People often ask me how you know right from wrong. Personally, I think this is one of the most important questions of all humanity. It spans generations, philosophies, religions, and yet the answer is often illusive because of the relative nature of the problem. In other words, what is right for me is not always right for you and vice versa. We have seen this in many of our recent wars where people fought to bring a utopian reality to life.
Hitler’s motivations aside, the German people signed on because they felt that they could create a better community by following the tenets that were laid before them. This means that if you went up to the average German and asked if they were doing the right thing, they would have answered “of course.” That is for those who knew better and were able to apply the Pauline formula, recognizing what is right from wrong and being able to find the strength to stand up for what is right.
The Pauline formula for knowing right from wrong is simple and based in love, the litmus test being found in the question, “does this build up the body in Christ?” This means that for Paul the answer for finding what is right in any situation is to ask how this does or does not build people up. Now the reality is that this often does not make it any easier; in fact, just being put in the position of having to discern impact can make it innumerably more difficult. So there is another tool for discernment, and that is Love.
We all know the golden rule, “do to your neighbor as you do to yourself.” But often we put parameters on that; I will love my neighbor if . . .” The problem is that once room is made for a qualifier, Love is no longer shown because the action is not about love; it is about our own comfort. This was ultimately the Nazi problem; they loved their neighbor, that is, as long as their skin, thoughts and actions were deemed appropriate. We know that this is not love. We also know that while this is an extreme in the Nazi example, we see this all the time when social service groups make their way into a community and neighbors fight to keep it out. There is a name for that NIMBY (not in my back yard). Sadly, this happens all throughout our country today.
In San Jose, we are at the point of a real crisis. We have made decisions and put things into motion that were the right thing to promote wealth and money in our community. But in so doing we have not done the right thing to build up the community since many who work here cannot live within our borders, and those who try are barely making it. To give you an idea of our homeless situation, a friend sent me an article from London, England concerning the Hotel 22 (the VTA bus route 22 which is the only 24hr route and is used by homeless as a warm and safe respite) that runs in front of the church. Let me bring this home; our homeless problem in San Jose is talked about in Europe the same way we used to talk about the famines in Sub-Saharan Africa, the irony being that unlike Africa we have every tool to fix the problem at hand, but we make the choices not to use them, often because those who have the means choose to back a system that incentivizes the wealthy and does not allow for those who do not have the means access where it is needed.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen