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This is the first in a new series of columns about Christian morality by David P. Gushee, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University. Every other month Prof. Gushee will tackle concerns about practical, everyday moral issues that arise for those who seek to follow Christ.

I'm sitting in my office at Union University on an average day. Visiting with me is a young man completely disoriented by the divorce of his faith-immersed, church-immersed, water-immersed, Bible-immersed parents. Dad was once a minister. It turns out that his parents' marriage was a tissue of lies, of repeated infidelities finally culminating in divorce. Now this college kid is supposed to make sense of what kind of Christian faith it was that had so little positive effect on the behavior of his parents—and therefore on the outcome of his life.

Next hour. I hear of a young lady's home-church experience. Here the music minister slept with several women in the church and a lay leader's wife shot herself in the stomach over her husband's infidelities. Now they are back in church together as if nothing happened.

Next hour. I'm teaching a class on great moral leaders, and our topic is the British statesman William Wilberforce. Garth Lean's biography of Wilberforce says that after his conversion, the Christian anti-slavery leader "made a serious [daily] examination of himself in the early mornings and on Sundays and kept a list of his 'chief besetting sins' and 'the chief Christian graces which I want to cultivate.'" He made a pact with his spiritual mentor that each would pay a fine to charity "for lapses pointed out by the other." Eventually, Wilberforce and his reform-minded Christian friends established a kind of life-in-community in which ...

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November 2005

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