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Queensland Synod moderator, Rev David Baker. Photo: Ben Rogers
Queensland Synod Moderator, Rev David Baker. Photo: Ben Rogers

Back to basics with the Virtues

Not just the stuff of academic discussion papers, we are increasingly confronted in society with the need to distinguish between ethical and legal behaviour and explore the tension between ethics and law.

It is true that the space between ethical behaviour expected in our interactions and the law has narrowed but the law has extended its authority into more and more places of social interaction. That’s a very problematic place to be. On the one hand, it’s good that behaviour that’s not in good faith is being constrained, but on the other hand it’s problematic that the often blunt and heavy handed instrument of the law has to be called into such use.

I’m also thinking of the way our organisations are constructing themselves. We’re in a world of mission statements, strategic planning processes, risk management committees, and organisational value statements. The Uniting Church in Queensland is in this space, and these are important organisational tools that help shape our life; they build a common sense
of purpose.

Important and vital work. But for some time I’ve also been struggling with a sense of deficit and inadequacy in all this, a feeling that all these processes are about externalities, about processes and procedures to manage behaviours in the public domain. When failures occur, there’s the issue of personal character that seems to be overlooked, except if someone’s done something illegal.

The question of our inner life, as people, of our personal responsibility, seems to have been subsumed.

What are the characteristics of the life of a follower of Jesus? What is the nature of my inner life that results in behaviours that do not simply meet the requirements of the law of the land, or my organisation, but transcends it, and points to the Kingdom of God?

These are matters of the heart; of belief about who I am, who the other is in relation to me, and what this world is.

I’ve been led back to contemplating the Christian Virtues—they’re so old that they’re new! Truth be told, their roots go back to the ancient Greek philosophers, but they were taken up and adapted by the early church.

They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and charity. Our Monday Midday Prayer in August was about prudence; over the next few months each monthly prayer will feature another one of the virtues. I hope they help you reflect on your life and how you live in the world.

Rev David Baker
Moderator, Queensland Synod

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