Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society

Some readers may recall that one of my brothers responded during the family discussion by mention of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society.  In the next preceding post, His Spirit Is Crying Out and Yearning, the reader will hopefully recognize that the issues of homosexuality and transsexuality, when considered in the light of actual lives, aren’t so easily identified or judged.

Why do I juxtapose these two statements?   Because Niebuhr understood that one cannot do theology in the abstract.  His prayer, known as the Serenity Prayer, has been an inspiration for those confronting addictions based upon 12 Step programs.   It recognizes that when one “does theology” in the flesh, one must struggle “to know the difference” between what we can change and what we cannot change.  He has been cited by both extremes of the political and religious spectrum and all points between.  In the 2008 presidential election, he was quoted by both President Obama and Senator McCain.

For an excellent discussion of Niebuhr’s teaching and influence, particularly as relating to his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society , see  That National Public Radio website describes Niebuhr’s contribution: “We explore the ideas and present-day relevance of 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, an influential, boundary-crossing voice in American public life. Niebuhr created the term “Christian realism:” a middle path between religious idealism and arrogance.”


Next blog post: Next blog post: Foreword to Stories of Sacred Worth     

Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society

His Spirit Is Crying out and Yearning

Let me tell you a story of a person who’s family was religious, not spiritual, who has walked a path of hardship, loneliness, denial, and violation within the society called “church;” who feels drawn to spirituality.  This person wants trust and acceptance in a community of spiritual believers, not judged, condemned or rejected for the path he walks today.  From the “get-go,” she felt out of sorts, neither fully female nor fully male. She ran with a group of boys during the week, but on weekends her parents tried to put her in dresses.  She hated that from an early age: it felt contrary to who she was.  Her family was religious, not spiritual. She went to a revival meeting about the age of ten, accepted Christ and was baptized that night.  When her dad, a deacon in the church, found out (someone told him before she got home) he beat her because she did this without his permission. At the time, she was devastated and hurt, not just physically but emotionally. Years later she came to recognize that was the first time she was spiritually hurt. By later elementary school years through high school she was tormented and humiliated by the other girls for being different and not developing physically as they were. The boys generally ignored her gender marker society had tagged her at birth because she could and did compete successfully with them in sports and really didn’t look like a girl. As she grew into a teen, she didn’t turn from the church but yearned for knowledge.  She took every adult class she could, but this only furthered the rift she felt with her peers.
Her spirit was crying out and yearning.
The youth pastor took her into his confidence to teach her what a proper woman is to do. He betrayed her trust and violated her spiritually, emotionally and physically for his own personal gratification.  She was devastated. She then walked away from church for many years, though her spirit was still calling out.  By her early twenty’s, she found the yearning of her spirit too great to ignore and was drawn back to the church in another town. Here she felt forced to take on traditional female roles. By this time she was dressing more masculine or neutral, which matched her physical appearance and was unacceptable to the church community.. This caused her great emotional turmoil and ostracism.  Again, she walked away, feeling alone and rejected.
Her spirit was crying out and yearning.
She moved to another state and finally gave in to society, took a husband and gave birth to a child. She did not conform to society’s demands, though, in her dress, appearance or mannerisms, and was often taken for a male.  Again, the yearning in her spirit persisted so she tenuously reached out to another church community. All seemed well at first.  Her husband allowed her to join mission teams to build churches, which suited her well, but in time, through a series of manipulations over several years and abuse by her husband, she severed her connection with the community. Then eventually she with her three-year-old child ended up in her birth state in a shelter and her husband on death row.
Her spirit was crying out and yearning.
Over the following four years she picked herself up, got out of the shelter system and went to college and discovered she was not alone in this world: there are others like her. In time, after a lot of research, a lot of “now what do I do with this information,” “how do I proceed,” and “do I walk away and ignore this,” she decided to proceed.  Finally, after everything she had walked through, she now knew it was not her fault and she was not abnormal, just part of a hidden society that heterosexuals wish would go away and does nearly everything possible to inflict pain, judgment and ostracism. She is a male with some physical gender characteristics of a female – or a female to male transgender. His spirit starts crying out and yearning. Again, he tenuously is reconstructing trust.  That is complicated.  On one side he is loved and accepted in his local church community.  Some know of his transgender identity and some do not.  On the other hand, he is aware of the conflict in the larger church community concerning GLBT issues. He hears from that group that he is a sinner and does not belong in Christ’s community because he is not acting like a woman, consistent with a set of female physical characteristics, while ignoring that dominant part of him that is physically, emotionally and spiritually male.
His spirit starts crying out and yearning.
I am a Christian.  I want to be accepted and loved among the followers of Christ, as Christ has loved and accepted me. I want again to trust.  But, it is difficult when I hear muffled, but angry, judgment of who I am.

Next blog post: Niebuhrs’ Moral Man and Immoral Society     

His Spirit Is Crying out and Yearning

7 The Gospel Message That I Hear

Robert Wheeler: I had not intended to make of this page a forum for discussions of religion and social issues, but it is what it is – that is who I am and if anyone is offended they don’t have to visit, I suppose.

What I am saying in standing up to fundamentalism [as defined by Jimmy Carter in my post of Jul 26, 2011, titled “Fundamental” Problems]  was said long ago by a well known and respected Baptist minister, Tony Compolo. See

I had never thought of myself as an evangelist, but I suppose, in the best sense of the word as I view it [not of conversion to our brand of Christianity, but of the good news that we are invited to a full and rich life of love and compassion], that is what I have been. I just don’t see the gospel as being bound by religion, denomination or belief.  Rather, the good news is that the Kingdom of God is at hand – it relies upon each of us and is seen in our wonder of life (the heavens are telling the glory of God), in right relationships with others and all of life, and all that supports it. The message I get from the Gospels is that life is sacred – you are special just the way you are; cherished and loved.


Next blog post: His Spirit Is Crying out and Yearning     

7 The Gospel Message That I Hear

6 On Implications of a Dualistic World

Robert Wheeler: If I believed in a dualistic world, spirit above vs matter below, and in the notion that humankind lost its “image of God” to Original Sin, Frank’s argument (hmm . . . man’s logic getting in the way of living?) might be appealing. I see “righteousness,” not as a passing grade on God’s rules of the game test but as living in right relationship. We, again, will have to lovingly agree to disagree?

Of course we can disagree and I’m glad we’re both in agreement that disagreement does not equal hatred. But you have to admit, Frank accurately reflects what the Bible actually says, he didn’t make this up.

Dualism can mean a lot of things, not at all sure what you intend. Spirit above vs matter below seems to have a bit of a yin-yang connotation that is not at all how God reveals himself in His Word. By definition we are different from God, though uniquely created to be a reflection of God’s image, according to the Scriptures.

SMS: I haven’t had time to read any of the sermons, but hope to do so soon. However, your comment about humankind loosing it’s “image of God” to Original Sin is an interesting perspective. I think I can agree with that. Also, whoever is judging those who are homosexual had better be careful of their own sins. A sin is a sin is a sin is a sin!

SMS, you’ll find that you share Frank’s perspective that sin is sin, that’s critical to Frank’s point. The Gospel makes no sense apart from seeing what God reveals as his perspective of sin. His perfect holiness and perfect justice could only be reconciled with his love in Christ on the cross. The message of Scripture is not that SOME sins are not okay, but that ALL sin is not okay and we all have a problem of eternal magnitude in the coming judgement. Jesus said we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect – we all miss that mark and eventually discover we didn’t just miss, we were aiming the opposite direction. Unless God himself does something we’re doomed, and that’s exactly what he did do in Christ Jesus…offered to all who will repent and rest their hope in him.

According to Scripture we aren’t to judge those outside the church, we are to declare truth and offer them the hope of salvation and deliverance from their sins. For those in the church, we are commanded to build each other up in the grace and knowledge of God, encourage each other to holiness, obedience and dependance on Christ alone with an attitude of thanksgiving. Judgement begins with the household of God, says Paul.


Next blog post: 7 The Gospel Message That I Hear     

6 On Implications of a Dualistic World

5 On Frank Turk

I appreciate the Frank Turk article I linked a week or so ago, Frank gets it right.

I appreciate your taking the time to view this. I haven’t heard of Frank Turk – what’s the link?

Good job, Frank. Direct, to the point, and it makes people own what they are saying and doing. This gets people to the point where they have to make the decision of whether they truly believe or not.

I see you have linked on your Facebook page Frank Turk’s “conversation” on beliefs relating to morality, homosexuality and Hell . Very witty. I like Dad’s statement a number of years ago, “Christians think that Christianity is all about dying and going to Heaven. I say absolutely not. It is about living a life of eternal significance.” He referred to Jesus’ story of the separation of the sheep from the goats . . . “inasmuch as you did it/ did not do it . . .”

There we go. Be sure to read Tom Chantry’s responses to Hannah at 8:16AM & 8:30AM. Tom deals with what love really looks like and does when facing critical situations.

Frank is witty, agreed, but he honestly deals with the real issues and Tom Chantry shines a bright light on it with his comments in the meta.

I would agree that this is about much more than some day dying and going to heaven. But that doesn’t address Frank’s comments in any way. The characterization of Frank’s comments as pertaining to “morality, homosexuality and Hell” is a distortion of what Frank intended…which is what he clearly said: all of us have a problem before the judgment throne of God, not just homosexuals.

The much more than is that if “any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Eternal life, and it starts now.


Next blog post: 6 On Implications of a Dualistic World            

5 On Frank Turk

4 On Adam Hamilton: Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White

Robert Wheeler: Yesterday in Sunday School I was introduced to Adam Hamilton in a video series on his book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White. What I have only dared intimate of my acknowledgement of a world in which there is no division between …spirit and matter or science and religion, where “right belief” does not trump “good fruits,” and where atheism may be nothing more than a rejection of an idolized, static God of “mainstream Christianity, he addresses openly with the zeal that has become associated with tele-evangelists. I am enjoying his sermon on Science and Religion and a number of his archived sermons from 1999 to the present, which may be found at

I happened upon a site that expresses better than I did why a Christian, in my view, must love and not judge others on matters of sexual orientation:

William Wheeler:  Listening as I have time. Right off, I agree that it is a problem that Christians are perceived in this culture as “anti-homosexual” that we have a “special contempt for homosexuals.” In fact, it is not true of Christianity. Done for now, I’ll comment from a Christian perspective when I’ve had a chance to finish listening and digest this.


Next blog post: 5 On Frank Turk        

4 On Adam Hamilton: Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White

3 Compassion, Accountability, and Forgiveness

Robert Wheeler:  In the discussion of this past weekend some issues were raised about unconditional love, forgiveness and sin. The question was whether, under my definition of unconditional love, there can be any meaning of forgiveness. It IS a problem of definition. A few years ago, my brother, Richard, referred me to a book titled Philosophy in the Flesh, by Lakoff and Johnson. It posited the problem, as the authors saw it, of philosophy, and I would also say theology, treating ideas as though they were objects like any other physical thing that we can manipulate. I see a number of religious ideas as subject to that problem. I have been asked what I have meant by certain statements. Indulge me to explain my meaning of my statements concerning compassion by starting with definitions.
Sin: “anything that separates us from the love of God” (thank you, Dr. Nida)
Compassion: “the ability to see, to be sensitive to, and to share the joy as well is suffering of another”
Forgiveness: “a gift we give ourselves to restore us to a relationship with another”
Accountability: “a just, dispassionate adjustment of accounts through rational, generally accepted practices ”
And finally, one of my favorites, Righteousness: “a dynamic of right relationships, and not a ‘thing’ to be possessed.”
From my view, Jesus, the “love of God,” and “the kingdom that is at hand,” have everything to do with right relationships; and meaningful relationships are compassionate ones.
Albert Schweitzer was once asked about his notion of “respect for life:” do you use antibiotics? “Yes I do, but I do not use them lightly.” Elsewhere he has been quoted, “By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive.” . . .

Forgetting has nothing to do with forgiveness. Forgiveness and accountability are two separate matters. That is the reason that we can “discipline” our children and still unconditionally love them (which does not have to be a negative action, and must not be destructive). After we have disciplined our own children, do we go about looking for other children to discipline? No. They are not our responsibility although it may be our responsibility to protect other helpless persons that we see harmed with no power to protect themselves. Even that has some limits of social responsibility. This is what I meant when I suggested that the only person who has the right to decide whether their sexual orientation or how they act upon it is sin or not, is good or bad, or is right or wrong is that person and the one with whom they are in relationship.


Next blog post: 4 On Adam Hamilton: Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White         

3 Compassion, Accountability, and Forgiveness