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Towards an Ethic for Mission and Ministry Practice

Following Aristotle (Nichomachian Ethics), ethics might be thought of in terms of a craft (te,cnh) practised by a guild (think: a particular community).  This brief essay will follow this analogy and expand the thought with additional consideration of ethics in terms of 'narrative'.  Ethics may be understood, in part, as virtues that are acquired through the formation of particular habits and that are aimed at achieving certain ends.  These virtues and ends are understandable against the narratives by which people frame their lives.  Examples will be offered for mission and ministry practice by Christian communities.

1. Ends.  We need ends or goals (te,loj) to guide our actions if we are to have purposeful lives.  (Craftsmen who make things out of wood—carpenters—need to have specific goals, such as that they are making chairs and not wardrobes.)  For ethics, the end that moral ‘craftsmen’ need to pursue is the highest good, for this end gives meaning to all other ends.  Aristotle spoke of this highest good as 'pleasure' (not Hedonism, but the life that brings satisfaction); the Westminster Catechism spoke of the chief end of humanity as 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever'.  A narrative ethic might phrase the chief end in terms of 'faithful living within the narrative by which we live' (as opposed to effectiveness, e.g.).  Jesus' said that the chief among all Moses’ laws was to love of God, and the second was to love one’s neighbour' (Mt. 22.37-40).  One way of expanding the idea of 'end' in ethics is to speak of 'moral vision'--the way we see the world through our unique community and tradition.
*If development work has the more immediate ends of 'caring for fellow human beings' and 'self-empowerment of vulnerable people by meeting their basic needs', how will these ends relate to the ‘chief’ end of humans?  How will these ends affect other aspects of development work, such as the development of character and practices?
*Is the language of ‘human rights’ sufficient to explain the moral life?

2. Virtues.  A craft involves certain virtues.  'Areth, (virtue) means 'that quality of a thing which helps it accomplish its purpose (‘end’) well.'  If we are making knives, the virtues of the knife might be: sharpness, a good weight, good grip, the right blade for the right task (serrated or not), pricing, etc.  Aristotle defines a virtue as the mean between two extremes (deficiency and excess, which are vices).  Neither a dull knife nor a razor will be helpful in eating steak.  The virtues define a person’s character (h;qoj).  The practice of the craft itself also involves certain virtues: virtues associated with a business ethic and work ethic.
*What 'common virtues' apply to all involved in a certain practice?  (E.g., for the practice of communication [such as being a reporter or writer], virtues might involve accuracy, truthfulness, clarity, conciseness, balance, relevance, being interesting, etc.)  What about Development practices?
*What 'specific virtues' apply to Christian mission practice?  Development work?
*How will ethics understood as development of character within a given tradition and community be different from ethics understood in terms of making decisions in light of particular principles?  (Moral decisionism focusses on choosing the right course of action by applying the right principle rather than exploring how to develop a virtuous character.  Western ethics in Modernity tried to identify a principle for making decisions: Kant’s categorical imperative of being able to universalise an action [if it is right for me, it has to be right for everyone], the Utilitarian’s principle of doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people, the Situation Ethicist’s claim that one will know the ‘loving thing’ to do when in the situation, without being told.)
*What individual virtues apply to Christians?  Paul speaks of 'gifts' rather than virtues, implying (a) human fallenness requires God's grace and (b) the development of human virtue requires God's grace.
*How should we rank the virtues (which are primary and which secondary)?  Classical Greek philosophy spoke of ‘cardinal’ virtues (prudence, courage, temperance, and justice) that headed the list of virtues.  Aquinas added the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love.  How do different societies rank the virtues and define them?

3. Tradition.  Different crafts have different ends, values, virtues, obligations, rules, and actions.  There are even secrets kept by craftsmen for how they produce their craft (hence the title 'mister' [mystery] for a craftsman).  Similarly, many ethicists argue, ethics are not universal but pertain to a certain tradition (cf. Alisdair MacIntyre’s asking ‘Whose Justice?’).  Ethics is not first a question of what we should do but of who we should be.  This different way of doing ethics opens up new ways to speak about the use of Biblical authority for the Christian tradition: emphasis is placed not simply on rules for what we should do, as important as these are for all defined communities, but also on how Scripture defines our tradition and community (rules/norms, actions, goals, virtues, principles, values, paradigms and narratives, and worldview, etc.).
Narrative ethics emphasises the relation between the tradition and the ethic that derives from within that tradition.  E.g., 'abortion' under discussion in America (women's rights), Russia (worker, community), and China (over population).
Communication practised in the Christian Tradition:
* Reporting is not only reporting news; it is uncovering a tradition's assumed narrative and understanding how its virtues operate within that narrative and tradition.  Christian reporting will uncover the assumed tradition of society and challenge this with Christian tradition.
*How will being a member of a Christian community guide one to pursue certain stories/information and not others?  Tradition establishes agenda for enquiry.
*How will being a member of a Christian community guide one to communicate material a certain way?
How does our Christian tradition determine how we engage in development work?

4. Community. Even the same craft might be practised differently by different guilds.  'This is how we do things here.'  Ethics involves being shaped by and for a given community.  Aristotle's ethics (cf. Plato's Republic) prepares people to live within the Greek city state; his virtues are those befitting such a society.
*What does it mean to practice Christian development work within a Christian community, and how does development work with its virtues play a role in larger society?
*What does it mean to practice development work as a member of a Christian community while living in larger (supportive, hostile, indifferent?) society?  H. Richard Niebuhr spoke of five models for the relation of Church and State: Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ and culture in paradox, Christ over culture, and Christ transforming culture.  What socio-political and theological factors come into play to direct our Christian involvement in society?
*What does it mean to practice one's craft within a guild/community?  Paul speaks of different gifts within the community, and seeking the good of the church community in practising one's gifts (1 Cor. 12-14).  Stanley Hauerwas says that the Church does not have a social ethic, it is a social ethic.  Many Christian ethicists like to speak of Kingdom ethics to capture the socio-political nature of Christian ethics (over against simply a personal ethic).  What is the correct understanding of the Kingdom of God, and how does it form a particular community?  (Cf. the Sermon on the Mount in Mt. 5-7.)

5. Friendship.  Aristotle discusses ethics primarily in terms of 'virtues' (Nichomachean Ethics, 2 - 7) and 'friendship' (8 - 9).  (Friendship is another aspect of life in community, and so it is mentioned here.  As an approach to ethics, it overlaps with a virtue ethic.)  Aristotle discusses three types of friendship: friendship for utility, pleasure, and of good people.  Virtue and friendship are related in the last instance of friendship: 'complete friendship is the friendship of good people similar in virtue' (NE, 9.35).  Aristotle also discusses friendship in families (cf. the NT's household codes).  Obligation derives from the friendships (relationships) we have.
Components of friendship (Aristotle): (1) doing things for the other's good (goodwill, concord, active and unselfish benevolence, self-love [loving a friend who is most a friend, a basis for making costly sacrifices for others]; (2) wishing the friend to be and live for his/her own sake; (3) spending time together; (4) making the same choices; (5) sharing in each other's distress and enjoyment (NE, 11.11).  Cf. Rom. 12.1-18.
*Some cultures emphasise friendship as a basis for relationships of all sorts: political leaders are 'benefactors' and parent figures; contracts are more oral than written and friendship is the basis of the relationship more than legal documents; tipping and bribery are aspects of relationships rather than legality.
*How does mission practice relate to 'friendship' and 'community' with respect to the church and society as a whole?

6. Apprenticeship.  Those being initiated into a craft undergo an apprenticeship.  There is a need for a teacher or mentor.  Apprentices need models of good craftsmen and crafstmenship.  There is much to learn, although knowledge counts for little in ethics (it counts for much in crafts).  Rather, ethics has more to do with desiring and deciding to do the virtuous thing and with shaping one's character (h;qoj).  Character is shaped by a certain collection and hierarchy of virtues, and virtues are gained through habits ((e;qoj), which are gained through repeated action (Aristotle, NE, 2.1).  In addition, there is also an artistic feel, gained over time, for a given trade.  Virtues of character are acquired through early habituation of one's desires, feelings, pleasures and pains (NE, 1104b11, 1179b24).  To a large extent, ethics is like a craft in requiring these features of an apprenticeship.
The NT barely uses the word 'virtue'.  Paul speaks of 'righteousness' or 'fruit of the Spirit'.  Perhaps 'virtues' that one gains by oneself take too much emphasis off of what God accomplishes by his grace in us through Christ and the Spirit.  Jonathan Edwards spoke of this work of God in terms of an 'awakening'.  And yet 'righteousness' is not immediate: there is an 'already/not yet' aspect to Christian living between the first and second coming of Christ (cf. Phl. 3.12ff).  So, how do Christians 'train in godliness' (1 Tim. 4.7--here: teaching, example, Scripture reading, use of a gift for the church; cf. the 'theological virtues' of faith, love, and hope--e.g., 1 Th. 5.8)?  How do they develop 'holy or religious affections' (Jonathan Edwards: 'If we take the Scriptures for our rule, then the greater and higher our exercises of love to God, delight and complacency in him, desires and longings after him, delight in his children, love to mankind, brokenness of heart, abhorrence of sin, and self-abhorrence for it; the more we have of the peace of God which passeth all understanding, and joy in the Holy Ghost, unspeakable and full of glory; the higher our admiring thoughts of God, exulting and glorying in him; so much the higher is Christ’s religion, or that virtue which he and his apostles taught, raised in the soul' (Thoughts on the Revival I.II.I))?
Narrative ethics emphasises the importance of living in community to be able to visualise the embodiment of that narrative.  Role morality notes the importance of taking on a role within a community in order to learn, improve, and be shaped by the community's expectations and needs from one in that role.  Paul struggles with how to define his apostolic role, preferring to understand this not in terms of 'leadership' but 'service', because the model for his ethic is Jesus Christ.
            *What sort of apprenticeship is required for mission practice?
*What sort of education in virtue is needed for our children?  (Take faith, hope and love as the virtues for discussion.)  What action steps will we need to take to train children and youth in Christian virtues?
*How do we learn to practice (as in craftsmanship) love, forgiveness, reconciliation?  How does mission practice place us in the role of apprenticeship in these virtues (or put us at odds with them!)?

7. Practices.  Craftsmanship is about practice of a trade, with the understanding that there is an art to each trade.  When speaking of a Christian interest in 'reconciliation,' e.g., we may be concerned about troubled spots on the globe or broken marriages and relationships.  Yet there is more than an interest in the same product at stake in ethics: much of ethics is about the way in which this people practices what occupies them.  Narrative ethicists such as Stanley Hauerwas are concerned to describe the practices of those in the peaceable kingdom of God.  As Christians concern themselves with reconciliation, how will Christian practice of this differ from what others mean by the same term?  One example, whether lauded or derided today, is that of the medieval Catholic penitentials laying out a way to practice reconciliation to God and the church.  This involved sorrow and repentance, acts of contrition, forgiveness, absolution, restoration--more than just saying 'sorry.'  A Pauline understanding of reconciliation involves one's relationship with God: he did not expect those outside Christ to practice it (e.g., Tit. 3.3-7; Eph. 2.1-10).  Ethics has to do with understanding not only how a community's narrative outlines a unique virtue ethic but also how a community's practices help develop and demonstrate these virtues (e.g., love and the practice of forgiveness, reconciliation, hospitality, humility).
*Mission practice is an ethic: what sort of people are we becoming in the practice of our mission?  How does this practice relate to the narrative and virtues of our Christian community?

8. Rules.  Every society needs rules.  This removes the challenge to think and rethink ethics in the face of every decision and challenge, and it allows the community to define character and ends in terms of concrete rules (e.g., education, law).
*What rules define relationships so that they can work well in the community (e.g., rules for children and their elders, injury, marriage, property, truthfulness, greed, etc.)

*What rules will help the specific relationships in ministry and missions?