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—
o things like affection for others,
o exuberance about life,
o We develop a willingness to stick with things,
o a sense of compassion in the heart,
o a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.
o We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,
o not needing to force our way in life,
o able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way (Gal. 5:22-23 MSG).
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.
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. This requires considerable judgmentalism.
I’ll never forget seeing for the first time a Catholic priest outside his church with a cigarette dangling from his lips. I was shocked. I was taught at age seven or eight in my Army Sunday school that smoking was wrong, sinful and was grease for a fast slide into hell. This belief system was imposed.
As we internalize these kinds of rules as young children, we later 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 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 are mostly learned through modeling. They can also be taught either 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. Punishment fails completely as a method for changing behavior except when the threat of punishment is present.
I pray Army programs 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.