Speaking for God, the prophet Jeremiah wrote about a people who were so morally blind that they no longer knew how to blush. They were greedy. They were dishonest. They were superficially concerned about the brushed and battered among them.
While we may want to seek the "ancient paths," we know that walking faithfully in them is complicated, problematic, Parham observes.
Jeremiah lamented: "For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush" (Jeremiah 6:13-15).
The prophet called those at the crossroads to "ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it" (v. 16).
His reference to "the ancients paths" likely included the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), the Mosaic teachings (Leviticus 19-26) and Moses' call to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
Jeremiah's reference to the ancient ways echoed the prophet Isaiah's earlier admonishment to another generation: "Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged" (Isaiah 51:1).
Isaiah's call to remember the past echoed Moses' call for the people to observe the Sabbath as an act of remembering what God had done in delivering them from slavery in Egypt.
"You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought you out of thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm" (Deuteronomy 5:15), said Moses.
When facing troubling days, when standing at the crossroads, the biblical witness urges God's people to remember, and walk in, the ancient ways.
We are certainly at a political crossroads in the United States. Political power has shifted. Ideological extremists have eviscerated the political center, demonized the concept of compromise and trumpeted the falsehood of hyper-individualism over the common good.
We are surely at a cultural crossroads. Anti-Christian sentiment is boisterous and bellicose, mirroring Christian hostility toward Muslims. Trash talk has become acceptable speech. TV-land celebrates hedonism, materialism and narcissism.
We are undoubtedly at a fiscal crossroads. The wealthy think they deserve tax cuts and desire cutting public services to everyone else to reduce the deficit. Public servants refuse to protect the public treasury. Corporations wring private gain out of every opportunity, opposing regulations and skirting accountability. Baby boomers have feasted for decades, as if no banquet of consequences awaits our gluttonous consumption.
We are definitely at a religious crossroads. Denominational decline – numerically and financially – is normative. Church attendance is stagnant at best. Few religious leaders offer a compelling vision. The center aisle splits congregations along political lines.
EthicsDaily.com's parent organization – the Baptist Center for Ethics – is at a crossroads. BCE will observe its 20th anniversary later this year. BCE has survived and thrived. But in a 24/7 society with budget cuts at every turn and so much free-floating anxiety, new choices will need to be made.
At the beginning of a new year, we stand at a crossroads.
While we may want to seek the "ancient paths," we know that walking faithfully in them is complicated, problematic.
There is no straight line between a biblical imperative and the implementation of public policy, or the articulation of a church's moral statement, or the expression of personal initiative, or the determination of organizational direction. There simply is no infallible road map.
The best we can do is to engage the world imperfectly. Broadly speaking, it means we seek the welfare of the city over the private gain of the few, treat the stranger with dignity and respect, guard the garden from harm, and work for a just peace. And we do this confessing our finitude, our limited vision, our flawed knowledge of unintended consequences.
From where I stand, I see at least five priorities for EthicsDaily.com in 2011:
First is advocacy for illegal migrants, a sharper focus in our long-standing work on racism.
Second is the articulation of common ground between Baptists and Muslims.
Third is activism for a just tax system, one that protects the poor and challenges the ideology of privatization of the public square to the benefit of the wealthy.
Fourth is advancing creation stewardship, with a central concern about climate change and how it harms the poor and triggers conflict.
Fifth is assisting those who understand that the church ought to be a moral community – a community that does the right thing, offers a prophetic critique, speaks a truth when it matters, guards the vulnerable, shows compassion, strengthens families, acts intelligently.
I also know that what we see now, what we prioritize, is not all we will face.
So, make a commitment at the beginning of a new year to go with us – even if the future may be uncertain. Prepare for it by reading EthicsDaily.com every day. Invite your friends to join you in our virtual community. Through columns, news stories, movie reviews, sermon manuscripts, documentaries and online curriculum, we want to challenge you and all people of faith to advance the common good.
May we together remember the ancient paths and discern how to walk faithfully in them.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.