No Excuses: Morality Has No Expiration Date

I have a confession to make.

I watch Downton Abbey.

Not in a “my wife makes me watch it” way. In an “I can’t believe how good this is!” way.

Yes, I actually like it.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Downton Abbey (not Downtown Abbey—pronouncing it that way makes fans cringe) is a British drama that was set in the 1910s when it started several seasons ago, but has since moved into the Roaring ’20s.

I seldom talk about my TV viewing habits in this forum. But I’m bringing it up today because in last night’s episode there was a fleeting moment where an argument was made which always sets my teeth on edge.

Lady Mary, around whose fortunes the show revolves (did you like how I used British-sounding syntax there?) has been carrying on an affair with a suitor. Her grandmother, the dowager countess—played with scene-stealing bravado by the great Maggie Smith—has discovered her granddaughter’s moral lapse (not Mary’s first) and confronts her on it.

Mary’s response includes mildly-cloaked disdain for the dowager’s unevenly-applied moral codes.

“Obviously, it’s shocking to someone of your generation,” Mary says, rolling her eyes.

“Don’t let us hide behind the changing times, my dear,” responds granny. “This is shocking to most people in 1924!”

Their exchange is well-written and brilliantly acted. It’s delivered with the intent of putting a wry smile on viewers’ faces in 2015, which it did.

But It’s the Millennium!

I don’t know if people actually used such an argument in the 1920s, but it’s likely that they did. I do know this, though. People have used it all my life.

When people run out of valid arguments to explain their questionable and/or outright sinful behavior, they start quoting the date. As if we weren’t aware of the concept of a calendar. 

I’ve heard everything from “it’s the ’70s, man, don’t bum me out,” to “you can’t seriously still believe that in 2015, can you?” People were especially obnoxious about it at the turn of the millennium.

This is not to say that our moral choices shouldn’t be called into question. People often got things wrong in the past. As I write this post, it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Race relations are far from perfect today (2014 was a particularly rough year for them) but progress has been made. I cringe when I think about the kinds of racist (and sexist) talk and behavior people accepted in the 1950s and ’60s. Thanks to people like Dr. King, much of what was accepted then is all-but-universally denounced today.

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Karl Vaters
Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors

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