Friday, March 24, 2006

Political vs. Moral

A radio talk show host made this claim about his opponents today,

"They turn moral issues (like abortion) into political issues, and political issues (like immigration) into moral issues".

This struck me, because I try to limit my comments as a pastor to the realm of the moral and NOT the political. But what happens when these overlap, or the distinction is not as clear?

Take immigration, for example. Faithful Lutherans can certainly disagree about what should be done on this issue. But isn't there also a moral component to the problem to? (*that being, the violation of the 4th commandment and disrespect of governmental authority by illegal immigrants)


Scott Scofield said...

Thank you, Reverend Chryst, for this intriguing topic.

As always - definition of terms is crucial when thinking about this type of issue. If we say that Ethics is a system of coherent values (e.g. human dignity and justice), then Morality is the set of actions that demonstrates that system of ethics (e.g. an unbiased justice system), then Politics - in its most pure form - is the consensus of the people encouraging correct moral action in view of their common system of ethics (values). Politics is our mutual "meeting place" to work out our consensus.
To be "Unethical" is to have some other system of values (e.g. it's ok to use people as a means to an end).
To be "Immoral" is to act on those values (e.g. oppress a group to achieve self-interest).
"Politics," of all the terms, is the most hotly debated. The modern word itself smacks of an abandonment of values, of unethical systems and immoral actions - this perception is unfortunate (though not altogether untrue).
My point is that, in the local neighborhood, the community, the society, or even within humanity, politics is the arena in which we compare, discuss, debate and resolve our ethical systems and sets of appropriate actions. This is unavoidable.
In this sense - politics is the logical, and necessary, outcome to a society interested in moral action.
The debates arise in the interpretation of the ethical system - which actions are coherent (moral) with the ethical system (values). For example, is the death penalty consistent with the value of the dignity of humanity? It depends on the interpretation of the ethical system.
I understand (to the degree that I can) the separation of church and state. But ethics (values) and morality (action) is not divisible by some administrative demarcation. In this sense - politics is the logical manifestation of differing sets of actions (death penality, immigration, etc), and no separation of morality and politics is available. The confusion and frustration we experience is a result of our attempt to, artificially, separate morality from politics.
We can, within a democracy, live morally within an ethical system (Christian ethics, for example) that is not specifically aligned with other ethical systems within the same society (Ego ethics, for example). However, these systems will encounter each other in society, and the resultant debate as to what is moral will, indeed, be politics.
While we derive our personal systems of ethics from various locations (Church, Nature, etc) our actions related to those values are always social, and social actions always contain the element of Polis, hence politics.
Therefore, abortion, immigration, death penality, war, you name it - they are at once, and always, issues of Ethics, Morality and Politics, inseparable. In this sense, in my humble opinion, to say someone is turning a moral issue into a political issue is an empty statement - as every issue inherently carries the qualities of ethics, morality and politics with it - and to suggest otherwise is to apply a rhetorical debate tool that obscures the issue itself.


Scott Scofield

Preachrboy said...

I suppose my working definition for the above is that moral=where scripture speaks, and political=where scripture is silent.

I also suppose the radio personality had different defintions than you or I.

My concern is especially in deciding when to speak as a pastor, and when to shut up.