Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Tuesday, May 13, 2003


So Steve, over at ThoughtsOnline (here, if permalinks are working), says, of Bennett:
And, if he hasn't done anything wrong, then why the promise to not gamble again? He should rise up and defend his actions!

Now, to people with no knowledge of a Christian moral system, I see how Bennett's apology could look like hypocrisy.

However, anyone with even a basic grounding in Christianity should know that things that are, in and of themselves, not sinful can become sinful if they damage someone else's faith or lead that other person into something sinful.

Some Biblical support for this argument:
Romans 14:2 One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
Romans 14:15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
Romans 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
I Corinthians 8:13Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

This focuses purely on the question of eating meat -- a quite pertinent one in some areas; I think evangelical Christians in north India could be well advised to avoid the meat seen as offensive by those they wish to influence. It is the way I see the question of head-coverings for women as well -- in places where it is seen as disrespectful or sexually licentious for women to go bare-headed, the church should not require women to abandon headcoverings they feel comfortable with, and outsiders entering the society should consider whether they value their bare-headed-ness or the impression they leave on others more highly.

But the argument can be used for anything that is not per se sinful but can be spiritually/morally harmful to others. Alcohol is not banned (not in the least -- Paul advises Timothy to drink less water and more wine; Jesus' first public miracle was to change water into wine -- you can see which one he preferred!), but a minister going into a bar and having a drink might be a terrible influence on a member of his congregation struggling with alcoholism.

Gambling also seems to me to be, like alcohol, not in and of itself evil. Like alcohol, quite a number of the people who partake do so to excess and several to their eventual ruin. The excess is sinful; the ruin is the consequence; but the existence of excess does not mean that all participation is wrong, any more than junk food should be banned in California because some people can't control themselves. However, the situation changes for someone who is aware that their (moderated) actions are being seen by people who cannot control themselves in the same actions and who will be affected by the example they see set for them.

The minister can drink in his own home, or in public when he is sure that no one will be aversely affected by the example he sets. (This is not the case for things that are in all situations wrong, such as infidelity -- he's just as wrong to sleep with his secretary in his office as he is to sleep with her out on the lawn, although the latter's illegal for many more reasons. I'm making the argument purely about things that are not always wrong.)

Someone who works with people with eating disorders has a moral obligation to eat meals that set a good example for others when others can see. In your own home, you can eat whatever you want, as long as it doesn't go to abuse of your own body, which belongs not to you but to the Lord.

Similarly, a prominent moral authority in America can (if gambling is permissible in theory) gamble so long as he does not do it so publicly as to set a bad example for those with gambling problems who might look to him for moral guidance. (And, additionally, so long as he does not have a gambling problem himself; from what I hear, he gambled often, with high stakes, but did not seem to have problems controlling himself.) As long as only friends and family and people not unduly influenced by him knew what he was up to, he was up to nothing wrong. (If masses of everyone knew it, I kind of think news would have gotten out earlier.) Now that everyone knows, it is his duty to those he claims to guide to make a break and abstain from it either for ever or purely until his actions will no longer be a bad influence on people.

In short: it is not his behavior that is wrong, but just the influence it may have on others not as able to control themselves. Regretting the behavior because of its effects on others is not hypocrisy.


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