As ethical and cultural attitudes change, it is difficult to keep up with the terminology used to label the shifts. We have become accustomed to what is labelled “multiculturalism”, as it has impacted our societies. This is where a different cultural or ethnic group maintain their culture while existing in a dominant culture.
The right for minority groups to have their differences has morphed into a stronger form – that of cultural relativism. In short, this means that what is ethical depends on the relative culture. Right or wrong is determined by the particular culture. The majority view determines what is ethical. If the majority believes something is right or wrong – that is the accepted relative standard.
This means that if the majority view on any moral issues is always correct, then there can be no criticism of the accepted moral issue. Cultural relativism demands tolerance from those outside of the cultural majority. That tolerance can translate into acceptance for those not in that culture. A good example of cultural relativism would be the current acceptance of what constitutes sexual morality that would have been unthinkable not so many years ago. The sexual revolution of the 60’s has a majority factor now that makes sexual choices of all sorts not wrong. No criticism will be accepted.
Undoubtedly there are cultural differences that are, and can be, accepted. Something can be different but not wrong. So where should right and wrong be established? How can society be enriched by cultural differences without employing cultural relativism?
The answer should be simple for God’s people. Yet, do we employ the answer provided by God to assess what is ethical or are we tempted by social “norms” to be tolerant? The trap we can fall into is the concept of showing love.
The Apostle John wrote quite clearly that if we are of God, then we must show love because he who does not love doesn’t know God (1 John 4:6-8). The question that arises – is tolerance showing love?
Thankfully our loving God provides a clear answer. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3). God’s law is an expression of His love. “… for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:3-4).
The love of God and His law allows us to appreciate cultural differences within His guidelines of what is right and wrong. It is not showing love to tolerate cultural or social ethics that contradict the will of God.
The majority will of the people is a false premise for establishing what is right or wrong. Jesus Christ said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Cultural relativism casts a very dark shadow over proper moral standards. But the constant pressure to compromise and be tolerant can erode the light of life if we are not diligent. “And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
Cultural relativism is a test of our love of the truth. Rather, we are encouraged “… that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
Cultural norms do not make actions right or wrong. At the same time, we need to be wise and harmless. Our duty is to recognize the sin, but to love the sinner. It is what our Father and Christ do for us.