Frequently Asked Questions

Big Questions
|

Ethics

Q. A friend at work asked how to perform a certain kind of operation on the company computer without the possibility of its being traced back to him. Proud that I had recently discovered how, I showed him. Later I learned that what he did was in violation of company policy. Am I an accomplice in his wrongdoing?

A. If you knew that he would use this information to violate company policy, you are definitely an accomplice. The same is true if you knew that he was likely to violate company policy.

If the thought never crossed your mind that he would use this information to do something morally suspect, you might not be complicit in his wrongful behavior. Nevertheless, the fact that he was seeking anonymity might have aroused your suspicions, and you might be blameworthy for placing what is in effect a potential weapon in the hands of someone without asking how it would be used.

Thomas Aquinas distinguishes nine ways in which someone can be complicit in the wrongdoing of another: commanding, consenting, counseling, assisting, encouraging, covering for, failing to denounce, failing to prevent, and silence. If what you did qualifies as complicity, it falls under the rubric of counseling, providing information that makes it possible for someone else to engage in wrongful behavior.

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

Church

Q We are without a pastor. A growing number of members are concerned that a few people in leadership positions are making decisions that are not in the best interest of the members. Anyone who questions these decisions is labeled a troublemaker. What can we do?

A Sometimes councils make good decisions that are perceived by some as “not in the best interests of the members.” And sometimes people think a “growing number” of people are opposed when in reality the majority supports the decisions. Sometimes people are indeed troublemakers. So start by prayerfully discerning what the actual situation is and asking God to give wisdom to officebearers and members alike.

Then proceed with care and with love even for those with whom you disagree, realizing that your efforts to solve problems can increase the division in the congregation. Those who share your perspective can ask to meet with the council to discuss these matters. This gives the council an opportunity to hear first-hand how their decisions are affecting the congregation and gives members an opportunity to hear why decisions are being made. Such conversations can bring understanding and healing and promote unity.

If you see no improvement after such efforts, ask the council to request the assistance of “church visitors,” officebearers appointed by classis to assist councils as they give leadership to the congregation. Although church visitors cannot make decisions that bind a council, they can give advice that may assist in resolving difficulties.

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

Relationships

Q My brother wants me to come to his house for Christmas, but his wife hates my guts. Why should we try to get together around holidays and pretend to be happy families when we’re not?

A It might be helpful to define clearly for yourself what could be behind your sister-in-law’s feelings of dislike. If you know the reason—perhaps a conflict that has yet to be resolved—then it is time to look for ways to come to a resolution. Writing a letter expressing regret about the incident, owning your own part in it, and expressing your hopes for an improved relationship is one option. Alternatively, if you believe approaching her about past conflict is likely to make things worse, you can resolve to forgive her for her part and choose to “live in harmony,” at least as far as it depends on you, in accordance with Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12.

If you have no idea why she “hates” you and any peace-making on your part has been rebuffed, then it’s time to stop thinking of it as your problem. Acknowledge that you’ve done all you know to do and resolve to enjoy spending time with your brother and other family members you feel close to at celebrations.

Avoid thinking in all-or-nothing terms about happiness. It is not true that unless everyone is happy with everyone else, no one can be happy. Be polite and respectful toward everyone, but seek out those who appreciate you. Accept that you have a right to be who you are without pretense, and if that is not acceptable to someone, it is that person’s problem, not yours.

Remember that extending kindness and warmth to all family members, regardless of their attitude toward you, is inviting. Love is much stronger than hate.

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

X