Moral Courage

Methodist, Albert Outler, Coined Term "Wesleyan Quadrilateral"

This is a re-blog of my very first blog post ever from 2008! I have edited it a tiny bit.

Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change. - Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966. (Source: Wikiquote )

What are our sources of moral courage? I can tell you that I find moral outrage easy, but where does moral courage come from? Relying on my Methodist heritage, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral would have us examine scripture, tradition, reason, and experience in making deliberations. What does this tell me?

What does scripture say?

In Hebrew Scriptures and in Christian Scriptures, we are taught to care for the alien, orphan, widow, and poor among us. In the story of the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), we see a Jesus that stands between the accusers and the marginalized. This is what Christians are called to do. Take action in the face of injustice and stop pain from happening. Jesus teaches us repeatedly that we are to extend our hands to the hungry, the poor, the marginalized, and those outside of authority. This continues from the Jewish traditions. In Hebrew Scripture, we are told in Micah 6:8 that we are to “do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God (NRSV). These teachings can be encapsulated in the single commandment “love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14). Leviticus 19:34 tells us that our neighbor is the alien among us. Christ tells us that our neighbor is people outside of the power structure that he ministers too—the bleeding woman, the blind, the demon-possessed, or the widow. Those are the neighbors Jesus stands with.

What does tradition say?

In the Methodist tradition, John Wesley spoke out against many issues facing his generation. This included human rights, slavery, prison reform, labor rights, and education reform. Methodists also have the Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions to guide thoughts and deliberations in our present day. Wesley emphasized shaping public policies that would ensure equal and fair education for all children.

What does experience say?

It is very difficult to quantify experience across the board, but if I just examine one system, the education system, we know, through social sciences and the statistics they bring us, that poverty is the single most important factor in education. Poverty riddled areas simply do not have access to a great education system. And unfortunately, for many minority ethnicities in the U.S., poverty riddled areas are disproportionately filled with them. Why would that be? A good source for thought is this YouTube video from Tim Wise--

What does reason say?

Is it reasonable to expect there to be poverty in the world? Is it reasonable to expect there to be violence in the world? Is it reasonable that we hurt each other by action and inaction? I would say no. Jesus does say that the poor will always be with us (Matt 26:11), but that is after he has said that the world will be judged by its treatment of the poor, the hurting, and the hopeless (Matt 25:31-46). Why would Jesus say this bit about the poor being with us always? Perhaps he knew that the entirety of believers would not follow his command to visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry, and to clothe the naked. What would it look like if all of our faith communities fought against poverty by directly participating in feeding, clothing, and visiting? That is why it is unreasonable--we hurt each other by our actions and inactions because we are not doing the simple things that Jesus told us. It is unreasonable. Reasonably, we know that if we had a global will, hunger would be eradicated. God would be so pleased, I believe, to see all children fed.

And last, with these sources of moral courage available to us, what do we do with it? Issues in the world today are so complex and systems are so vast that it seems a hopeless exercise. We must remember that we are not called to fix the whole world, but we are called to be faithful. Be faithful and to keep moving forward one step at a time. Maybe even one meal at a time.

(c) 2013 post, Terri Stewart, all rights reserved

5 Comments

  • Terri, this is a very, very fine piece. We should share it on “Bardo” as well. Ideally – if you have time – perhaps include something under “What does experience say?” that acknowledges this issue as world wide, since our readership is not limited to the U.S., but if not time, it’s okay. You might want to delete this comment afeter you read. — Really, really fine piece and important question. Bravo! 🙂

    • I thought about it! But then I was wondering if it was too focused on one tradition. But with your OK, I am happy to put it over there.

      I am home today with my teenager so doing lots of blog work this morning, as a matter of fact!

      • I think speaking from our traditions is okay. (Open to debate on this.) My diea and one reason for starting “Bardo” was to show how differences in “story” and “language” do not mean that we are different in our core values and ideals. Goes toward peace and understanding – in a small way maybe – but it’s one of those things we can do.

        I miss those days at home with the young. 🙂 Enjoy.

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