As I travel and speak, it isn’t surprising to me that some of what I say is challenged by some who hear me. It’s healthy, in fact, because it allows for lively discussion where the give and take of ideas can allow us all to reexamine our convictions, prejudices, and views. One thing that is never challenged, however, is the idea that we live in a world where increasingly those around us tend to hold values and beliefs that are different from our own. And that because of this growing pluralism, we find ourselves at least occasionally faced with requests from people that appear to clash with what we believe to be right and true. Requests about which we are required to make a choice, and though we want to do what is right, it is not always immediately clear what that right is. To make matters more complicated, some of our Christian friends may disagree with our decision, and argue that they (and Christ) would have handled the scenario quite differently. And often, our friendships with non-Christians seem to hang in the balance, and our decision can affect their understanding of our faith.
Scenarios such as these two, both of which are true stories (with a few details changed to make them more discussion-worthy):
Scenario #1. A non-Christian friend, let’s call her Susan, has just been abandoned by her husband. His family is quite wealthy, and the couple have been living in a house owned by his family near the University. The plan was that he would finish school while Susan supported them with odd jobs, and then she would finish her degree in music. The only financial asset Susan brought to the marriage is a cello, which has been in her family for several generations, and is worth in excess of $50,000. To keep from losing her cello when their property is divided in the divorce, Susan asks you to purchase her cello for $500, with the promise to sell it back to her for the same amount after the divorce is finalized.
Scenario #2. A single mother, let’s call her Linda, has been working hard to make a go of things, but some unexpected bills have caught up to her, and she is now faced with having to declare bankruptcy. Alienated from her family because of her pregnancy, you have become her closest friend. She asks you to rent a storage unit in your name, and gives you cash to cover the cost for a year’s rental. There is no financial risk for you: at the end of the rental period, either the agreement must be extended or after 30 days the contents of the unit will become the property of the storage company. Though Linda doesn’t have much, she intends to move the few items of value she owns into it in order to hide those assets from the bankruptcy court.
Two scenarios—two requests to help hide assets from the court—requiring a decision. And both raising questions worth discussing.
Questions1. What is your initial reaction to these scenarios? Why do you think you reacted as you did?
2. Have you faced—or heard about—similar situations?
3. Would you purchase Susan’s cello? Why or why not? If no, how would you explain your reasons to her?
4. Would it make a difference if Susan was abandoning her husband, rather than being abandoned? Or if they were simply divorcing because both felt the marriage was not worth continuing? Why or why not? If yes, why are you willing to offer grace only to those you deem worthy of it? If Susan was your sister, would that change your decision? If she was a Christian?
5. Would you rent a storage unit in your name for Linda? Why or why not? If no, how would you explain your reasons to Linda?
6. If Linda found someone else to rent it for her, would you help her move her assets into it? Why or why not? If you wouldn’t rent it for her but would help her move her assets, why the difference?
7. If you tell Linda No (to either renting the storage unit or helping her move her assets into it), and she responds that true friends are willing to take risks for each other, how would you respond?
8. Let’s assume that Linda did not tell you her reasons until after you had rented the space in your name (which is what actually transpired). What would you do and say? Why? What would you do/say if your spouse rented the unit without talking with you first?
9. Do you feel you need more information, perhaps about the law, before making your decision? How would you handle this if actually faced with these scenarios—without alienating your friend? Let’s assume that in both cases, helping to hide the assets is clearly forbidden by law. To what extent should that fact determine what you will do? Why? If this simply settles the issue for you, why aren’t you willing to offer grace to a friend who is about to be hurt by the application of law? Since the cello is clearly Susan’s, why would you insist that the court, which deems it “community property,” is correct? Under what conditions would you be willing to break such laws in order to help a friend? How do you justify your position biblically? To what extent are these scenarios similar to Jesus’s willingness to heal on the Sabbath?
10. To what extent do Christians need to come to identical decisions in such matters? Is true community possible if such disagreements exist? How is diversity and unity to be lived out within the Christian community? Why do so many Christians have so much trouble maintaining unity in the face of such diversity?