Summary: This sermon introduces this series, The Core Virtues of the Christian Life, which is based on the Fruit of the Spirit by recognizing our need for virtues that define our character as Christians.
There is a lot of talk today about core values, especially in the business world. Companies, churches, and even individuals are spending time to determine what is most valuable to them. Once these values are established, the values define the boundaries of how they do business. Churches are defining their core values so that they can focus on God’s purpose for their existence. People are defining their core values so that they have a framework out of which to make decisions.
When we think of values that define the boundaries or characterize a person’s life, I believe values are a good place to start. However, for the values to become qualities of character, they must become virtues.
There isn’t much emphasis on virtues in our society today. We are living in the wake of a movement to remove the training in virtues from our schools and places of work. While there continues to be much talk about morality, without virtues to support morality, morality in and of its self will eventually fall flat. Virtues are the qualities of character that provide the basis for morality. So, instead of defining our core values for our lives, we need to define the core virtues that will guide our behavior, our decision-making, and our relationships.
In a article titled "Teaching the Virtues", Christina Hoff Sommers, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Clark University tells this story.
Not very long ago, I published an article called "Ethics without Virtue" in which I criticized the way ethics is being taught in American colleges. I pointed out that there is an overemphasis on social policy questions, with little or no attention being paid to private morality.
I noted that students taking college ethics are debating abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, DNA research, and the ethics of transplant surgery while they learn almost nothing about private decency, honesty, personal responsibility, or honor. Topics such as hypocrisy, self-deception, cruelty or selfishness rarely came up. I argued that the current style of ethics teaching, which concentrated so much on social policy was giving students the wrong ideas about ethics. Social morality is only half of the moral life; the other half is private morality. I urged that we attend to both.
A colleague of mine did not like what I said. She told me that in her classroom she would continue to focus on issues of social injustice. She taught about women’s oppression, corruption in big business, multinational corporations and their transgressions in the Third World - that sort of thing. She said to me, "You are not going to have moral people until you have moral institutions. You will not have moral citizens until you have a moral government." She made it clear that I was wasting time and even doing harm by promoting bourgeois morality and the bourgeois virtues instead of awakening the social conscience of my students.
At the end of the semester, she came into my office carrying a stack of exams and looking very upset.
"What’s wrong?" I asked.