2018-10-17 / Columns

The Pastor's Pen

Be careful...
By Pastor Kent Terchunian

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny. — Chinese proverb, author unknown

Chapter 7 of the Book of Esther is the focus of this week’s Lectionary reading in the Hebrew Testament. The Book of Esther is notable as one of only two books in the Hebrew Bible that never mention God. For that reason alone, the Book of Esther provides a platform for a commentary on secular perceptions of morality and virtue from the biblical perspective of responsibility and accountability.

Virtue is prominent in the Book of Esther. Virtue is principled: Mordicai raises Esther to understand and respect authority. Virtue is relational: although a modest woman, Esther resolved to have the courage of her convictions. The arrogance of Haman contrasts with the self-evaluation and conviction of Esther. The virtue of responsibility occupies a distinctive place in the moral needs, and moral achievements of liberal societies. Responsibility requires Esther to live up to her position within her responsibilities and within relations of mutual accountability to her people.

4:14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

Philosophers suggest that the rule of law is the defining value of a democratic society and widely therefore considered a necessary condition for the preservation of our liberties. Immanuel Kant divides moral philosophy into two realms, justice or law on the one hand, and that of ethics or virtue on the other. The fear of arbitrary application of the common law and the need to create efficiencies so that financial markets could flourish were the motivating factor for transforming the common law to an accumulation of written statutes.

When our moral and political philosophy are not idealizing the rights, responsibilities, and freedoms of society, our default mode is to critique. The question of relational judgment is fundamental: Esther was required to judge for herself and with Mordecai. Similarly, any account of responsibility has to take seriously the capacity of responsible persons to judge, and to judge one another. Any redefining of the concept of the law to a rule based society that removes judgement philosophically eviscerates the relational aspect of our inborn concept of morality and virtue (responsibility and accountability).

The balance between responsibility as an individual and community virtue, reflects a mutual dependence of individual and the community where responsibility and accountability are manifest among us. This is why John Wesley, Introduced Methodist Accountability Discipleship Groups. Our small covenant discipleship support groups are where members are accountable to each other, confessed our faults one to another, prayed for each other, and stir up one another to love and good works.

Rev. Kent Terchunian is the senior pastor for the Western Catskills Parish, serving Colchester Community United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church of Walton; 607-865-5765.

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