“Please pray for my friend. She’s having an autopsy tomorrow.”
That was the voicemail message I heard on our church’s prayer line one morning.
I will neither confirm nor deny that I laughed out loud.
I will confess to thinking, “I think it’s a little late for prayer.”
She meant to say “biopsy,” which is different. An autopsy is performed to determine a cause of death. A biopsy is performed to try to prevent a disease from causing death.
Sometimes, we don’t want to have a biopsy because we fear what we’ll find out. But if we don’t let them do the biopsy, they may end up performing an autopsy. That’s not a win.
I think we need an ethical biopsy, by which I mean a biopsy on our ethics, not a biopsy performed ethically. I fear that if we don’t conduct one, we’ll need an ethical autopsy.
An ethical biopsy will ask, “What is making our ethics sick?” An autopsy would ask, “What killed our ethics?” I hope we won’t wait until it’s too late.
How should we test our ethics?
As a Christian, I would say we evaluate them by Jesus’ ethics. What were his perspectives, attitudes and motives? How did he act on them?
Jesus focused on doing what God wanted him to do, and what God wanted him to do was to give himself away for people’s sake.
He came to serve rather than to be served. He came to empty himself rather than to build himself up.
And he told us that following him means giving ourselves up and not seeking personal greatness or power.
Sadly, some of the most visible leaders associated with Christianity seem to have sold their spiritual birthright for a bowl of political pottage.
Happily, the vast majority of Christian leaders do their best to serve as Jesus called them to do and showed them how to do.
All Christians should ask ourselves a few questions:
- Do I love the Lord with my entire being?
- Do I love my neighbors as I love myself?
- Do I put others’ needs ahead of my own?
- Do I care about and try to help the marginalized and oppressed?
- Do I practice radical love that shows itself in radical forgiveness?
- Does my experience of God’s grace and mercy cause me to treat others with grace and mercy?
If we apply those tests to our attitudes and behaviors, what will the results be?
Lots of people aren’t Christians, though. And lots of people who profess to be Christians don’t do much about it.
So, it’s not sound procedure to wait around for the United States to become a Christian nation on the assumption that it would make everything all right.
So, how can we test the ethics of our nation as a whole? It comes down to how we think about, talk about and treat other people.
Here are some questions we should all ask about our country, our leaders and ourselves:
- Do we think of all people as being as fully human as we are?
- Do we understand and remember that every individual is different and that differences are good?
- Do we try to use our words to build up and help rather than to tear down and hurt?
- Are we compassionate toward the marginalized and oppressed?
- Do we practice both love for our country and respect for other countries?
- Do we try to see the bad as well as the good in our culture and to see the good as well as the bad in other cultures?
We should ask many other questions, but those will get us started.
We need to undertake an ethical biopsy so we can get rid of harmful motives, attitudes and actions and so we can develop helpful ones.
It can be a painful process, but it beats the alternative.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, On the Jericho Road, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ruffinmichael.