Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book .  Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:

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A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond

On Being Legal

On Being Legal

From ON A JOURNEY: Meditations on God in daily life

By Tom Ehrich

"On a Journey" meditations, of which this is a part, are being sent by e-mail six days a week, free of charge. People can join the distribution by writing

November 14, 2003

Jesus said, "If anyone says to you at that time, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'Look! There he is!' - do not believe it." (Mark 13.21, from the Gospel for Sunday)

I receive a notice from my Internet Service Provider, Earthlink, that they have "updated" their "Privacy Policy." Supposedly it is good news.

When I read more closely, I discover that they are awarding themselves the right to gather demographic information about me and to use that information for marketing purposes. I can opt out of those processes - and immediately do so. In light of their too-clever announcement of "privacy," I don't believe their promise not to sell my information to anyone.

I am sure Earthlink's lawyers verified the legality of these communications. But ethically, I think they fall short.

Thus the difference between law and ethics. Law sets limits on behavior. Ethics speaks to the heart and soul behind behavior. Law names rules and sanctions for violating those rules. Ethics names higher purposes, grounded in love and justice. Being legal doesn't necessarily mean being loving or just.

Rules have surprisingly little impact on human behavior. The heart that is corrupted will find ways to wound and to exploit, no matter what law says. The heart that is good will pursue the good no matter what the rules allow. An abusive parent can stay within legal limits on physical harm but still do great damage to a child. Very little of the cruelty and self-serving that cloud our daily lives violates the law. But it is still wrong.

Thus the ethical cesspool that was Enron will yield relatively few legal consequences. Millions of lives were hurt, but the greedy, with a few exceptions, will walk.

Thus our racially divided nation has countless laws designed to promote justice. But bigotry and unfairness seem as lively as ever.

In recent years, Christian fundamentalism has tried to promote faith and morality through law. Scour the Scriptures, find rules, proclaim the rules, and expect people to fall in line on pain of shunning and demonizing. Like my ISP, they proclaim this as "good news." But when you read more closely, you find self-serving: a cadre of fearful and narrow souls who try to make their worlds safe by demonizing other people.

When legalism drives the ship, neither faith nor morality is likely to occur. We are too clever for that. Without true repentance and amendment of heart, we can always find ways to stay legal and to stay mean. Some of the worst bigotry in modern times has come from Christians who claimed to be "obeying God's law."

I think that is why Jesus promulgated no laws. His aim was to touch lives, to stir compassion, to humble the proud, to encourage the lowly, to draw people of all sorts and conditions into circles of belonging and justice. When asked for rules, he told stories about kindness and self-sacrifice. When given the opportunity to extricate himself from legal consequences, he remained silent before his accusers.

It is tragic when Jesus is portrayed as judge and lawgiver. For he did exactly the opposite. His highest vision was, "Love one another." That isn't law; it is ethics. It is the corrupted heart yearning to be cleansed. It is the good heart daring to speak and to act freely.

Instead of looking for legal ways to exploit its customers, Earthlink should be looking for ways to serve them. Instead of exploiting people's innate yearnings in order to build an institution and to secure their loyalty and financial generosity, those proclaiming Messiah should choose to serve.

Servanthood isn't about gaining power or telling people what to do. Servanthood is about humility and self-sacrifice. Servanthood is about having the courage to be loving and just. Servanthood can take many expressions. There is no single "Christian morality." But servanthood is marked by kindness, compassion, tolerance, respect, a desire to know the other, and a commitment to put the other's needs first.

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