By Karl Day, reprinted from Washington Watch, a publication of Family Research Council
June 1998 – Recent polls indicate that most American believe we are slipping toward a valueless society. Despite this, we have twice elected and continue to affirm a president who refused to speak to the Boy Scout Jamboree in his first term, but eagerly addresses gay rights activist groups in his second. Recently, he has become embroiled in another serious allegation of scandalous sexual behavior, yet his approval ratings continue to soar. Is it any wonder that many shake their heads in bewilderment and wonder what happened to virtue?
Traditionally, the cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. The dictionary provides insightful definitions of each. A comprehensive definition of prudence implies caution and careful management as well as the capacity for judging in advance the probable results of our actions.
Discretion and circumspection are synonyms for prudence. Discretion adds to the definition, the concept of self-restraint and sound judgment, while circumspection goes further and requires a wariness in our actions out of consideration for social and moral consequences.
Temperance, like prudence, involves self-restraint but invokes a requirement for moderation even in licit behaviors or appetites.
Justice embodies conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude – righteousness – i.e., meeting the standard of what is morally right and just.
Last but not least, fortitude is strength of mind, allowing one to endure pain or adversity with courage. It involves strength, tenacity, or patience in dealing with something arduous and implies withstanding difficulty or overcoming resistance. Courage is the state of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger with self-possession, confidence, and resolution. A synonym for fortitude is bravery.
Tenacity suggests tough, aggressive persistence and accents will power. Whereas persistence generally applies to striving for a goal, tenacity relates to holding on to something. Steadfastness, on the other hand, has a moral connotation and implies unswerving adherence to principles, usually in the face of opposition.
Virtue requires prudence in our decisions and actions with careful consideration for their social and moral impact on others now and in the future. It involves temperance in controlling our behavior, appetites, lusts, and desires. Justice is demanded in absolute, not relative, terms in everything from education to manufacturing to social structures to international relationships. Finally, fortitude – tenacious and steadfast perseverance – is mandatory in every aspect of our personal, social and public life.
In recent years, tolerance – the practice of recognizing and respecting the opinions, practices, or behaviors of others – has insinuated itself into the list of virtues. In machines, tolerances, which allow slight variations from standard or specified values, are necessary between moving parts to allow for lubrication and to facilitate long life. The same is true for a society where diverse elements must coexist in harmony. When tolerances exceed defined limits in a machine, however,the machine self-destructs.Can we expect any better for society?
Tolerance constitutes a “feel good” addition to the list of virtues. Tolerant people are seldom judgmental and accept diversity in the broadest sense, rarely causing others discomfort about their status, beliefs, race, or sexuality. In today’s vernacular, however, the concept of tolerance has been stretched to require accommodation of previously despised forms of deviancy, degradation, and aberrant behavior.
Certainly intolerance can be extreme – leading to hatred and violence – and, in the extreme, is not to be condoned. Is it not possible that, unbridled, this newcomer to the list of virtues undermines the others? When justice favors one group over another based upon social status, race, ethnicity, or other factors, what have we done to justice in terms of moral rightness, fairness or equity?
When a lack of prudence is tolerated, what does it say about prudence? Does behavior reflect a desirable standard of discretion when a world leader discusses underwear with a teenager on television, makes sly references to astro-turf in the back of a pickup truck, addresses and supports an activist group whose lifestyle has been called an abomination by God Himself or, more recently, makes himself vulnerable to accusations of an improper relationship with a 21 year-old intern? What aspect of virtue is supported by a recent book which describes in lurid detail a long-term incestuous relationship between a high-profile daughter and her father? Where is circumspection evidenced when a former Surgeon General advocates behavior considered immoral by millions? Sadly, many Americans demand that we “give them a break”—i.e., be tolerant.
Christians are often accused of intolerance or bigotry. A word-search of the New International Version of the Bible, however, finds “tolerate” used only six times. In every instance, the context is negative, e.g. Habakkuk 1:3 – “Why do you tolerate wrong?” Habakkuk 1:13 “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” and Revelation2:2 “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men.” “Tolerance” appears only once (Romans 2:4) but then it is mentioned as God’s inducement to repentance, not as acceptance of illicit or immoral behavior. Obviously, Christians are called to love and serve one another but they are not commanded to tolerate that which is intolerable to God.
As we debate the serious issues of morality in leadership, gay rights, physician assisted suicide, abortion, illegitimacy, drugs, crime, and welfare reform, we must not allow unbridled “feel good” tolerance to undermine the core virtues that have sustained our nation for over two centuries.
When “tolerance” is a one-way street
Ron Greer: Fired fireman
In 1996,Ron Greer, a pastor and18-year veteran of the Madison, Wisconsin, Fire Department, gave a couple of fellow firefighters and friends a tract titled, “The Truth About Homosexuality.” Fire Chief Debra Amesqua immediately ordered an investigation of whether Greer had violated the city’s nondiscrimination policy. Greer was suspended without pay and ordered to attend diversity training in November, 1996. A court of appeals is weighing whether or not to allow the suspension to stand.
Chuck McIlhenny: Firebombed
When Presbyterian pastor Chuck McIIhenny learned that his church organist was an active homosexual, he called him to repentance based on the teachings of Scripture and Presbyterian doctrine. The organist sued and McIlhenny was tied up for years in legal battles, but finally prevailed. Meanwhile, the pastor and his family received death threats. On one occasion their house and church were firebombed.
Shelia Moloney: Stop the press
In the fall of 1995, Notre Dame student Sheila Moloney and her older brother Daniel founded Right Reason, a conservative campus newspaper. In the spring of 1996, a group called GLND/SMC (Gays and Lesbians at Notre Dame/St. Mary’s College) asked the administration for recognition and funding as a student organization. Notre Dame refused and Right Reason ran several articles supporting the university’s decision. Gay activists walked off with approximately 40% of Moloney’s press run. When confronted by campus security, they claimed the papers were “hurtful” to the gay community and claimed they would do it again. Moloney was forced to bring suit against one of the group’s leaders alleging that the activists conspired to deny freedom of the press.
Gene Lumpkin: No free speech
Eugene Lumpkin was a member of San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission and a Baptist pastor with a reputation for social justice. On June 26, 1993, San Francisco Chronicle quoted Lumpkin as saying, “It’s sad that people have AIDS…but it says right here in the Scripture that the homosexual lifestyle is an abomination against God.” He was fired from the Human Rights Commission for the remark and unable to win back his job through the courts. His disapproval of homosexual behavior was called homophobia and his First Amendment rights were trumped.
One gay group wrote, “It’s about time hate-spewing Christian priests got their bigoted remarks corrected. Let’s hope that this correction serves as a warning to the other homophobic religious bigots that their intolerance just isn’t going to be tolerated.”