“Moralism is killing us!” The pastor bemoaned during his recent sermon (the subject of which was homosexuality – the sermon in and of itself was extremely Southern Baptist in style and content and while Biblical, it was filled with more judgement and condemnation than I thought necessary and had very little love, empathy, or compassion.)
I wasn’t certain how moralism could be bad. After all, grew up fairy tales that always ended with: “… and the moral of the story is …” Morals have always helped me to understand write from wrong, good from bad, and about consequences for my actions. So I wrote down ‘moralism’ as a reminder to look into what he might have meant.
Moralism: the practice of moralizing, especially showing a tendency to make judgements about others’ morality.
This is the main definition that appeared when I searched for the word. I could see how this kind of moralism could prove dangerous – believers constantly pointing fingers at each other like referees at a game throwing flags: “That’s sinful!” “That’s wrong!” “That’s down-right immoral!”
Moralism: the practice of achieving perfection through behavior modification. The moralist risk self-righteously looking down on unbelievers by putting their supposed morality in a comparison of theirs.
I think this is a more accurate way of looking at it when used in the context of Christianity. The moralist would see themselves as doing the right thing by pointing out other’s wrong-doing so that they could repent of their sins and the moralist would have the pride of being a key component in bringing back a wayward sister or brother. But it comes with a big list of rules – the moralist is no hypocrite. Therefore not only is he or she against the sins of others, their life is spent avoding every sort of wrong-doing. They hang their hats on John 14:15-21, saying to themselves: “I love Jesus, therefore I must keep his commands.” and “If I keep his commands, then I prove my love for Jesus.” Of course, this puts the moralist in a constant fear: “Have I kept all the commands?” “Have I sinned today?” “Have I approved of the sins of others today?” “Did I tolerate sin in my presence, where I could see it, where I could hear it, where I could perceive it?” A good comparison is that the Moralist is to the commands of the New Testament is as the Legalist is to the Law of the Old Testament.
Grace, mercy, humility, forgiveness, peace, and love are among the fruit of the Spirit for all believers. Yet a great many moralists are judgmental, condemning, arrogant, prideful, and can come across as hateful even depending on how much sin they can point out in others. I don’t think that most moralists even see it – to them, they love their brothers and sisters enough to point out each and every perceived sin while maintaining their own freedom from sin because of their obedience to Scripture in some way.
One good way to reverse the problem of Christian Moralism is to teach Scripture in context. It’s difficult to moralize a verse from a passage on false teachers with a verse from a passage on dealing with unbelievers if you realize that they cannot be combined to form one coherent idea about judgement and sinfulness. Another good way is to teach the meaning of grace – that no matter how moral we are, how righteous we are, how sinless we are, and how little sin we accept in those around us, it’ll never be enough to keep the commandments or earn us a better spot in heaven. When it comes to sins, the ones we do are no better and no worse than those of others. It’s in our nature to sin. It’s in Jesus’ nature to forgive us for our sins.