Return to Moral Compass

The El Dorado News-Times initiated a new quarterly tab called “On the Path” to address spiritual issues with writings from local people. I was asked to contribute my thoughts on returning to our moral compass. The paper published the special section Sunday.


By Joan Hershberger

The wiry woman leaning against the wall smirked, “See these sneakers.”

She stuck out her foot.

“I didn’t pay for them. I just took them.”

The guy raised his eyebrows and mused, “I always wondered who did that.”

He had no hint of admonition in his voice, not even a casual, “So that’s why the shoes are so expensive at that shop.” With not even the most minimal of confrontations, she will do it again.

The members of the diet club greeted weekly losses, gains or a plateaus of weight with mild cheers for loss or plateaus and a soothing, gentle, “That’s OK” for gains — not a sympathetic, “what happened? What will you do differently next week?”

In the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, the adults feared losing their jobs if they spoke the truth. Because they kept silent, the emperor marched proudly down the street wearing nothing except his pride. Only a child too young to worry about a job and eagerly anticipating the fantastic clothes declared the obvious, “The emperor has no clothes.”

No one likes a whistle blower that brings an accounting of her actions. Those who say, “That’s wrong” find themselves scorned or reminded they are to “Judge not” or told that Christ said, “Let him who is without sin among you, throw the first stone.”

Following those words the stones dropped as the religious leaders silently walked away from the woman caught in adultery (not the man — he is never mentioned.)

Once they all left, Christ asked, “Does no one condemn you?”


“Neither do I.”

Most people stop right there in relating the event.

Christ did not. He continued on, “Go, and sin no more.”

He knew the sin and the punishment she deserved. Only the mercy of God kept her from that punishment and told her to not do it again.

That is the moral compass society misses today. No one says, “Shoplifting hurts everyone; it raises the cost of all the shoes,” or asks “Why did you gain this week?” or dares say, “The emperor needs to go home and get dressed.” Instead the moral compass of individuals, communities and the nation moves a bit further off center.


It isn’t enough to simply say, “everyone sins.” Obviously everyone — except Christ — has sinned. He did not throw a rock — instead he emphasized she had sinned and she must stop.

Many have claimed a great promise for our nation: Deuteronomy 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

It is a great verse with great promise. Sometimes the humbling begins when someone says, “That’s not right, that hurts you and many others, that is shameful.”

If no one sets a standard, the community becomes like Israel before the advent of King Saul and King David. Throughout the book of Judges, before and after each recording of yet another ungodly action, the scriptures say, “there was no king in the land.”

When the king (or other leader) misuses their authority and position, their shameful sin also destroys the nation. In the time of Christ, John the Baptist dared say Herod lived in adultery. It cost John his head — a harsh consequence for speaking the truth. And would be reason enough for most to keep quiet, but the truth still needs to be spoken.

Many churches today emphasize small groups. In the first century church, the apostle Jame wrote to those small groups, “Confess your faults to one another. And pray for one another.”

We need a willingness to admit our sins, our flaws, our law-breaking. We need to accept all have sinned and come up short. If we are to admit this personally and specifically, we need to know fellow believers will love us in spite of our sins and then pray for us and coach us as we attempt to obediently “go and sin no more” to make better choices that build the community. We also need to know that the listeners will humble themselves in the same way, that it is a two-way street.

The moral compass of our community and nation will return when people are held accountable in their homes, schools and churches. These are the places for developing strong leaders who will take a stand at any tailor’s incredulous tale of magical clothes.

In the past few decades churches have winked and closed their eyes to sexual immorality. They refuse to see, let alone confront, the obvious. If we want our moral compass be accurate, as families, churches and communities, we need to agree to confront those who has lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, indulge in too much self-centered activities.

We need to love each other. We also need to love each other enough to expect the other person to make morally good choices, We need to say, “I love you too much to allow you to continue to make that destructive decision.”

As a nation, if we would turn away from our sin, if we would say, to each other, “I have sinned and I see you sinning this is something we need to help each other with and to get others to hold us accountable over” we would see the changes sought.

Without accountability vertically and laterally we will continue to be like the unclad emperor strutting down the road thinking we look exceptionally grand.

Joan Hershberger is a staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times.