An interesting post at the Quixote Center takes a look at a recent falsifications of mortgage documents by banks in the context of structural sin:
When I am faced with dishonesty and fraud on a systemic scale, I ask questions of God. But as I trace the origins of injustice, I am directed back towards humanity.
Do click through and read the whole thing – it’s not long, and there’s a lot to like about it: the analysis of structural and institutional injustice, the exhortation for Christians to live out our gospel values even in the face of powerful institutional pressures to do otherwise, to have the courage to do so even when it will cost us, because that’s what it takes to change those systems. I especially liked Kierkegaard’s vilification of officialdom:
“Nothing, nothing, no error, no crime is so absolutely repugnant to God as everything which is official; and why? Because the official is impersonal and therefore the deepest insult which can be offered to a personality.”
But there is something missing in this analysis, and that is the acknowledgment of the complexity of these situations of moral decision-making. It’s true that when a person is faced with an unjust or immoral request by her employer, she has a moral responsibility to refuse the request. But she may also have other moral responsibilities: what if she refuses the request, loses her job, and can no longer feed her children? It sounds very heroic for an individual to take a stand for justice, even at significant cost. But is it just for her to force the people who depend on her to pay that significant cost, too?
I don’t mean to suggest that such a compelling competing interest absolves the individual of culpability for participation in a system of injustice. But it’s a hard problem, and it will always be a hard problem. This is where all the action is in moral theology, and this is where we all, every one of us who tries to live a good and moral life, are inevitably functioning as moral theologians.
Cherrypicking this or that specific issue, and negotiating with the state for legal exemptions to specific laws, is a short-sighted approach that attempts to short-circuit this difficult general problem that will always be with us. I don’t advocate a withdrawal of the church from the world, far from it: but there are some problems that need to be addressed from within the church. Christians need to be equipped to make those hard moral choices in ways that acknowledge the reality of, and grapple with the complexities of, legitimate competing moral claims.