Two articles recently crossed my desk, both of which scolded churches and pastors for our relative silence about the Enron scandal. "Are we so numbed by scandal that we don't care anymore?" asked the authors.
"Are we so numbed by scandal that we don't care anymore?" asked the authors. Religious responses either chalked it up to politics or said nothing. I started thinking about the reluctance to speak. I came up with a number of "reluctances."
Reluctance number one is that I am still reeling to understand what happened. In an age of information overload, it's about all we can do to keep up with our own yard. We get our news in nuggets and little moving clips across the bottom of the screen. We protest: "I'm too busy to concern myself with a financial scandal somewhere else."
But it's hitting home. The Alabama state retirement system took a huge hit from the meltdown. Retirees everywhere have taken another blow on top of the impact of an already vulnerable economy.
Reluctance number two is that economics and social situations are almost always more complex than first appears. I learned this many years ago when I decided to study economics for a semester. Frankly, I'm not sure I understood it any better when I finished than when I started.
It's pretty easy to bash capitalism and capitalists for their excesses. It is harder to suggest an alternative. And as the last 30 years have demonstrated, with some adjustments from culture to culture, it's the only game in town. I have made my share of lame and uninformed statements about political and economic matters. It is natural to hesitate.
Reluctance number three may have to do with the incessant partisan politics by which five percent of our population seeks to maneuver the rest of us toward its particular spin on things.
We've become so cynical that when something truly horrible happens, it is hard to react without the feeling that it's being manipulated for someone's advantage.
A part of our reluctance, of course, is the insidious fear of being "judgmental." It is the worst sin of our culture, one that causes us ever to struggle to say, "That is wrong. You shouldn't have done it."
In such a time, all we're left with is, "That's too bad." And we turn the page. We can envision ourselves being in the same position—to make a killing on a transaction—because we are in the position to know while others aren't.
That said, there is a higher responsibility, a social contract based on matters deeper than what is legal or what the market will bear. It tied us in knots during the Clinton scandals, and it faces us again in the apparent recklessness of a large company and its accountants.
This higher standard remains even when we have satisfied the law. It is obedience to God's law—whether the issue is abuse of authority toward a subordinate or toward the trust of workers and investors.
I keep hearing Cain's question to God in our reluctance: "Am I my brother's keeper?" And I am not sure I want to hear God's answer. I already know.
Even when something is permitted, it is not always best and not always right. Maybe it's time I repent of my numbness and reluctance. Every now and then we need to say, with no agenda other than faithfulness, "That's wrong."
Gary Furr is pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
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The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response
Ties That Bind: Life Together in the Baptist Vision