Monday, August 10, 2009

Situational Ethics and the Homeschooler

Recently, I sold books in a Christian homeschool support group’s used book sale. Vendors could set up an hour before the sale started. The word this year was no early sales. Some vendors complained; why couldn’t vendors shop and buy early as a perk for participating? It had been allowed in the past. The response? Never again. In the past, some women reserved a table, paid the $5 sellers fee, and tossed a few token books on a table, their goal being to beat the crowds and snag bargains, not to sell books. “Trust me, this has really happened,” one organizer said.

I felt her frustration. You just don’t expect such dishonest behavior from Christians. It’s disappointing. On a small scale, this deceitful practice prevents someone with books to sell from having that opportunity; it also deprives buyers from having a larger selection to choose from. On a larger scale, this ethics violation damages the individual’s witness among fellow believers as well as any nonbelievers who may be watching.

Ethics is concerned with making a distinction between good and evil in the world, between right and wrong human actions, and between virtuous and non-virtuous characteristics of people.

Situational ethics is a system of ethics that evaluates acts in light of their situational context rather than by the application of moral absolutes.

When situational ethics are put into practice by homeschoolers, it’s usually in the name of being “good stewards” of their money. Whether they display self-centered behavior at a used book sale or crow over a bargain had at someone else’s expense, it’s less an act of piety than a celebration of bad manners. Honestly, does anyone think Jesus approves?

Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what Jesus taught. In Galatians 5:14, we read,
The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Look at the book sale antics through Jesus-colored glasses. You see a clear lack of interest in showing any type of consideration for others. There’s no sense of fair play!

Here’s another homeschool example: someone is asked to teach a class to a group of homeschooled children for a very small fee so that even the poorest homeschoolers can afford it. The teacher accepts under the condition that everyone pays the entire fee even if they miss a week. That’s the only way the teacher can be sure to break even. Everyone who signs up for the classes makes a commitment to pay a portion of the fee each week. Then, illness causes a homeschooler to miss a class; the fee goes unpaid. This happens several times. The teacher made plans and bought supplies based on a specific number of students, but that doesn’t matter to that particular homeschool parent. That parent has decided that he or she need not pay the fee for the missed class, especially since their family is on a tight budget; after all, they are homeschoolers! That is situational ethics at work, and it cheats the teacher. In this example, it cheated me. I was the teacher, a single parent homeschooler struggling to make ends meet. The consequence of that demonstration of situational ethics is that I no longer teach classes. I can’t afford it.

Homeschoolers who practice situational ethics are teaching their children by example that there are no moral absolutes. Students learn that dishonesty is okay if it saves money. They see that lying and cheating are sometimes acceptable ways to deal with difficult situations. The parent may try to put a holy spin on the situation, but children are not easily fooled.

Situational ethics must be avoided. God’s Word is our moral compass. Our children need to know that we don’t decide what is morally right or wrong for our families. That’s the wrong lesson to teach. God already decided that for us. We need to demonstrate Galatians 5:14 in all things. That’s the right lesson.

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