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Imagine the following situation: A Christian man, Bill, the sole breadwinner in his family of five, receives an exciting job offer that would involve moving the family far away from the home they have lived in a long time. He is not unhappy where he is, but Bill sees the move as a major professional advance.

Bill's wife is mainly committed to preserving family harmony and can support either staying or going. But his three teenage children oppose the move. They like their lives; they don't want to leave their friends, start at a new school, and so on.

How do we make big family decisions? In particular, who decides when a family moves? This is a hidden but hugely significant moral issue. In our highly mobile society, people often assume that families move and kids just need to deal with it. Many children end up deeply resenting their parents for seeming not to care about the disruption of their lives. Many parents, in turn, chalk it up to youthful immaturity (which may be the case) and simply dismiss such concerns (which is dangerous).

There are various ways to make a morally important decision like this. Many Christians would say that Bill should just pray about it and see what God says. If Bill is a committed Christian, he is undoubtedly praying. But it should be difficult for Bill to trust his prayers at this time, especially if he prays without the help of Christian friends who can help him discern God's will. Because a move would serve his own career interests, it would be all too easy to hear God give the go-ahead. And Bill's kids might be understandably suspicious of any "God talk" Bill might offer them.

Bill could say that he just wants to make the decision that is best for God's kingdom. He is convinced that this move ...

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Do Likewise
David P. Gushee serves as Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, where he also chairs the Mercer Lyceum initiative on rebuilding democracy. His column ran from 2005 to 2007.
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January 2006

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