Across the Pastor’s Desk: How to deal with conflicting values

Published 8:00 pm Friday, June 18, 2021

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Kenneth Jensen

Genesis chapter 4 relates the familiar story of Cane and Abel. Sibling rivalry over whose offering was most pleasing to God, results in Cane murdering his brother.

Kenneth Jensen

Knowing what Cane had done, the Lord confronts Cane with a question: “Where is your brother Abel?” Cane avoids answering. Instead, he asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Sixteen months ago, COVID-19 became a pandemic unparalleled since the flu outbreak of 1918.  It took approximately three months for science and the medical profession to gather sufficient data to discern how to impede its spread. Now, medical personnel tell us that a vast majority of the 600,000 deaths could have been prevented by simply wearing a mask. 

As a people, we are driven by the quest for two cherished ideals:  freedom and community The two do not easily coexist. We value individuality and self-reliance; yet, we are dependent upon community for our most basic needs.

Sebastian Junger, in his recent book “Freedom,” describes how we respond to limitations placed upon our behavior. Such limitations are adhered to out of a sense of obligation or are resisted as a sign of oppression.

It was much in evidence during COVID-19. Many people (myself included) felt it to be an imposition on one’s lifestyle. Mask wearing, social distancing and continual handwashing were at best an inconvenience. 

Many responded to government mandates out of a sense of obligation.  Community was a priority. They did it, not so much to avoid getting sick themselves, but out of concern for the most vulnerable — the elderly and individuals with existing health conditions.

Others defied the mandates and protested outside the halls of government. Mandates were considered to be an overreach, an encroachment on individual freedom.   While some reacted out of sheer selfishness, not everyone did. There are many small business owners who invested everything they had to provide us with a service. Now, they risked losing it all. Who would speak for them?

Life is complicated.  Unfortunately, we politicize everything in our search for simple solutions to complex problems. We pick sides and look upon those with whom we disagree as Cain looked upon his brother Abel. It did not end well.

Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is “Yes.” But we first must ask, “Who is my brother?”

Kenneth Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.