The Moral High Ground

 In Blog, Charles Cavanaugh

The moral high ground: what is it, and where is it? How does one establish himself or herself upon it? How is it maintained?

In the cultural and political debate, it has been customary to attempt to argue from the moral high ground. The moral authority that goes with it provides an advantage that can be used to promote one’s agenda or to defeat one’s opponents. In the battle for power, the moral high ground can provide strategic advantage from which to conduct the battle for ideas which will capture the thinking of the culture.

In a political context of deceit and overt power grabs, Jimmy Carter exuded honesty. His Southern charm and promise never to lie to the American people was the moral high ground that established him as a viable candidate and ultimately helped him gain the presidency. Thirty years later another candidate was able to take the moral high ground by asserting, “I know what the meaning of ‘is’ is“.

But how stable or constant is the moral high ground especially in our now highly relativistic culture? A society governed at least by a modicum of moral absolutes used to know that certain stands or postures were morally and ethically sound. But a steady dose of entertainment that brings amoral thinking and behavior into our living rooms and invites us to laugh at once reprehensible behavior has helped shift the argument and undermine the validity of absolute moral truth. How gradually yet surely have we edged our way to the place where the moral high ground has radically changed. Words like rights and tolerance mixed with appeals to the feelings of the masses have been used to create a new moral order, a new sense of social urgency, and with these a new self-righteousness. Those who hold to the old order are social dinosaurs who are about to become extinct. They are actually worse. They are worthless annoying relics to be discarded and forgotten.

And where do these worthless annoying relics fit in the post-modern discussion of the new morality? They certainly do not hold the moral high ground, because the moral high ground has shifted. The new moral high ground applauds the “courage” to announce your new gender identity. The new moral high ground promotes the right of a woman over her own body and to kill the human growing “safely” in her womb. The new moral high ground looks down on those who hold to a traditional Judeo-Christian view of marriage between a man and a woman. The battle for position on the new moral high ground is essentially over.

What do those who grieve over this profound cultural and intellectual shift do. Should they hide away on Tatooine like some vanquished Jedi uncertain of the future? Must they relegate themselves to a silent existence; a benign Christianity that refuses to stir the waters? Should they fade away into the cultural sunset and face the extinction that the cultural elites hope for? Maybe they should hold out hope for political victories that will stem the tide of relativism. What is to be done when the moral order, and with it the moral high ground, has been redefined into meaninglessness?

The Apostle Paul lived in a culture diametrically opposed to the Christian world view. He challenges us with these words.

Therefore knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men… For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then all were dead: And that He died for all, that those who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him Who died for their sake and rose again. … Now then we are ambassadors for Christ.
[2 Cor. 5:11,14,15,20]

It is time for the relics of a lost time to erect a new moral high ground of Gospel truth and Gospel living. Let us not moan that we are losing the battle, but let us rejoice that we have won the war. Let us stand on the truth  while displaying the evident love of Christ, loving the unlovely as our Father has us. Let us preach Christ who does not merely “hate the sin and loves the sinner” but Who delivers the sinner from his sin and transforms him or her with His own life.

Let it be said of us
We were marked by forgiveness
We were known by our love
And delighted in meekness
We were ruled by His peace
Heeding unity’s call
Joined as one body
That Christ would be seen by all

In the love of Christ,
Charles Cavanaugh

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