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Right or Wrong?

Author(s): Patrick Hannon

ISBN13: 9781847301291

ISBN10: 1847301290

Publisher: Veritas

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  • Dilemmas of a parent, attitudes to immigrants, choices to be made about Irelands future in Europe: these are among the themes treated in this collection of essays in moral theology, comprising theological reflections on current moral and pastoral problems. Other topics include human rights, inter-faith and inter-church dialogue, Christian values in a pluralist society, and homosexuality and the priesthood.

  • Patrick Hannon

    Patrick Hannon, a priest of the diocese of Cloyne, is an emeritus professor of moral theology at Maynooth. He holds a doctorate in Law from Cambridge and is a member of the Irish Bar. He was formerly chairman of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace. Previous publications include Moral Decision Making (2005) and Moral Theology: A Reader (2006), both published by Veritas.

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    In Right or Wrong? Essays in Moral Theology, Patrick Hannon explores a number of moral issues that are of contemporary importance; topics include the sexual abuse scandals in the Church, Sharia law and the changing cultural context of Irish society, and the relationship between law and morality. Although a collection of previously published articles, the contents of the book fit together extremely well. Hannon guides the reader through complex problems with precision and clarity, and his style of writing captures the readers interest throughout.


    Chapter 3 is particularly relevant at present. Hannon is critical of the ways in which theologians often find themselves grouped together in either one of two rather crudely constructed camps - someone is either a liberal or a conservative thinker. That classification is almost exclusively determined by ones stance on a very select number of moral matters: artificial contraception, homosexuality, abortion and divorce. As Hannon reminds us, there are risks in identifying individuals/groups in such blunt terms: "the tendency to classify in this fashion carries risks, not least the risk of laziness in analysing the state of the church and its faith today" (32). The Catholic Church finds herself in a time of unprecedented challenge at present. In light of the shame of child sexual and physical abuse, as well as increasing numbers of people leaving the Church (in the West at least), we are hearing calls for a more inclusive Church, a listening Church as well as a teaching Church.


    But listening doesnt come easy to people who have learned to tune out the voice of the other on suspicion of difference of viewpoint or to dismiss the others question (or reply) on the basis of a tag. Yet listening is a prerequisite for understanding, at this point in the life of the Church perhaps more than ever - not to say for the love to which Christians are called and profess (37).


    Chapter 4 deals with the child sexual abuse scandals in the Church. The author considers how a number of the "rules for the [abortion] debate" devised by Richard McCormick might be useful for the debates that are taking place in relation to sexual abuse. He also adds three further proposals of his own to those recommended by McCormick. There is much wisdom in what is proposed here, as well as practical ideas that could serve well the debate. Unfortunately, much of what Hannon recommends here is noticeably absent from public discussions on the matter.


    The cultural and religious identity of Ireland has changed greatly in recent years, and in Chapter 8 Hannon explores a subject that will inevitably take on increased significance on this island in the coming years. Not too long ago, very few Irish people would have been familiar with the term Sharia law. However, the religious and cultural pluralism that is now a feature of our society brings with it challenges of both a practical and theoretical nature. The background for the chapter is found in the Archbishop of Canterburys lecture to the Royal Courts of Justice in London, in which he queried whether secular law in England might accommodate some aspects of Sharia law. Throughout the chapter, Hannon discusses this question of Sharia law in an extremely accessible way, generating interest in the topic that will surely lead many to further investigations. The chapter raises important theological, political and ethical questions that the Irish Church and State will have to cope with in the coming years. As Hannon notes, "Much will depend on leadership. Participation in the dialogues must present a special challenge to the leaders of what is still the majority church" (105). That dialogue, the author reminds us, must be inclusive; inclusive not just of the different faiths in Ireland, but inclusive of secularists also (107).


    The context for Chapter 9 lies with the American elections, and how Catholics might be expected to vote when a candidate proclaims himself/herself to be pro-choice. Hannon gives a clear account of the US Bishops response to the matter. He notes how issues such as abortion, homosexuality, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia are all too often described as `religious matters. One consequence of this is that faith-identity can be easily confused with these rather select moral concerns. Also, descriptions such as pro­life are regularly applied in a very narrow and inconsistent way, (usually understood to be a condemnation of abortion). Some pro-life campaigners see no contradiction in supporting the death penalty or the war in Iraq, for example. Thus, the author argues for the need to develop a "consistent ethic of life." In addition, he is critical of the "slogan wars" that tend to follow public debates on these matters, something which does little for open and critical discussion. This is an extremely interesting chapter that give an insight into some of the complexities of the public responsibilities of Catholics in increasingly pluralistic societies.


    Chapter 10 - Aquinas, Morality and Law - provides a thorough analysis of Aquinas theory of natural law. St Thomass account is, of course, situated within his overall treatise on law, and one cannot appreciate fully what he says about natural law without consideration of its relationship to other `types of law. It may seem surprising to some that an essay on Aquinas found its way into the book, given the more contemporary feel to other chapters. But this essay is a timely reminder of the connection that ought to exist between morality and law. In light of the political and economic turbulence that Irish society has witnessed in recent times (not to mention the world more generally), we must return to an honest examination of the ways in which morality and law intersect. Aquinas himself was all too aware that, as one descends into particularity in ones law-making, one is likely to encounter increased disagreement and diversity of opinion. Hannon notes: "So in modern terms we should say that there is room for debate about the appropriateness of any particular item of lawmaking" (129).


    This book contains several thought-provoking essays. The author presents complicated ethical issues in a way that captures the imagination of the reader, and the style of writing ensures that the material is always accessible. It is a book that would be of considerable benefit to the student and teacher of moral theology, but of interest also to anyone who is concerned about the moral challenges of Irish society and the world more generally.


     - Suzanne Mulligan, Milltown Studies, No 65, Summer 2010


    The influences in childhood often return in the senior years - what one priest called so nicely, the harvest years - and I often call to mind now some of the attitudes of my elders when I was young. My aunt Nora, for example, was a very religious woman of scrupulous honesty - if she gave you a birthday card by hand she would nonetheless affix a stamp so as not to defraud the Post Office of its rightful revenue.

    One day, during the 1960s, a person from a Civil Rights organisation came to call on her, offering her a leaflet proclaiming Know Your Rights. Rights! Rights! my aunt cried. Its all Communism!

    I scoffed at her at the time, to be sure: although her reaction was perfectly in line with much of traditional Catholicism, which was highly dubious about rights, since the provenance of the concept was the rabid and anti-clerical French Revolution.


    It sometimes seems that doctrines and notions which are anathema to one generation flow seamlessly into acceptability in the next, and vice-versa: an American visiting a theatre in London recently was deeply shocked by what he beheld - an actor smoking on stage. And rights are now part and parcel of the entitlements we assume to be good, worthy and correct.

    In this accessible book, the moral theologian Father Patrick Hannon (Emeritus Professor of Moral Theology at Maynooth) discourses upon the important question of human rights - indeed it is a continuing theme in his book. He acknowledges that these human rights have become part of the Churchs thinking. John Paul II was a keen promoter of human rights, and he advanced the case for the unborn child, among other causes, under that heading.

    Hannon defines a human right as something which is due to us by virtue solely of the fact that we are human beings. It does not, as other rights do, depend on our being citizens, or on having a domicile somewhere, or on being part of any particular community.

    This is an admirable definition, and underlines the dignity of the person, which must be central to Christian thinking. But I am still baffled, sometimes, by the wide agenda of definitions which seem to apply to human rights - a sex-offender in Britain is currently suing the state for depriving him of his human rights by retaining his name on a sex offender register.


    I also feel that if there are human rights, then there ought to be correlative human responsibilities. Fr Hannon indeed alludes to the point that in former times obligations and ordinances were more emphasised, and it seems to me they should not be put aside entirely.

    A culture which consistently emphasises rights without any connection to responsibility tends to end up with a me, me, me attitude: we forget the JFK exhortation of not asking what you can get from your community, but asking what you can give.

    And how does one enforce the right to dignity for the individual? Ive spent a convalescent period in an old peoples home, and although it was well run in every administrative sense, there was a complete loss of personal respect.

    The answer is that you cannot enforce such rights, although the Americans have made a good start, I often feel, by addressing all older men as Sir and all older women (or any woman) as Maam. The re-introduction of respectful forms of address might do a lot for the dignity of the person.

    Patrick Hannon ranges over a number of issues affecting Christian ethics, drawing on historical and contemporary scholarship. He is not a black-and-white person and doesnt give dogmatic answers - but, rather, gentle reflections on difficult questions.

    Yet in his essay on Can Gay Men Be Priests? it seems to me he fails to address the most salient question about homosexuality today: if - as modern genetics are tending to suggest - a person is born a homosexual, therefore, is he, literally, the way God made him, and does this nullify his lifestyle choice?


    The discoveries of contemporary science and genetics really do have to be brought into the picture.

    Interestingly, some biological research is tending to confirm conservative traditions - for example, neurological work now indicates that men and womens brains really are wired up differently, and thus Biblical notions of sex-difference are not inaccurate.

    I was also disappointed that the author did not tackle the question of crime more robustly in his chapter on justice.

    Open any daily newspaper in Ireland, and the horrors of the assault on the person - rape, brutality, homicide - are quite despairing. If ever there was a negation of human rights - and the dignity of the person - it surely lies in the prevalence of crime: murder is said to have increased five-fold in Ireland since the 1960s.

    Crime and punishment - though I would rather use the word penalty, since we all understand that there are penalties exacted for certain offences, beginning with a humble parking fine - are, surely, among the central moral issues for our time.

    I hope that the moral theology of the crime wave will be the theme of Patrick Hannons next book.

    - Mary Kenny, The Irish Catholic

  • Introduction

    Someone is said to have remarked that he (or she) would rather have a moral problem than a real one. I dont know whether the quips perpetrator had in mind the manufactured dilemmas found in textbooks of moral philosophy or theology, some of which seem very unreal indeed, or whether the gibe merely voices the skepticism of the practical person about the usefulness of any kind of theory. Or , what would of course be serious , does it betoken an idea of morality in which it is seen as something rarefied or incidental, rather than as part of the warp and woof of everyones everyday life?
    The problems posed by those who people the vignettes in this books opening chapter are real, and the people are real, if here well disguised for confidentialitys sake: a girl uncertain of the respective weight of the claims of friendship and moral conviction; parents torn between love of a son or daughter and loyalty to teachings that seem central in the traditions in which they were brought up; a priest caught in tensions generated by his various roles. Real also are the people and the problems that in a different way are the concern of Chapters 2, 3 and 4: a gay man pondering a vocation to the priesthood; the plight of someone for whom a love-relationship has meant exclusion from the Eucharist; the suffering of one who has been marked for life by sexual abuse.
    The issues with which the following chapters deal , human rights, Catholic social teaching, Christian values in a pluralist society , are among the moral issues which, for all the swiftness of change today, remain live in the Catholic Church and in Ireland, and indeed, in an image that is becoming worn but isnt far-fetched, in the modern global village. There are new neighbours in our part of the village of course: Mosc ?ütha Cliath is no longer the only house of worship of Allah in Dublin, and Islam is the second most numerous religion in the country of the eldest Daughter of the Church. So it can be hoped that a chapter on Sharia wont be thought out of place.
    Although the 2008 US presidential election is over, with a result that has been welcomed throughout the world, the themes treated in Chapter 9 will surface again, in Ireland and in other countries of the European Union as well as in the United States. However, US debate about the role of religious conviction in politics has a special significance in Catholic theology, for the thinking that most decisively shaped the Declaration on Religious Freedom of the Second Vatican Council originated in the experience of the Church in the US. The debate among Catholics themselves has sometimes been acrimonious, regrettably if to some extent understandably (the stakes are high); but it has yielded valuable clarification of ideas that are critical to constructive interchange in a religiously pluralist society.
    It cannot be said , although it sometimes is , that the Councils teaching on religious freedom is an obvious outcome of inherited teaching about Church, State relations, and about morality and law and religion. A mere ten years or so earlier, the chief architect of the Declaration, John Courtney Murray SJ, had been silenced for his writings on precisely these themes. Murrays thought was progressive, to be sure, but many of the ideas that he worked with were available in theological tradition. Chapter 10 here is included to show that, for all that the context in which Aquinas wrote is a world long gone, the method of his theologising foreign to us, his thinking may still stimulate creative thought about morality, politics and law today.
    Finally, theres Wragg is in Custody, a piece whose genre may make its inclusion in a moral theology book surprising. Its reappearance is in fact partly meant to illustrate (as in a different way the chapter on Aquinas) that moral theology can take many forms, an idea that we may be more at home with now than when the piece first appeared. Of course, what it chiefly calls to mind is the shocking truth that human rights can be violated, and in the name of justice and the law, by the very institutions whose raison d?¬tre is to protect them: something that in succeeding decades we have become familiar with nearer home: think of Nicky Kelly, for example; the Tallaght Two; Nora Wall; and Irelands part in the wrongdoing that is symbolised by Guantanamo Bay.
    The vindication of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four (to mention only those that in the end received most public attention) was achieved painfully slowly, after tireless campaigning by people on this island and that of our neighbour. Most of the campaigners are nameless, people with no pretensions, women and men for whom it was enough to know that a great wrong had been done, and who were determined that it should be set right. They included people for whom religion meant little or nothing, some perhaps for whom the Churches are part of the systems in which injustice can go unchecked. However, they included also, and importantly, people whose inspiration was Jesus and his teaching, and a Gospel that empowers disciples to care for prisoners, and to work for justice and freedom. They included Tomas OFiaich, Basil Hume and Bishop Edward Daly of Derry, and the priests Raymond Murray and Denis Faul, Bobby Gilmore and Joe Taaffe, and Sister Sarah Clarke: a reminder of the role that may still be played by leaders of the Churches and their institutions.
    Mindful of the warning implicit in my opening anecdote, I hope the reader will accept that thinking about moral problems from the standpoint of a theology isnt an idle pursuit. How useful the reflections collected here is another matter, of course. In selecting them I had in mind not just students of theology, or people who may be professionally interested, but a general reader, interested still, or puzzled, or irritated, by the persistence of ideas about living that come out of a Christian tradition. Writing that is occasional gives at best a fragmentary picture, but I hope that these fragments earn their place.
    A theology? A Christian tradition? The indefinite article will already have put off , perhaps incensed , a reader of a certain turn of mind. Isnt this a book about Catholic moral theology, as was said a few paragraphs back, and as can be gleaned from skimming the contents? Yes, but there is much in Catholic theology that, shared as it is with the other Christian traditions, is better described by the word Christian; and there are other Christian traditions. For that matter, there are several Catholic traditions, something which may also be glimpsed in what is offered here.
    At another place on the spectrum of readers is someone who is impatient at the suggestion that there is any reflection to be done in the Catholic Church. The teaching of the Church is clear, such a person might say, meaning the teaching of the Churchs Magisterium; and, for the faithful, debate is out of the question. This reaction is found among people of a so-called traditionalist mind set, though it can be found also among disciples of the enfants terribles of the moment, Messrs Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris, for whom anything less than a frank dogmatism can only be dangerous hypocrisy.
    The teaching of the Church is clear: well, yes and no. Yes, there are clear principles in the repertoire of ideas that Christian tradition has handed on for the guidance of conscience. They feature in the teaching of catechisms, in encyclicals of the popes and the statements of episcopal conferences; and they include permanent and unvarying reminders of the requirements of faithful discipleship of Christ, as a glance at almost any of this books chapters will show. However, there are also principles and ideas whose application in practice may vary, as circumstances vary, as again may be seen in Chapters 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10.
    It is sometimes said that Church leaders and theologians have complicated a simple message, the message that God is love, and that we are invited and enabled to love God in return, and enjoined to show that love by loving our neighbour. Or, as it is also said, we should follow and imitate Jesus Christ, incarnation both of Gods love and of the love to which Christians are called, and that if we do so we will be doing the one thing necessary.
    The Christian Gospel is indeed about love, and whenever it is reduced to legalistic moralising , or any kind of moralising for that matter , it is misrepresented. However, the announcement of the Gospel is also a call to conversion, to let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, as the letter to the Philippians has it. From the outset, preachers and teachers of the Word saw a need to list attitudes and behaviours that befit or do not befit a faithful disciple of Jesus.
    A moral pedagogy that confined itself to generalities, that avoided engagement with application of principle to practice and failed to address the varying circumstances in which Christians live out their lives , such a pedagogy would leave the conscientious questioner short. That is why Catholic moral teaching and theological reflection are characteristically disposed to offer a more concrete guidance, in which attention to circumstances is prominent and which recognise that, as the saying goes, circumstances alter cases, even as they insist that there are acts and attitudes which to a Christian can never be right.
    Anyone who takes even minimal interest will know that recent decades have been turbulent for the Churches and their leaders, and especially for Catholic teaching and the practice of moral theology. This too may be glimpsed in the pieces collected here; indeed it is because of it that some of the problems take the shape they have taken, both the personal moral questions and the more general. On the whole though, I have chosen to concentrate on what can be said with some assurance, and relatively uncontroversially, whilst mindful of the dangers of simplification. There is no future for certainties that are contrived, nor should honest questions go unheard or debate be stifled as it tries to get to truth. However, sometimes it is possible , and for practical or pastoral purposes desirable , to put controverted matters to one side and to see what in any case may be agreed.
    Most of the chapters appeared first in The Furrow, and I thank Ronan Drury for permission to reproduce them here. Thanks also to Dermot Lane and Columba Press; Chapter 7, updated as necessary, is from their New Century, New Society; to Margaret Burns who with Pauline Berwick, under the auspices of the Council for Social Welfare, organised a study day and edited a book entitled The Rights of the Child, from which Chapter 6 comes; to Michael Conway, editor of the IrishTheological Quarterly, in which the paper from which chapter 10 is adapted first appeared; and to Eoin Cassidy (editor) and Veritas for allowing republication of Justice Tempered by Love, from The Common Good in an Unequal World.
    I owe special thanks to Ruth Kennedy and Caitriona Clarke of Veritas for editorial expertise (not to mention patience), and to commissioning editor Donna Doherty for her encouragement.

    Was I Right?

    A young woman is perplexed. Her friend, aged eighteen, is going to England for an abortion. She is terrified at the prospect but is convinced that it is her only course. Can the young woman, herself convinced that abortion is wrong, accompany her friend? She has tried to dissuade her, has offered to help her in any other way she can. She feels she should stand by her (she is the only one who knows), but she is torn between her belief about abortion and her sense of compassion for the plight of her friend.
    , , , , , , , , , , ,
    A father and mother are distressed. Their daughter has told them that she is a lesbian and that her relationship with a friend has reached the stage of physical expression. The parents are conscious of Church teaching about the wrongness of homosexual activity and have tried to persuade their daughter to break off the relationship. While she lives at home there is no realistic possibility of breaking it off, even if she wanted to, which she doesnt. The father wants her to leave home and take a job in another place. Her mother is less sure. Both believe that what she is doing is wrong.
    Neither parent wants to alienate their daughter or cause her to think that they love her any less.
    , , , , , , , , , , ,
    A couple have decided to marry in a registry office. They love each other deeply, are committed to one another, but a Church wedding would mean nothing to them, for they have abandoned religious belief and practice. The young mans parents are distraught. They are active members of their local Catholic Church and their faith means a lot to them. They love their son deeply but cannot in conscience approve of his decision. Should they attend the wedding? The thought of not being there as their son sets out on married life brings heartache, but can they watch him embark upon a course of action which they profoundly believe to be wrong?

    Three scenarios which, give or take details, are familiar enough these days, and in each case the people concerned took the path of compassion, with a little help from their pastors. Pressed, they or their pastors might say that such a course was called for by common sense and ordinary human feelings. One of the pastors recalled Catholic theologys principles about cooperation in wrongdoing, and Catholic theologys distinction between what is objectively wrong and what the subjective culpability of a wrongdoer might be. The resolution in each case was felt to have been the right one, although there was a residual sense of unease.
    A resolution of dilemmas such as these will never be easy for the kind of person for whom they are dilemmas (there are, of course, people for whom the situations would present no problem at all). They are problems of conscience that must be respected as such. Invocations by a well-intentioned advisor of the priority of compassion and ordinary human feelings are unlikely to make the problem disappear. It ought to bite when we are asked to go along with things that are contrary to what we believe to be right.
    At one level the cases do raise the question of how far one may cooperate in what one believes to be the wrongdoing of another, and standard principles of moral theology concerning cooperation are in fact helpful here. The heart of the matter is that normally one will not want to cooperate at all, but that there may be circumstances in which, for a sufficient reason, one may cooperate up to a point. Presupposed is that one doesnt formally approve what is happening and that no scandal is caused. But cases such as these give rise to a different line of thought also, and it is this that I wish to explore here.
    Underlying dilemmas of this sort is the fact that we find ourselves placed in a variety of roles as regards morality and that these roles are sometimes in tension with one another. The roles overlap, of course, but they are distinguishable. Distinguishing them may help to identify the tensions and discern how the tensions may be lived with, if not always resolved. For brevity, I shall take here the case of a priest, since a priests case offers the most comprehensive set of possibilities; but I am conscious of the fact that the point may be made, mutatis mutandis, of other ministers in the Church, and indeed of people who arent formally ministers, but who may find themselves involved in situations such as those sketched above.
    Roles in relation to morality in which a priest usually finds himself are that of preacher, teacher, confessor and counsellor. There is also a prophetic role in relation to morality and a role of witness; and, of course, even as he exercises any other role, each person is in any case a moral subject, actor or agent. Here our reflections are limited to the first four roles mentioned.
    It may be useful to notice at this point that the roles of preacher and teacher might be said to be concerned with objective aspects of morality. The preacher sets out the ideals of Christian morality and exhorts his hearers to take them to heart. The teacher hopes to educate his listeners and, among other things, explains the nature and basis for these ideals and the principles and norms for behaviour that reflect them. You could say that in these roles, especially that of teacher, there is a concern for what is normative in the Christian moral inheritance.
    The context of the role of confessor or of counsellor is different. Each of these is concerned with a subjective experience of morality, with the way that a particular person or group is managing , or not , to make moral sense in their lives. Each takes the person as he or she is now, and the concern with morality is specific and existential. The confessor is concerned with reconciliation, with mediating Gods forgiving and saving grace where moral failure is acknowledged, and there is a will to return to or make a fresh start on the way of the Lord Jesus. The role of counsellor is not here restricted to that of the trained counsellor, and may include the informal sort of assistance and advice proffered to someone who is trying to see straight in a difficult situation or find a way out of a dilemma.
    It can easily be seen that there are tensions inherent in combining these roles. A preacher will proclaim the demands of the Christian way; as confessor he is trying to connect with the conscience of someone who knows the demands but hasnt measured up to them. A teacher of Christian morality will be expected to set out clearly the principles that are available in the Christian tradition for the guidance of concrete choice and action. In a counselling role, he or she is trying to help someone discern the moral truth in a particular situation; the concern is with the concrete possibilities for implementing Christian ideals in the circumstances in which an individual now finds himself or herself.
    Tensions are inescapable. The preacher or teacher will want to do justice to the vision for good living that the Christian way provides, and so will want to enunciate ideal or principle firmly and clearly. However, they wont want to do so in a way that will deter or discourage the hearer. The confessor and counsellor will be aware of the complexity of concrete situations, of the fact that people can only do what they are able for, that we all fail, that there is a brokenness about human living which is never finally overcome this side of the fullness of the reign of God. But they may be uneasy about appearing to blur the ideals, water down the demands, make little of imperatives that are essential in the moral message of Christianity.
    It may be asked whether theology offers any clue as to priorities in situations such as those described above. Pope John Paul II, in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, adverts to what he calls a fundamental presupposition: what is pastoral is not opposed to what is doctrinal. Nor can pastoral action prescind from doctrinal content, from which in fact it draws its substance and real validity. Can theology help establish priorities when we experience tension between our various roles vis-?á-vis morality?
    A starting point is that Jesus was not in the first place a teacher of normative morality. True, he taught moral norms: he reiterated the Decalogue, making it clear that his message was not intended to abolish but to fulfil the Law; and a glance through the gospels is enough to show that he didnt balk at saying what was right and wrong when the situation called for him to do so. But it is interesting to notice that the proportion of moral teaching, and in particular of normative moral teaching, is small compared to other elements in his preaching and to the general shape of his mission as this is recounted by the evangelists.
    For the narratives feature miracles, healing stories and instances of the forgiveness of sin much more than they do moral teaching. The parables, even when they are concerned with morality, are if anything subversive of conventional notions of what the good life is, as when the prodigals welcome makes the other son wonder about the point of having been dutiful; or when the workers who came at the eleventh hour get the same pay as those who were there all day.
    So the proportion of the gospel narratives whose concern is normative morality is relatively small. A similar point can be made about other New Testament books. Paul, for example, spends the greater part of each of his letters reflecting on the great theological themes , sin, redemption, the Law and grace, the resurrection of Jesus, death and eternal life , before turning to moral teaching and exhortation. The letter to the Romans concludes a lengthy reflection on these themes with a paeon: O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen (11:33, 36). And the moral teaching that ensues is introduced as follows: I appeal to you therefore, brethren to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (12:1, 2).
    It goes without saying that in the Christian way of life, love of God and love of neighbour are inseparably interconnected. However, it must be said also that Gospel is prior to Law, that the proclamation of the Kingdom comes before the call to repentance, that in the end what is distinctive about the Christian vision is its word of a gracious, forgiving and merciful God, revealed in the personal history of Jesus. Witness to the Gospel involves right living, but it involves above all the incarnation of compassion and love in the way of the Lord Jesus.
    This insight will not eliminate the tensions inherent in combining the roles of preacher and teacher, confessor and counsellor. It could not obviate the painful process of thinking through dilemmas such as those narrated above, but it provides a starting point and constant point of reference.
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Right or Wrong?