The issues facing our society today are filled with complexities that often make it difficult to formulate a clear and pure Christian position. The interweaving of theological, political, and economic considerations, as well as a staggering level of social interconnectedness, often leave us in the precarious position of tacitly approving or even encouraging actions and behaviors which, if we were to consider them independently and deliberately, we would clearly and deeply disapprove. If I take advantage of a newly released vaccine, have I unwittingly ameliorated the conscience of a young unwed mother as she aborts her child or encouraged her doctor to perform the abortion that made possible the fetal cell research that resulted in this vaccine? When I invest in a mutual fund that includes, among many other stocks, alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, do I become partially responsible for the destroyed lives that result from these products? How far does God intend or desire for us to go in sorting through the tangled web of connections and options that we find ourselves facing in today’s culture? How far does my personal responsibility extend in corporate actions and in our social system as a whole? Over the next several issues, we will look at the concept of moral complicity as understood by several historical and contemporary Christian thinkers in the contexts of their own times as well as the principles and examples provided in Scripture. These perspectives will then be used to consider a Christian response to one of the difficult questions we are facing today.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary1 defines “complicity” as “association or participation in or as if in a wrongful act.”
Although there is no prescriptive formula for how we as Christians can deal with the moral dilemmas represented by this term, there is a rich collection of principles and we can draw on in evaluating and responding to the potential situations of complicity that we face today. Moral complicity has been shown by definition and by common usage to be the wrongdoing of another in which we have a part. As a word and concept of the modern era, its semantic sense folds in the complexities of relationships between not just individuals but also corporate bodies (such as the church, corporations, professional societies, and nation states). The root issue as a Christian in considering our potential complicity in a given situation is our responsibility before God towards others. We must ask ourselves what effect our actions will have, intended and unintended, short-term and long-term, on the range of parties involved. Does it encourage or help justify behavior that we know to be wrong?
Carolyn Pura works for Sandia Laboratories in Livermore CA. She serves as a Director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. This paper is taken from a larger piece on the topic of Moral Complicity she wrote in completion of her M.A. in Faith and Culture from Trinity International University. Look forward to more articles on this topic as this is the first in a series looking at ethical decision-making and moral complicity from a Christian perspective.
3Bryan A. Gardner, Editor in Chief, Black’s Law Dictionary, Abridged Seventh Edition. (St. Paul: West Group, 2000), 230.
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