Pastor’s Corner: Ends and Means

January 23, 2019

You know, there’s got to be a better way.

I’m thinking about our federal government shutdown. It’s the longest in our nation’s history, now a full week longer than the runner-up. Some are working without paychecks. Others wonder when they will get back to the responsibilities they value.

The basic reason we have this shutdown is that there’s a policy that some wholeheartedly endorse, but which others wholeheartedly reject. The supporters want it funded. The opponents say, “No.” Both appear to agree that its importance is such that this one question should determine whether other government activity gets funded or not. This one issue, they say, governs everything.

Or in other words: The ends justify the means.

Once again, I think we see the extraordinary power of that line of ethical thinking. I think we see its temptation. I think we see its guidance. And I think we see its terrible effects. Standing firm on principle, people cause other people to suffer. They know they do, and yet they stand.

It’s true that sometimes one must take a stand, and potentially put people at risk. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent campaigns in India provoked violence against his followers. Fire hoses, attack dogs, and clubs assailed the companions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Large boycotts affect struggling workers as well the wealthy companies that underpay them, plus other participants in the industry who do not participate in the underlying injustice. As these people suffer, do the ends justify the means?

I’m not even sure it’s possible to be sure.

What I’m certain of is that we must closely inspect every action we take for justice, to see that we cause as little ancillary suffering as possible. We live in an imperfect world, and we do not do all the good that we desire. At best, we can make ourselves aware of our impact, and strive for the best available outcome.

The ends are implicit in the means.

With aloha,

Pastor Eric

Categories Pastor's Corner Reflections | Tags: , | Posted on January 23, 2019

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