Election 2016: The New Moral Dilemma

Executive Summary: The arguments between citizens regarding the presidential election result from differing levels of moral development. If enough people recognize this, experience a paradigm shift, and move forward, then real change might be possible…even in this election.

This post is a bit of a departure from the main purpose of this site, but with all that is happening in regard to the election and the plethora of opinions about it that have likely been vomited all over your newsfeed, I thought it might be wise to consider some of the differing viewpoints and their likely source. OK, that sounds all well and good, but here’s the real reason I’m writing. I’m perplexed. I keep seeing people whose viewpoints I normally value saying things that just seem outrageous, not only to me, but to others as well. So, like a good academic, I started to wonder why that is happening, and I think I may have stumbled onto the answer.

Different people have different viewpoints on the election based on their level of moral reasoning.

Groundbreaking, I know. Hear me out.

Ask any college student who has taken a Human Growth and Development course about moral development, and they are pretty quickly  come up with the name Lawrence Kohlberg (at least I hope it’s quick if they were in my class). Kohlberg, by presenting moral dilemmas to students and then asking questions and analyzing their answers, came up with a series of 3 levels of moral development. Each level is divided into 2 stages giving us 6 total stages. Of all the dilemmas Kohlberg used, the most famous is called the Heinz dilemma.

To steal or not to steal: That’s not the only question. Kohlberg would ask questions to determine why the student made the decision they did. Based on that information, Kohlberg established his levels of development: Preconventional, Conventional, and Postconventional. The stages are summarized below.

Preconventional – A basis in law and order

In stage 1, people respond based on the concepts of fear of punishment. In other words, Might Makes Right. If I’m going to be punished, then it’s wrong and shouldn’t be done. Stage 2 involves satisfying self and others. In other words, what is right involves equal exchange: Quid Pro Quo. Bottom line: It’s all about the law, which is the lowest form of ethics. So for Heinz, he shouldn’t steal the drug, because stealing is wrong.

Conventional – Societal foundations

Where preconventional reasoning focuses on self, conventional reasoning accounts for societal views. Stage 3 starts with the cronyism side of society and says it’s all about loyalty. Stage 4 has moral judgments based on the current social order. Heinz should steal the drug, but he should go to jail because that is the way we do things around here. In fact, he should go willingly because he knows it was wrong.

Postconventional – It’s the principle of the thing

The postconventional thinker comes from the principle perspective. At stage 5, there is a recognition that the law is based on certain principles and values and that those principles and values are bigger than the law. In other words, while stealing the drug is wrong, Big Pharma is more wrong for price gouging on their med. The individual at stage 6 has come to the place where moral judgments are based on universal human rights. According to Kohlberg, most people don’t get to this last stage. It’s reserved for Gandhi and Mother Teresa.

Now, there are some extras that go with these stages. For example, people don’t usually go backwards. It’s forward only, with stage 6 being the hard-to-reach target. Also, people don’t usually skip stages, and they might pause at any one of them for a lifetime.

Follow all that? OK, then process this moral dilemma with me for a moment.

A country has two candidates running for President. The first candidate is a morally reprehensible person who has employed bigoted remarks calling the other candidates constituency a ‘basket of deplorables,’ has been involved in numerous scandals over the years (Whitewater), suppressed her husband’s sexual assault victims from telling the truth, defended at least one rapist by demeaning a child victim, cost the lives of her country’s soldiers through callous disregard, is likely to pass legislation that will further allow the deaths of millions of unborn babies, and is a narcissistic bully who runs other people down to make herself look better.

Her opponent has made racist and bigoted remarks about entire people groups, is at least part owner of casinos and strip clubs, has bragged about sexually assaulting women using incredibly vulgar language to do so, has leveraged his opponent’s spouse’s sexual assault victims for his own gain, has minimal plans and platform only describing his ideas as “the best” and “the very best” and his opponent’s achievements as “disasters”, and is a narcissistic bully who runs other people down to make himself look better.

Who should you vote for?

Still with me? Good. Let’s see if we can break down the potential responses to how to vote in a similar manner to the Heinz dilemma.

Preconventional – Well, _____ hasn’t been punished, so ______ didn’t do anything wrong! Hooray! I’m voting Trump/Clinton!

This is the argument of the HRC or Trump fan. These folks see nothing morally wrong with their own candidate and everything wrong with their opponent. I would argue that this is the highest moral level that a fan of either of them can be because Trump and HRC themselves are preconventional. You cannot be at a more advanced stage of moral development and feel comfortable voting for either of these two candidates. By the way, third party candidates are totally out of the picture at this point because that’s just not how we do things around here Buster! We are a two party system and that’s that!

Conventional – Well, I don’t really like either of them, but I have to vote for the lesser of two evils. I don’t agree with their values, but I am for ______’s platform and against ______’s platform. So I’m going to vote Trump/Clinton!

At this level of development, there is an understanding that both candidates are morally problematic, but a desire to “do the right thing” allows an individual to compromise their own ethics to vote for someone they don’t really like. And make no mistake, they have to find justification. They can’t go backward. They can’t slip back into a belief that they are great because they now know better. So they come up with some grand reasoning like, “Well, if she gets elected SHE’LL RUIN THE CONSTITUTION AND THE SUPREME COURT!!!”  And let’s not forget, third party candidates are once again out at this level because “A vote for a third party is just a vote for (insert opponent’s name here)!” So not able to go backward, but not ready to move forward, conventional folks are just stuck in the middle and pretty easily angered at everyone else.

Postconventional – I have to abstain or vote for a third party candidate because voting for someone who is morally reprehensible is in-and-of-itself morally reprehensible.

Here’s where a whole lot of folks are this time around. This is the place a person arrives when they make the connection that both candidates are absolutely terrible and that they need to vote their conscience regardless of the consequences. It is this deep divide between the conventional folks and the postconventional folks that is causing most of the arguments that result in either entirely too much time on social media, or leaving social media until mid-November or later. Part of this argument happens because, as I said, people don’t slide backward in development. It also happens because conventional folks can’t see things from a postconventional perspective. They just aren’t there yet. If intelligence is a factor, as Kohlberg suggested (1984), then some might not be able to get there (This obviously isn’t universal. There are plenty of smart immoral people around). Unfortunately, it is also the reason that a third party candidate is not likely to win. The only people willing to go there are the people who see the false dichotomy of the broken system. They also happen to be the smallest group.

In all honesty, that might be OK with most of the postconventional folks. Because I believe many recognize that whichever direction this election goes, it’s going to leave a larger number of people unhappy than ever before, and that might springboard the nation to move forward in their reasoning. Specifically, I’m starting to see what looks like a generation gap in how the traditional parties are viewed. I think that is what led to so much support for Trump and Bernie Sanders in the first place. Clearly, some women are seeing it. Maybe others will start to recognize it too and the traditional 2 party system will be broken in favor of something new. It might happen after the election, which in the grand scheme of things is OK. Sometimes a thing has to be completely broken to recognize that it needs fixing. But, maybe it could even happen as soon as election time. Either way, as more people begin to recognize the problem, and as more idealistic young folks gain the opportunity to vote, it might just shake things up. It might just break the system, and once the system breaks, it leads to one inevitable result.


What is Identity in Christ? A Christian Psychology Perspective.

Last night, during the coverage of the Men’s 10m Synchronized Diving event, Team USA’s David Boudia and Steele Johnson took the Silver Medal, but it was their profession of faith that really made a splash.

The notion of “Identity in Christ” is rooted in Scripture and is the foundation of how faith develops in each of us. Given that this notion ties together the psychological term “identity” and the foundation of Christianity, “Christ” I want to explain the connection here, as it is an important one.

We are in Christ Jesus

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, as he discusses a controversy where the people there have been arguing about who they should follow (Paul or Apollos or Peter (Cephas)), he writes to them these words.

And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boast, boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:30-31 (ESV, emphasis added)

Here we find Paul making a clear statement. We belong to Christ. Our foundation, our identity, should be tied to him and him alone. Now, bear in mind, this whole argument focuses on gaining unity. Paul’s words back in verse 10 reveal that his purpose is that there would be no division among God’s people. Coincidentally, this unity is the same thing Jesus prayed that we, His followers, would achieve in John 17, but that will be a separate post later on.

In this passage, Paul clarifies that the pathway to this unity, this oneness is that we must focus first on being in Christ. The root notion is that our identity, the crux of who we are, is founded upon belonging to and believing in Jesus. When we as individuals root ourselves in Him, we arrive at the ability to achieve the kind of unity Paul is suggesting here.

Now, just to clarify, identity refers to the picture someone has of who they are. Herein lies the individual’s beliefs about oneself and one’s values. Identity is the core from which personality flows. Where identity is rooted in view of self, or self-image, personality is the summation of the thoughts, feelings, and actions that flow out from that core. When personality lines up with identity, then there is an integration within our character, which we call integrity.

For the person who believes that Jesus Christ is the One and Only Son of God, that He lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead on the third day, (in short, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God), then that identity can be tied to Christ. This is the root of faith, identity in Christ. It is where salvation comes from and what enables unity, and it comes through surrender.

We must align our spirit with His Spirit

Surrender. There’s a word that’s typically not a fan favorite. And yet, it is the necessary ingredient to an identity with Christ. It starts in a recognition that there is one greater than us and that we must surrender to Him. This is what Paul is talking about in the second chapter of his letter. Paul explains to the Corinthians that if we are to achieve true unity in Christ, it must start with the voluntary aligning of our spirit with God’s spirit (vv. 2:6-16). This voluntary alignment may also be thought of as a surrender of the will. In effect, it is an individual saying, “I am giving up the right to my identity that I may first be identified as Yours, Jesus.” In doing so, an individual declares faith: that one believes that Jesus is who He says He is and that He did and does what He said. When we give up ourselves, or as Jesus worded it, “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23),” we actively choose to follow Him.

This volitional act, this willful surrender is the necessary prerequisite to gaining identity in Christ. It is the step that allows one to easily point away from self and to the God of the universe for the successes we find, even Olympic ones. It is also where Paul sums up this portion of his letter to the Corinthians.

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [Peter] or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 (ESV)

Paul reiterates that boasting should be in Christ because we ultimately owe all to Him. Now, to point out what Paul says here, everything is ours. Whether we choose to like Paul, Apollos, or Peter or the world the most, whether we focus on life or death or the present or the future, all are ours to choose, but we must first choose Christ. Our identity, and the greatest opportunity for unity starts and ends with Him.

This is what Identity in Christ is all about. This is where faith begins.

How Does Faith Mature?

Well, apparently, keeping up a weekly blog is a bit challenging during the first faithsemester of undergraduate teaching. Nonetheless, if the previous two blog entries sought to determine what faith is and then more specifically what mature faith is then the logical next question is, “Ok, then how did it change?” This post seeks to consider the how and the what of growth in faith, and this is the place where Scripture becomes somewhat less specific.

The short answer to how faith matures is that we as Christians become more like Christ. In the decisions we make, the actions we take, and the thoughts we think, the beliefs we believe grow and develop into a deeper faith in Christ as Savior.

That still doesn’t answer how it happens.

Continue reading

What is Mature Faith?

Last post sought to answer the question (or at least initiate discussion) regarding what faith is. If indeed, as was established in the previous post, faith is characterized by heartfelt belief and exemplified in Christ-centered action, then mature faith must be an outflow from that starting place.

Scripture gives some hints regarding what a mature faith looks like. As mentioned in the last post, if one examines the heroes of faith from Hebrews 11, it isn’t hard to see that each example reveals faith lived out in active obedience to God’s calling. Beyond that, Peter tells us that we are to be adding to our faith.

5For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

2 Peter 1:5-9 (ESV)

Clearly, coming to a recognition of Jesus Christ as having lived, died, resurrected, appeared, and ascended is essential to faith, but it is only the beginning of faith. It is the singular belief from which all other faith beliefs and actions spring. According to Peter, we are to be adding to our faith in our character, our knowledge, our self-controlled actions and attitudes, and ultimately in the way we relate to others. In short, if faith is characterized by heartfelt belief and exemplified in Christ-centered action, then mature faith must be characterized by heartfelt belief and exemplified in Christ-centered action thoroughly and consistently in the daily life of the believer, regardless of circumstance. Integrity and uniformity are present in the responses of the mature believer in good times and bad. Now, for the sake of clarity, notice I did not say perfectly. We may grow far in our faith, and perfection may be the target we are aiming for, but that perfection is not achievable this side of heaven. In other words, you ain’t Jesus, and neither am I.

To be sure, faith is something that is meant to develop over time: Indeed, it should be further developing over the course of the rest of life on Earth (or as I like to refer to it, when we finally graduate from Sunday School). While Scripture is clear that faith is essential, and that maturing faith is important, there are no clear descriptions regarding exactly what the process is that leads to mature faith. So, in our next blogpost, we will turn our attention more thoroughly toward how faith matures and grows.

What is Faith?

It seems to me that if one is going to attempt to think through a good theory of faith development, then the necessary starting place is answering the question, “What is faith?” I mean, it does seem prudent to determine exactly what it is that’s developing if we’re going to talk about how it develops, right? So, What is faith?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

Done. See you for the blogpost next week, right? Maybe not exactly.

Faith, as it happens, is a central tenet of Scripture. In fact, a scan reveals that pisteuo (the Greek word for faith) and its cognates (variations of the word in various forms like verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc…) appear in 612 places in the New Testament. In other words, it seems to be an important concept that God wants us to get. It is noteworthy that ‘faith’ is not the only translation of pisteuo. In some places, pisteuo is translated ‘believe’. If it’s the noun form, pistis, it is translated as ‘faith’ or ‘belief” depending on the context. So for example, when we read James 2:19, “Even the demons believe and shudder,” (emphasis added) that is alternatively, “Even the demons faith and shudder.”

More than that, Scripture gives us clues as to just how important faith should be to us. According to God’s Word:

  • We are justified by faith. (Romans 5:1)
  • Faith’s goal is salvation of souls. (1 Peter 1:9)
  • Faith is an absolute must have to be pleasing to God. (Hebrews 11:6)
  • Jesus begins and completes it in us. (Hebrews 12:2)
  • Faith comes only as God’s gift to humanity. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • There is an expectation that it leads to action. (James 2; Ephesians 2:10)
  • But a foundational understanding that actions don’t save. Only faith does. (Romans 3-4).

And, as if that wasn’t enough, Hebrews 11 provides example after example demonstrating the tie between faith and action.

Time and time again, we are shown the paramount importance of faith. Faith is a necessity. Beyond that, Scripture makes clear that we are to live out our faith. In other words, if we possess faith that is truly faith, then our belief will be indicated in our actions. Bystanders should be able to see our faith. One place this is very clear is in Christ’s words in John 3:36.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36 (ESV)

Interestingly, different versions of the Bible deal with the word “obey” in different ways. NIV uses “reject,”  but KJV and HCSB use “believe”. It’s as though Jesus is indicating, “Look, belief is all it takes. If you believe in Me, you have eternal life; but you need to understand that true belief will be measured in obedience. If you aren’t concerned with obeying me, then you clearly don’t know me, and if you don’t know me, then we can’t really call what you’re doing ‘belief’ now can we?” In short, the biblical idea of faith indicates trust, and trust is built in the context of relationship.

In other words, Faith must be characterized by heartfelt belief and exemplified in Christ centered action. There must be a congruency between beliefs and lifestyle, which should naturally flow from a vibrant and growing relationship with Christ. The question we turn to next must be, “Ok, if that’s faith, then what does Scripture say about how faith grows?

Birthing a New Theory

Have you ever thought to yourself, “How mature is my faith?”The Road Less Traveled

Yeah, me either.

It’s not the question we usually ask ourselves. Often, when we consider how far we’ve traveled down the road of sanctification, “How mature is my faith?” is not the question that comes to mind. However, the question posed in research often moves in this direction.

As I ran painstakingly through my doctoral research, I spent a lot of time studying faith development and working toward a deeper understanding of faith maturity. I read about faith maturity looking at two primary directions. First, I looked at what it means to have mature faith, which led to the questions, What is faith? and What is mature faith? Then, I investigated faith development in order to answer the question How do we get there?

What is faith?

Grabbing a deeper understanding of faith, can only start with the Bible. If we are truly working toward attainment of a deeper understanding of Protestant faith, that Scripture is the place we must begin. In the New Testament, the word commonly translated faith is the Greek word pistis (n) or pisteuo (v). Across Scripture, faith is described across a range from basic belief to being synonymous with obedience. Fleshing this notion out more thoroughly is a necessity for growing in our understanding of faith development.

What is mature faith?

Here, some deeper investigation into God’s Word is necessary. There is no place in Scripture where faith development or mature faith is described per se. Nonetheless, the notions of adding to our faith, developing endurance/perseverance/steadfastness is described in varying levels. Certainly examples are evident that Jesus expected that the longer He was with the apostles, the more He relayed the expectation that their trust in Him was expected. Illustrating these points helps provide a biblical view of faith and how it develops into a more mature faith over time.

How do we get there?

For decades, the name James Fowler has been synonymous with faith development, although not he alone. M. Scott Peck and others developed their own perspectives on the growth of faith. While these theories have been widely held for quite some time, they are not without their drawbacks. One commonality between the theories is that faith develops in a stage-based manner, unidirectionally, across lifespan. Additionally, most measures of faith development look only at beliefs and actions which presents a linear understanding of faith that may be oversimplified to present a good understanding of an individual’s faith location at a given time.

Why something new?

As I did my research, I recognized a few challenges in the previous conceptions of mature faith. For one thing, in my work with people, I regularly encountered some who moved back and forth in their faith. Standard, stage-by-stage forward progression isn’t the case as often as one might think. Similarly, as I considered measures of mature faith investigating only faith and action, I recognized potential shortcomings in determining where someone might actually be in their faith given the ebb and flow of life that happens to us all. Not only that, but coming back to my original question, I started to wonder whether or not How mature is my faith? is the right question at all.

These thoughts and questions combined to create a searching desire in me to discern an answer, and I believe I may have found one. That, is how my theory was born. The question I leave you with at this point is this.

What question has been burning in the back of your mind that you should be spending more time investigating?