Basic Moral Values

The moral values I hold and the choices I make still come out of the core of
what I learned as a child growing up in church and in a Christian home.

I learned early in life simple lessons like these:
• Be kind to others.
• Be patient.
• Respect everyone.
• Forgive people who hurt you.
• Stand up to bullies without fighting.
• Be honest without hurting people.
• Let other people be who they are.
• Be faithful to your friends.
• Love God and other people.

These simple values form the concrete foundation
for the life God calls me to live out in the church, as well
as in the world. I am convinced that God calls the whole
church to live by them as well. As I experience the church
today, I see a large crack in the foundation.

Read my book Moral Values by clicking here.

Our neighbor is the one lying in the road

Sometimes violence comes from the lust for power or wealth. But for most of us, I think it comes more often from fear and anger and the acceptance of violence, believing the lie that violence resolves anything. All it does is lead to more violence.

So the way through these violent times is the way of love – of courage and compassion – of learning what to do with our fear and anger (which may be appropriate and certainly understandable – there is a reason, if not an excuse).

We can no longer justify ourselves by explaining away that our neighbor is anyone other than the one lying on the road, desperately in need of help. Nothing else matters. – Race, gender identity, religion, disability, economic status…nothing! All that matters is that we move beyond our fear and show love to all.

Personal Responsibility

Many people, especially those with traditional (conservative) views about religion and politics talk a lot about personal responsibility. How individuals need to take more responsibility for themselves and their actions and choices. Mostly, from a conservative view, this is said in the context of either poverty or sexuality. Think “getting a job” instead of “living off the system.” Or think women who face difficult choices because of unwanted (sometimes forced) pregnancies.

I agree that personal responsibility is an important value, but I have a somewhat different list to offer:

  • For men who get women pregnant – take responsibility for your actions.
  • For people who get rich by taking advantage of employees – take responsibility for them.
  • For all in public office who lie to their constitutents – take responsibility for the people who elected you.
  • For white people who benefit from simply being white – take responsibility for what happpens to people of color.
  • For the nation who spends more than any other nation on war – take responsibility for peace and spending our money on what will lead to peace rather than war.
  • For a nation with great wealth – take responsibility for people in nations without great wealth.

People have said that when we point one finger at someone else, four fingers are pointed back at us. Jesus said to take the log out of our own eyes before we seek to remove the speck from someone else’s eyes. This post is not a call to judgment against other people, but a call to examine ourselves. We all are part of something larger. No one can take responsibility only for oneself without accepting responsibility for other people as well.

A better world

All I want to do before I die is change the world. I always say that with a smile, but I mean it. Not that I think any one person can change the whole world, but that I want to do all I can to make the world a better place for everyone. What I can do seems so small and insignificant at times, but if enough of us act in the same transformative ways, we can make a difference.

The simple – and hard – way to change the world is to love. Always love. Only love. Love God. Love yourself. Love others. Love your enemies. Love people you don’t like. Love people who treat you badly. But what does that “look” like in action? Here is one way to think about:

May be an image of text that says 'what then IS the kingdom of God? where is it found? It IS found very time an offense is forgiven, every time a stranger is made welcome, every time an enemy is embraced, every time the least of us is lifted up, every time the law is made to serve justice, every time a prophetic voice is raised against injustice, every time the law and the prophets are summed up by love. John D caputo folowingJesus'

Thanks to Kurt Struckmeyer for posting this on his Facebook page, “Following Jesus – a life of faith in a Postmodern World.” Learn more about Kurt Struckmeyer’s work and books at his website by the same name of Following Jesus.

Interdependence Day

To borrow Frederick Douglass’ question: “What is July 4th to me?” For Douglass, of course, his experience was as a black man who lived when most people who looked like him in the United States were still slaves to white men – owned as property and degraded as less than human. What celebration of freedom could there be?

As a white man – educated, middle class, heterosexual, Christian – why would I not “celebrate our freedoms” on this day? In my experience for the last five decades, July 4th has been more a Christian Nationalist day than a truly patriotic day where as a nation we are committed to every person enjoying the same freedoms I have always had. So few people in my “world” have acknowledged how many people do not have those freedoms, let alone committed themselves to working toward “liberty and justice for all” people regardless of color, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, language, culture.

Some people have called for an “interdependence” day, recognizing that true freedom is more than independence. We are not truly free until all are free, as many have said, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Emma Lazarus. And we cannot all be free until we stop celebrating our independence and start working toward greater interdependence. So I will celebrate July 4th as an “interdependence day” and commit myself to work for a time when all people share at least the freedoms I enjoy.

Sin is collective

Christian teaching too often focused on sins of the individual and failed to speak to collective sin. Salvation became a matter of each “soul” rather than salvation of the people, as the prophets taught. This created a theological foundation in the U.S. which allowed individuals to ignore the collective – the systemic – sin of racism if they felt they were not personally guilty.

The Christian Century published an excellent article, “Critical Race Theory is a Gift to Christians,” ( which presents the case for this collective understanding of sin. Here is part of what it says:

“The good news about collective and institutional sin is that, like individual sin, it can be redeemed. By acknowledging systemic sin and working to change unjust structures—with the aid of tools like CRT—we realign ourselves with God’s work in the world.A faithful path forward involves reckoning with institutional sin and learning new ways of speaking and understanding that can help us diagnose what ails us and help our nation on a path to healing. For this, critical race theory is a gift.”

The Christian Church has always had prayers and creeds for us to confess both our personal and corporate – individual and collective – sin. The Psalms and writings of the Prophets – along with Jesus and Paul – are filled with prayers and calls to prayer of confession that we might seek this healing together. It is one path forward.

A Time of Unveiling

From Richard Rohr –

I believe this past year has been an apocalyptic time, though not necessarily in the way we might think. When the CAC staff first started speaking with me in the fall of 2020 about potential themes for the 2021 Daily Meditations, we were about seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and staying home were the norm. The presidential campaign, with all its ugly rhetoric, was in full swing. Only half-joking, I suggested “apocalypse” as a theme! But the Daily Meditations editorial team took my idea seriously and transformed it into something broader, deeper, and much more accessible. We called this year’s theme “A Time of Unveiling.” For many of us, the word “apocalypse” conjures thoughts of the rapture, fear, a vengeful God, and violent and exclusive religion. It is an overwhelming judgment on Western Christianity that it is drawn to such beliefs. But despite its misuse, I’m convinced the biblical meaning of apocalypse is a helpful and ultimately hopeful framework.

A quick etymology of the word will help: kaluptein is the Greek word for “to cover” and apo means “un,” so apokaluptein means to uncover or unveil. While we primarily use the word “apocalypse” to mean to destroy or threaten, in its original context, apocalypse simply meant to reveal something new. The key is that in order to reveal something new, we have to get the old out of the way.

I begin my book Eager to Love with these poetic words from Neale Donald Walsch that put this quite nicely.

Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new; the old will deny the new; the old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it. [1]

That’s what apocalyptic literature does. It helps us make room for something new by clearing out the old—old ideas, old stories, old ways of thinking—especially if we’ve become overly attached to them. The goal of apocalyptic language, as used in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, is to shake people out of their reliance on conventional wisdom and undercut where we all operate on cruise control.

The most common mistake is to confuse apocalyptic literature with prophetic literature.  They serve very different functions. Apocalyptic writing deconstructs the “taken-for-granted world” by presenting a completely different universe, similar to what a good novel or even a science fiction movie does for us. As the Buddhist heart sutra says it, “Gone, gone, utterly gone, all has passed over to the other side.” It makes room for the reconstruction of a new vision of peace and justice, which is the job of the prophets. Yes, prophets do plenty of deconstruction too, but it is always to make room inside the mind and soul for vision, expansion, hope, and a future inhabited by God and not by fear.

Racial justice and the 10 Commandments

Notice how the first four commandments having to do with our relationship to God are much longer than the other six commandments having to do with our relationship to each other. The first four have to do with the love of God, and the other six with love of neighbor – the two “great commandments,” as Jesus said. Maybe more is said of the love of God – just as the greatest commandment is love of God – because only when we “get that right” can we truly love one another. Love is of God because God is love.     

To love God is to know that God is more than we can imagine – and that God cannot be limited by our experience. … No other gods – No images  … There can be only one God, but God is not limited by our religious understanding and beliefs. We can never understand God, who remains a mystery – yet we can know God and who God is – a God of compassion, faithfulness, peace, wisdom, justice, freedom, mercy, kindness – in one word, a God of love.

We misuse the name of the Lord our God when we do not speak and act in love. … We keep the Sabbath day as holy when on that day – and all other days – whatever we say and do is done in love.

The other 6 commandments extend that love for God to human beings. … Honor your parents … Do not take life … Honor marriage … Do not take what belongs to others … Speak truthfully about everyone … Do not wrongfully desire what is not yours.

All of these commandments can be best understood through love – for parents and family, for life, for the one to whom we are married, and for all people, wanting what is good for them – and choosing not to steal, lie, or even covet – and thereby harm them.

Knowing how to live is not hard. – We live in love … for God and for others, as well as ourselves. One way to understand love is that love desires what is good for others and chooses to do that, as much as it is up to us. – I do not have to “like” someone (in the sense of my feelings toward that person) – but I can choose to do what is good for that person (or at least to want what is good).

At the heart of love, we find sacrifice – a willingness to do what is good for others even at cost to ourselves, perhaps even at the cost of giving up all that we have and even our lives for them. – That kind of love cuts deep. And we have to be careful with it. That does not mean giving ourselves up to someone’s abuse toward us, thinking that is love. Abusing someone else is never what’s good for someone. So if I love someone who is abusive, I will do what I can to stop the abuse – out of love.

This is why I am committed to seeking justice for people, including racial justice. People of color continue to be abused and harmed by the system in which we live – a system created by white people, primarily white men. My love for people who created and still “own” the system means I know it is not good for them and want to change it for their sakes. And my love for people who have been “owned” by the system and its “masters” – and who continue to be harmed economically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually by it all compels me to speak up and take action.

The Christian Church has been complicit in this injustice throughout the centuries. The Church and the State worked together to force indigenous people off their land, even to kill many of them. We worked together to enslave Black people and to continue to keep them poor since emancipation. We protected “our space” in communities and churches by insisting “they” have “their own” space to live, work, learn, and worship.

The time for justice is long past. Justice work is “love work.” To love people is to seek justice today – here where we live and work and worship – and I choose to live in love.

Many people honor the 10 Commandments and say we should live up to them. Then let us do that. Let us love God and our neighbor, as we love ourselves. Desire and do what is good for everyone, for that is the way of love.

A liberal evangelical

I wrote the following words in 2004, long before the past five years and the “evangelical” support for Donald Trump. However, in the more traditional view of both terms, here is what I said:

The mind of the older son can be seen both in
people characterized as “liberal” and in people characterized as “conservative.” No one theological position
holds a monopoly on the older brother mindset.
I no longer call myself conservative; maybe I never
was. Most conservative Christians would now characterize
me as liberal, but categories don’t reflect reality well.
I am evangelical, as I mentioned before, because I
believe in the good news of the kingdom. I believe in the
authority of the scriptures for my life. I believe in a
personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ and
in eternal life given by God’s grace through Christ. But I
am also liberal.
If “liberal” means to be generous and openhearted toward people and toward God, I claim the title. If
being liberal means to commit myself to God’s love as the
ultimate moral value, then I accept it. If being liberal
means to put people before the principles I believe to be
correct, then that’s what I am. If being liberal means to
believe that God really does love the whole world and that
Jesus came to save and heal the world rather than to judge
and condemn it, then I am liberal.
If “liberal” means to believe that God’s essential
nature is love and that love is seen most clearly in the
compassion, mercy, and forgiveness of God, I gladly
accept such a name. God clearly revealed the divine nature
in the stories of scripture – to Moses, through the prophets, in Jesus – as compassionate at the core, at the heart
of God. So if labels were helpful, I might call myself an
evangelical liberal or a liberal evangelical.

See (pp.70-71).

What is sin?

In Romans 6, we hear these words: “You have been set free from sin.” But what does that mean? Too often, the word “sin” has been understood in legalistic ways, as if sin was about being disobedient to a set of rules or laws. In common usage, it has too often been associated primarily with matters of sexuality.

I suggest that sin is the absence of love. If God is love (as 1 John says), and if sin is separation from God’s presence – a common understanding as well – then is not sin separation from love? Or the absence of love?

If what Paul says in Romans 13 is true – that love does no harm to another – then sin is causing harm rather than loving that person. We cannot truly love someone and sin against that person. When we sin against someone – when we cause harm to them – we are not in that moment acting in love.

To be set free from sin is to live in love, moment by moment, action by action, word by word. Do no harm and act in love, and we have been set free from sin.