral and ethically-principled place, where Jesus made his stand?
This is clearly stated in the so-called “Golden Rule”, also embraced by every major religion and even some atheists: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Meeting one another there, as did members of the 13th Assembly, is also a blessing for the vulnerable people whose lives and dignity are actually on the line; the innocent casualties of our sometimes costly conflicts.
The Rev. Dr Brian Brown is Moderator of the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT.