Frequently Asked Questions

Big Questions
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Morality

Q Last year, along with many teachers in my district, I was told that I was out of work. More recently, the superintendent informed me that I might be rehired, pending a review of my teaching effectiveness. I asked a friend who did not lose her job if she would contact the superintendent on my behalf and put in a good word. She promised to try to contact the superintendent. Later I discovered that she had made a single phone call, was told that the superintendent was in a meeting, and concluded that she had carried out her promise. Some friend! Is she in the clear, morally speaking?

A Although she is correct that she carried out her promise to try to contact the superintendent, she is not, in my opinion, morally blameless.

There’s an important distinction between moral obligation and moral expectation. We are morally expected to do everything we are morally obliged to do, but the reverse is not true. She had a moral obligation to try to contact the superintendent, and this she fulfilled. But was she morally expected to try to do more than place a single phone call? I’m inclined to say yes. After all, she was your friend, not a total stranger, and she did not say up front that a single phone call was all she planned to make.

A person who fails to do what he or she is morally expected to do is morally blameworthy for this failure. Blameworthiness is a concept that involves degrees, and someone who does not carry out a moral expectation is blameworthy to at least a modest or minimal degree. (A person who fails to carry out a moral obligation is blameworthy to a much greater degree, other things being equal). Your friend, though she did what was strictly permissible, is at least mildly blameworthy for not having done more. In addition, her approach to promise-making seems a bit adolescent.

—Gregory Mellema
Gregory Mellema is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Church

Q I attended a Reformed Church anniversary service and noticed that many of the clergy wore a clerical collar, and some wore a robe. Is this a growing trend?

A I am indebted to Richard Harms of our denomination’s Historical Committee for some of the information that follows.

To distinguish themselves from the Roman Catholic Church, clergy in the Reformed tradition wore the “Geneva Gown” (similar to the western doctoral robe and the American judicial robe) in formal religious services but generally not for daily attire. During the 20th century there was a shift toward less formal religious services; in many cases a suit replaced the Geneva gown.

Around 1960 some CRC ministers began wearing robes. Today some wear robes for various occasions or wear a robe and add a stole—a strip of cloth worn like a scarf over the robe—to reflect the liturgical season.

The wearing of a clerical collar began in England in the Presbyterian Church during the last half of the 19th century. Many Protestant denominations adopted the collar as a convenient way of identifying clergy in public.

I don’t know if the wearing of collars or robes is a growing trend in our denomination. Most CRC clergy I know do not wear a clerical collar, although some hospital chaplains do. Customs vary. Generally, in more liturgical churches ministers wear robes, and in more contemporary churches they dress casually.

—George Vander Weit
George Vander Weit is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.

Relationships

Q Our 14-year-old son has always been drawn to “scary” things like zombies and monsters. As he gets older, this attraction is intensifying. A clash is brewing between our desire to have him focus on more uplifting things and his desire for scarier stuff. How do we respect his preferences while steering him away from things that won’t strengthen his walk with God and his development as a person?

A Fortunately our kids grow out of many habits and interests we worry about. Just as toddlers often refuse foods and ignore bathroom cues, so young teens often embrace odd interests. It is part of their learning to get to know themselves in relation to their world.

At his age, your son can no longer be “made” to behave in certain ways. Even when you encourage him to engage in healthy activities, his interests are now his choice. You do have a right and the responsibility to set good limits. By all means limit computer use and keep the family computer within view. Monitor viewing, and don’t hesitate to call something off-limits if you feel it is inappropriate or unhealthy for him.

It might be helpful to explore with your son possible reasons for his growing attraction to the macabre. Is he overcompensating for fears about death and dying? Is he bored? Does he feed his ghoulish attraction because he knows you don’t like it? Teens often try to define themselves in opposition to their parents’ interests and values as a way to gain more independence.

Ask him what one thing he would change with respect to his relationship with you. Be ready to listen and learn, and be willing to change, along with your son.

—Judy Cook
Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.

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