Attentiveness: Pandemic and Moral Reasoning - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Pandemic and Moral Reasoning

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist

President & Professor of Missiology

Is there a “Christian moral response” to this pandemic?

People are responding in many different ways to enforced isolation. Two extreme responses are to buy Bibles or to buy guns. For the record, the President of Gordon-Conwell encourages the first and not the second.

Our response to isolation, loss of jobs, and possible financial ruin reveals our moral-ethical-Christian reasoning. Most of us, even bright people with earned doctorates (!) have immediate moral responses rather than carefully reasoned Christ-like responses.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are made in the image of God; to reflect God’s creative, loving, and willful character, and yet we are fallen. We are human, and as humans our moral reasoning is more exactly moral intuition or moral reflexes.

Today, in this week’s news, we have seen and heard about Christians arguing for their Constitutional right to open churches and to gather together. Ignoring what global medical leaders are telling us (see the March 20 blog post), they will defy the law and open their churches.

Other Christians are working hard to connect with their congregations, deliver messages of comfort, but also of the Gospel. People are coming to faith as a result. They are not resisting government restrictions, but they are finding ways to obey and serve under government restrictions.

Other Christians are focused on the injustices that are being perpetrated against Asian Americans at this time. This is a time for Christians to stand with Asians and Asian Americans against those who are attacking and maligning Asians. (See the “Statement on Anti-Asian Racism”).

If we are all Christians, trying to follow Jesus in this day of pandemic, why do we have such diverse responses? The simple answer is that moral reasoning is complex, and it is difficult to keep all areas before us. In our fallen nature, we tend to be reductionistic, focus on one moral concern to the exclusion of others.

The following are becoming accepted areas of moral reasoning: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity, and liberty.[1] At any time, depending upon a person’s culture, experience, and situation it is likely that one or two of the areas will come to the fore.

Cultures tend to value certain moral foundations more than others. Politics also divides people over which moral foundations are primary and which are secondary.

But shouldn’t Christian faith shape our moral decisions?

Next week we will talk about how Christians need to allow the Gospel to shape their moral “reasoning” or more exactly, moral “intuition.” Until then…stay safe, please.

[1] There are many places that talk about moral reasoning in this way. I have found the most helpful to be Jonathan Haidt and his “Your Morals” website based on his book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.”


Scott W. Sunquist, the new President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Monday morning on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses and good ideas.