I don’t remember too much talk about the word “ethics” in my church when I was a young guy in the 80s, even though the more studious of us spent an entire semester studying a book on how Christians ought to live! (I won’t give away the title, but the subtitle might give you a clue, “Aspects of Biblical Ethics”.)
While it is difficult to say how much those months of study shaped my thinking, I do think, that as I look back on my experience in a mainstream Baptist church, the culture that shaped me was one that encouraged me to think of “ethics” as defined by a fairly narrow range of behaviours. For example, don’t tell lies, maintain sexual purity, and be a good neighbour (and of course, tell people about Jesus). I could count on maybe two fingers, the number of conversations we had about how much litter I produced or how to think about the distribution of wealth in my world. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 2000s when I finally read Ron Sider’s, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, that my idea of what it means to be an “ethical” Christian began to be challenged.
So, what were the unintended consequences of my thinking about the “Christian life” in primarily individualistic terms? (I’m a sinner, Christ died to set me free from the power of sin, I’m saved by His grace because I believe in Him, now I live to tell others about Him and live “ethically” while waiting for His return.)
Sadly, I could give you too many examples of my ignoring the signs around me of a much bigger picture of Christ’s kingdom which challenged many of my habits and comforts, because I believed myself already to be living an “ethical” Christian life.
More recently, I was challenged again when talking with someone about the word “ethical” in the context of Baptist World Aid’s Ethical Fashion Guide. While the content of the conversation isn’t important here, it did cause me to reflect on my personal efforts to live ethically.
Living in a global economy I cannot escape the fact that my lifestyle does impact the lives of others, particularly the lives of those who produce the goods I consume. As Andrew Cameron says in his book on Christian ethics, A Joined-Up Life, it’s simply not enough for me to say, “Am I living ethically?” I should be asking, “How am I responding to Jesus Christ?”
And knowing that it is in answer to Jesus, the impact of what it means to be an ethical Christian – for me – comes in much more powerful terms.
So, when someone asks me to think about Christian ethics now, some 35 years after my initial studies, I hope my thinking and practice align a little more closely to how Jesus would want me to live… right down to behaviours like my consumption choices.
And that’s why I’m grateful for tools like the 2019 Ethical Fashion Guide, which help me to make choices that are motivated by my desire to love vulnerable people as God calls me to.