4 out of 4 stars
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“When false witnesses, including national leaders and Christian leaders, more concerned with ideology than with the truth, betray the trust of unsuspecting people, it is a basic violation of something essential for life together.”
Drawing from the teachings of Jesus documented in the Sermon on the Mount, Maurice Martin explains how Christian ethics have been damaged by American evangelicals, including himself. As a pastor, professor of ethics, and former Chief Operating Officer for the Christian international relief and advocacy organization, Food for the Hungry, Martin shares his findings in his compelling study, Damaged Goods: American Evangelical Ethics. Martin conveys his desire to go beyond identifying the damage and provide a path to repair it.
The 250-page book is well written and professionally edited. Martin's writing tone is informative without coming across as preachy. He differentiates between ethics, morals, and evangelicals and very clearly expounds on the concept that just as "...evangelicals are not alike in all particulars, Christain ethics aren't either." At first glance, it may be easy to dismiss some of the questions he poses as mere semantics, such as "American Christian or Christian American?" However, Martin carefully presents questions and thoughts that are supported by scriptures and contrasts them with the current political and evangelical climate in a manner that will appeal to readers who are willing to delve a bit deeper. On a personal note, I am a conservative Christian, and while I respect the office of the president, I cannot support the current administration. Martin articulates this dilemma better than I have seen it previously expressed: "...many others are wondering how Christians, evangelicals in particular, could be supportive of so much that seems so antithetical to a traditional understanding of historic Christian belief and practice."
There is a lot to like about this thought-provoking read. Martin sensitively challenges the acceptance of long-held beliefs by examining them through both the heartbreaking and inspirational experiences of himself and others. In one example, he refers to Corrie Ten Boom's autobiographical book, The Hiding Place. Martin contrasts the passionate beliefs of Corrie and her sister, Betsie, to illustrate the differences between Christian duty-based ethics and Christian character-based ethics: "Corrie was willing to lie to protect the people whom they were hiding, Betsie was not. The two sisters loved each other and were deeply committed to their faith, but they took different principled positions with regard to this incredibly difficult dilemma." I also appreciate that Martin does not shy away from hot-button issues, including ethics related to abortion, gun laws, and birth control: "It is a powerful absolutism that demands that we must have protected access to guns, but we cannot have protected access to birth control." In his final appendix, "Myths About the Poor," Martin debunks common misconceptions with facts, scriptures, and government statistics.
I am unable to name anything I dislike or suggest any improvements to this enlightening book. Therefore, I am pleased to rate Damaged Goods 4 out of 4 stars. In addition to being a pastor and ethics professor, Martin's experiences as a United States Air Force rescue helicopter pilot and his service in leadership for Food for the Hungry will appeal to a wide range of readers that extends beyond Christians and American evangelicals. The book contains an instance of borderline profanity.
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