Jeremiah Ethics 1: Moral Irritation

Living moral truth often means going against the status quo. It means “standing up for the right though the heavens fall” (White, 1903, Education, p. 57).

It is evident when a person seeks sexual purity or promotes heterosexual marriage when neither our valued. It happens when people love their enemies when friends or emotions tell them to hate. It happens when people skimp and save to give money to others instead of spend it all on themselves. It is figuring out ways to defend the weak and fight racism when both sides drown in indifference or hate.

Jeremiah knew about standing up standing for moral truth against the status quo. In the next 7 posts I use ideas from Jeremiah and parts of Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses to explore aspects of doing Adventist ethics in our time.

This post focuses on Jeremiah’s example to Adventists to be moral irritants against the status quo.

Jeremiah was, in the face of personal abuse, ridicule and pain, willing to speak up against his own kings, priests, prophets or judges. He was a moral irritation to them as he disagreed with the worldview, approach to issues and decision of responding to Babylon. He was especially hard on those who spoke peace and prosperity for themselves and their communities. Jeremiah was a moral conscience to the nation.

As a conscience, he was a strong prophetic voice.  As I and my co-authors Mordekai Ongo and Janet Ledesma tried to say in our piece on moral leadership of the king, priest, prophet, and judge, the prophetic leader is needed to challenge the status quo with the needs for moral change. . It can, like all forms of leadership, be perverted, but serves to keep people more sober about the moral data.

His was not a popular reality check. The economy hates tight-fisted frugality and foreboding as it chases the investors away. Jeremiah was a naysayer against the happy leaders.

Peterson contrasts the subtle difference between popular religious sentiment and moral truthfulness:

“In Jeremiah’s lifetime there was a terrific revival of religion. The reform that King Josiah launched cleaned up the country and made the truth of God known and the worship of God popular….He could have hardly failed to be pleased that Scripture was once again known and preached.

“The most popular preacher in Jerusalem during those years, though, was probably Pashur…. When you say him at the head of the flourishing religious establishment, the temple, you could not help feeling better. His enthusiasm was electric. When he stretched out his arms in blessing, everyone, from the least to the greatest, knew that they were included. Everyone love to hear him: he was positive, affirmative, confident.”

“Pashur was a national asset. He had a host of imitators, prophets and priests and teachers who specialized in finding ways to massage the national psyche” (p.84, 85).

Pashur seemed to be exactly the type of leader we want in out time. In fact, I work in a large leadership programs at Andrews University where we try to create Pashurs-positive leaders that boost morale.  Except one thing was missing.

Jeremiah highlights what that was–moral realism.

“There was one man in Jerusalem who was not impressed with Pashur. Jeremiah couldn’t stomach him. In angry exasperation Jeremiah” spoke against the peace and prosperity gospel of his day. “The task of the prophet is not to smooth things over but to make things right. The function of religion is not to make people feel good but to make them good. Love? Yes, God loves us. But his love is passionate and seeks faithful, committed love in return” (p. 86).

A leaders needs to see what things need to be corrected. They need a conscience the gets pricked when the status quo is hurting someone or oblivious to moral reality.

Yes, a person’s moral conscience can become abusive and misguided as I point out in my article on the moral conscience. The same dire consequence can occur if a group only activates a moral conscience without a kingly plan of implementation, a process to bring along the people and a way to apply the new rules to new situations. However, without a conscience, often change doesn’t get started.

Moral leadership needs to be creative in the way it deliver its “but” or “however” news, but if it never stands up or disagrees it won’t lead to good changes that are essential for the moral stability of a group.

It is hard to be that boney “moral irritant.”

Wouldn’t we say of Jeremiah: “He is just too negative. He is out of step with the great revival of our time. He is at best an Eeyore. Or at worse a crazy man. Do you think his mental illness is getting worse?.”

It is hard for me to write this. It works positivity I know a leader has to bring to a group. But, given the hindsight of history, we know Jeremiah was right—dead right. There are times that positivity has to give way to transparency and honesty and reality checks.

Are Adventist ethics willing to speak up against the status quo?

As the world gets more and more drunk—literally as well as metaphorically–someone has to speak truth to power, soberness to stupidity.

What is false optimism? How drunk are we as a nation on sports and entertainment, material possessions and alcohol, excessive work.

Why do people want to sell out on the great social institution of marriage between a man and a woman? What is happening?

It is time to call some of this moral insanity and provide a lucid ethic based on Jeremiahs pattern of speaking truth to the status quo!!!

Next time: dealing with our moral cowardice!!!

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