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On the Corner

Values imposition

by Robert Docter –

We’re in the values education business. Our goal is to teach people to live God’s way as revealed in the life of Jesus—the Christ. If we live God’s way—
He brings gifts into our lives much the same way that fruit appears in the orchard—
things like affection for others,
exuberance about life,
serenity.
We develop a willingness to stick with things,
a sense of compassion in the heart,
a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.
We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,
not needing to force our way in life,
able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.

Galatians 5:22-24, The Message

I like the line that says “If we live God’s way he brings gifts to our lives much the same way fruit appears in the orchard.” That means we model positive interpersonal values. When we do, we find people feeling attracted to us. When we chastise, ridicule, judge worth, or condemn people for their behavior, we turn them away from finding a better way. But when we rely on “the better angels of our nature” they will find what we have desirable.

It is not possible to impose values. People will accept a value if it satisfies a basic need—like survival, safety, belonging or achievement. Fear does not work in religious persuasion. We can’t scare people into heaven any more than we can scare people into sobriety. They will move toward that which attracts them

The term imposition describes an act by an authority figure to influence the actions of an individual judged as needing a new direction.

Some Christians having found a measure of peace in discovering a new way of life, begin to be increasingly aware of the misguided and inappropriate behavior of some people around them. They condemn them as sinners, find them outside the will of God, and seek to impose their belief system on them. The people refuse, and the intervener responds by seeking punishment of them. It seems to me that he has left Jesus out of the equation and has, therefore, reached an answer contrary to the teaching of Christ

This hyperbole simplifies a case rather heavily. Nevertheless, many Christians—I think many of us who call ourselves “evangelicals”—are prone to believe that we are “right” and others whose actions do not share our particular rules of conduct are not only “wrong,” but sinners. If we engage in this process we are required to exercise considerable judgmentalism.

I’ll never forget my reaction in seeing for the first time a Catholic priest outside his church with a cigarette dangling from his lips. I was shocked. I was taught in my Army Sunday School that smoking was wrong—sinful and was grease for a fast slide into hell. This belief system was imposed.

Developmentally, it was not a bad idea. I was very young. Until we’re preadolescents—eleven or twelve, we need very precise rules of conduct to keep us safe. For this age group the good second grade teacher doesn’t say, “Walk and play in a safe manner”—a generalization—instead, the rule for these seven year olds would state “Do not run on the playground.—Do not run in the hallways—Do not throw rocks (etc.) As we internalized these rules as young children, we began to form our own generalizations that allowed us to expand the rule to non-specific behaviors.

Since then, I have maintained my almost zealous commitment to my personal rule of going through life without ever taking a puff on that filthy weed. In my maturity, however, I have established a more honest rationale for that decision.

Smoking is not a sin. It’s stupid. I choose to avoid as much stupidity as possible

Values can be taught through approach or avoidance strategies. The difference relates to the motivation selected—why someone would want to or not want to engage in some behavior. Approach communicates the advantages of certain types of behavior—the rationale for choosing it. It allows for freedom, and places responsibility directly on the individual. It reveals to the person how they might best “get along” in a group of individuals.

Avoidance preaches the disadvantages and harms of a particular behavior choice. It relies heavily on implied punishment. It fails unless it can be reframed as movement toward a more desirable goal. When being told what to avoid, the individual begins to feel attraction toward that which is prohibited. Some things to avoid are unsafe and harmful to us. We have created laws, ordinances, rules, statutes and regulations to enforce obedience to laws designed to teach us what not to do. Enforced by authority, they become the customary pattern of behavior for a significant portion of a population within a given culture. The authorities establish a rigorous legal system for the resolution of disputes between individuals and the state. This system punishes those who fail to obey the law.

Punishment fails as a method for changing behavior except when the threat of punishment is present.

I pray Army corps will become an orchard where soldiers will bear fruit like love, joy, peace patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. I pray we will avoid judgmentalism or labeling. The goal is not to make people exactly like us, but to live our own lives in a manner that bears fruit.

We’re in the values education business. Our goal is to teach people to live God’s way as revealed in the life of Jesus—the Christ. If we live God’s way—
He brings gifts into our lives much the same way that fruit appears in the orchard—
things like affection for others,
exuberance about life,
serenity.
We develop a willingness to stick with things,
a sense of compassion in the heart,
a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.
We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,
not needing to force our way in life,
able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.

Galatians 5:22-24, The Message

I like the line that says “If we live God’s way he brings gifts to our lives much the same way fruit appears in the orchard.” That means we model positive interpersonal values. When we do, we find people feeling attracted to us. When we chastise, ridicule, judge worth, or condemn people for their behavior, we turn them away from finding a better way. But when we rely on “the better angels of our nature” they will find what we have desirable.

It is not possible to impose values. People will accept a value if it satisfies a basic need—like survival, safety, belonging or achievement. Fear does not work in religious persuasion. We can’t scare people into heaven any more than we can scare people into sobriety. They will move toward that which attracts them

The term imposition describes an act by an authority figure to influence the actions of an individual judged as needing a new direction.

Some Christians having found a measure of peace in discovering a new way of life, begin to be increasingly aware of the misguided and inappropriate behavior of some people around them. They condemn them as sinners, find them outside the will of God, and seek to impose their belief system on them. The people refuse, and the intervener responds by seeking punishment of them. It seems to me that he has left Jesus out of the equation and has, therefore, reached an answer contrary to the teaching of Christ

This hyperbole simplifies a case rather heavily. Nevertheless, many Christians—I think many of us who call ourselves “evangelicals”—are prone to believe that we are “right” and others whose actions do not share our particular rules of conduct are not only “wrong,” but sinners. If we engage in this process we are required to exercise considerable judgmentalism.

I’ll never forget my reaction in seeing for the first time a Catholic priest outside his church with a cigarette dangling from his lips. I was shocked. I was taught in my Army Sunday School that smoking was wrong—sinful and was grease for a fast slide into hell. This belief system was imposed.

Developmentally, it was not a bad idea. I was very young. Until we’re preadolescents—eleven or twelve, we need very precise rules of conduct to keep us safe. For this age group the good second grade teacher doesn’t say, “Walk and play in a safe manner”—a generalization—instead, the rule for these seven year olds would state “Do not run on the playground.—Do not run in the hallways—Do not throw rocks (etc.) As we internalized these rules as young children, we began to form our own generalizations that allowed us to expand the rule to non-specific behaviors.

Since then, I have maintained my almost zealous commitment to my personal rule of going through life without ever taking a puff on that filthy weed. In my maturity, however, I have established a more honest rationale for that decision.

Smoking is not a sin. It’s stupid. I choose to avoid as much stupidity as possible

Values can be taught through approach or avoidance strategies. The difference relates to the motivation selected—why someone would want to or not want to engage in some behavior. Approach communicates the advantages of certain types of behavior—the rationale for choosing it. It allows for freedom, and places responsibility directly on the individual. It reveals to the person how they might best “get along” in a group of individuals.

Avoidance preaches the disadvantages and harms of a particular behavior choice. It relies heavily on implied punishment. It fails unless it can be reframed as movement toward a more desirable goal. When being told what to avoid, the individual begins to feel attraction toward that which is prohibited. Some things to avoid are unsafe and harmful to us. We have created laws, ordinances, rules, statutes and regulations to enforce obedience to laws designed to teach us what not to do. Enforced by authority, they become the customary pattern of behavior for a significant portion of a population within a given culture. The authorities establish a rigorous legal system for the resolution of disputes between individuals and the state. This system punishes those who fail to obey the law.

Punishment fails as a method for changing behavior except when the threat of punishment is present.

I pray Army corps will become an orchard where soldiers will bear fruit like love, joy, peace patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. I pray we will avoid judgmentalism or labeling. The goal is not to make people exactly like us, but to live our own lives in a manner that bears fruit.


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