aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A word for our times

Today's Patented Pastoral Profundity™ is: Respectability ≠ Holiness.

When I was young -- the late '50s and early '60s -- people worried a lot about their reputations. They did not want to be thought persons of low character. Character was about honesty, about cleanliness of all sorts, and so on, as well as about sexual behavior. Particularly as regards sexual behavior, though, people didn't want to be caught out in less than respectable situations. No doubt that fear of being shamed kept many people from doing things they shouldn't do anyway, but there is also no doubt that a lot of people did them in spite of that -- but as long as nobody found out, or there were no consequences (pregnancy, disease, scandal, whatnot), then the appearance of good character would suffice for most folks.

Now, holiness is at all times difficult to explain, and even more difficult to follow. The fact that "without holiness no one shall see the Lord" was left to the grace of God to sort out; meanwhile, people lived by respectability. Unfortunately, the Church allowed itself to teach respectability, too -- to conspire to let good character be about appearances rather than reality. No doubt the Church hoped that would be a first step only, and "growth in grace" would soon lead people to an engagement with the more challenging aspects of life in Christ. In this, the Church was mostly disappointed. Moreover, when the standard of what was respectable in our society changed, the Church found herself left behind and playing catch up in her mission to call people to holiness.

The Sexual Revolution that began in my youth with easy and effective contraceptives went on to establish (inter alia) the habit of living together before marriage, bearing children out of wedlock, no-fault divorce, the hook-up culture, and the acceptance of a wide range of sexual lifestyles. And the important thing to point out here is the complete lack of shame or discomfort on the part of anybody engaging in any of these today. Even in Church, everybody takes it as normal that people should live this way, without losing their respectability.

Holiness, meanwhile, has not changed. It has just gotten ever harder to explain to people for whom the new respectability is a thing achieved. And those who want their behaviors and lifestyles validated often show their disappointment or even anger at those who still testify to the upward call to a holy life in service of a holy God. But what can we do? We have to love people as they are -- but we have to tell them the truth about themselves, as well as the truth about God. To tell people lies -- even comfortable lies -- is, in the end, unloving.

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