Principal or Principle

5 10 2017

” When someone says, ‘ Its not the money, it’s the principle’ , it’s almost always the money.” I first heard that sentiment expressed in Seminary in a class taught by Dr, Stuart Henry. Good quotes attributes it to Kin Hubbard with some slight changes  in grammar and inclusion by Dr. Henry.

I have found it  helpful in creating a lens through which to view the world and helps me to  challenge or question  moral and ethical decisions. Sometimes it is good to ask, ” Is it the Principle or the Principal?”  Is it a foundational truth or a sum of money that is the basis or end goal of a decision?

Wouldn’t life be easier if it were that simple?

I have discovered that getting folks to agree on Foundational Truths presents a primary challenge. The Golden Rule, ” Do to others as you would have them do to you”, seems woven in the fabric of humanity and has been universally held in religion for thousands of years. But any reading of history would suggest that we don’t find the rule so golden or the cornerstone when building a life.

If my memory serves me accurately, Elvis Presley said in Jail House Rock, his  rule was to ” Do unto others as you wouldn’t have them do unto you but do it first.” That seems at play for some, too. The irony of the quote and the movie title  is too good not to note!

Another version of the Golden Rule is, ” Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” In the play and movie, Cabaret, singers belt out, ” Money makes the world go around….” Such suggests that maybe principal is the principle. Again, the bawdy, gaudy nature of the presentation as a part of the ruse of the notion, deserves a nod.

So, let’s play out this ethical question in life. Since I live in the US, let’s choose some national headlines: ” Lone gunman kills at least 59 and 527 person injured. An arsenal was found in his hotel room”;  ” NFL is in a war with Trump it can’t win”; ” Tax reform”; ” Health Care Debate”; ” Hurricane victims”; ” Racism”

A friend  and former church member has found himself in the debate of racism in the US. The Reverend Robert W. Lee, IV is a descendant to General Robert E. Lee and has been outspoken in addressing white privilege and  racism. At the Black Caucus meeting in Washington, DC, he said, “There are more White liberal views out there in the church,” … “but they just aren’t speaking up. They don’t because they are scared of being kicked out of the country club. But at some point, you have to forget about the country club and do what’s right. And Christian.”

That quote lifts up one issue before the Church and Society and asks, ” Is it Principle or Principal?”

I can tell you that being a pastor in the South, even quoting Rob Lee will have folks buzzing. But isn’t it a question we White Southern Christians should at least ask? As a United Methodist pastor, I am proud of our global, multicultural,  integrated denomination; while I serve a mostly segregated congregation. While one hour of worship may still be the most segregated hour in the US, isn’t the church challenged to make sure any opportunity afforded one be available for all, in and outside of the Church.? Do unto others…My Bible attributes that saying to Jesus.

It is a question I have asked myself and invite you to join me in a personal soul-deep inquiry.  As a Christian , and I believe many other persons of good will and faith might agree,  the Golden Rule is a principled approach to life. A  goal,  target we will miss many times.  In New Testament Scriptures Paul called that missing the mark, sinful. But should we at least aim for the bullseye?

What if the next time it is time for a tough decision of ethics or life, maybe we might  ask,  “Principal or Principal?”  Let’s aim Higher!