In this lesson, students explore and compare the qualities that make for a good human, a good citizen, and a person who evidences the fruits of the Spirit spoken of in Galatians 5.
- Students will compare and contrast the qualities expected of good citizens in a democracy with the qualities listed as fruits of the Spirit in the New Testament.
- Students will apply the qualities discussed to their own developing character.
There are various ways of approaching the question of how to manage the public interaction of differing individuals in society. We might focus on a set of rules for public engagement, or a set of obligations to be fulfilled, or, as we do here, a set of character qualities that are likely to be important if people are to live together well. If the idea of being hospitable to others is to be more than a nice idea, it requires that we develop and sustain the kinds of character qualities that make it possible to sustain a hospitable stance when there are risks involved or our inclination to do so is tested.
This lesson asks students to consider what makes a good human being, what makes a good citizen, and what qualities count as fruits of the Spirit. It is hoped that students will notice that many of the basic qualities presented in the New Testament list of fruits of the Spirit have some overlap with, or can help to sustain the traits that we need to participate well in civic interaction. If we have little capacity for patience, kindness, or self-control, we are unlikely to acquit ourselves well in public debate or succeed in showing hospitality toward others.
When you use Scripture in an educational setting you are always implicitly modeling how it should be interpreted. Note that the list of the fruits of the Spirit is not the only thing that the New Testament says about virtue or Christian character. The list is not exhaustive, it needs to be placed in the context of other New Testament themes, and the New Testament is more than a set of handy verses. It functions here as a specific place to focus to begin to think through the connections between character and civic engagement. To avoid giving the impression that we can engage complex issues simply by lifting a list out of a few verses, be sure to indicate to students that this is a beginning and there is more to investigate.
Note also that while Christian virtues are about how we live in the real world and so inform our civic engagement, they are about more than just the civic sphere. The fruits of the Spirit are not offered in the New Testament as a recipe for making compliant citizens. It is appropriate to note that there may be differences and tensions when we compare them with articulations of democratic values. At the same time, the fruits of the Spirit are not just about a separate religious realm, outside of our civic selves. As you prepare to teach this lesson, think through for yourself the overlaps and tensions involved here (you could, for instance, work through the homework activity below); this will position you better to lead discussion.
Preparing the Activities
For this lesson, you will need the presentation slides in the supplied PowerPoint file.
Teaching the Activities
First phase: Introduction (3 minutes)
Remind students of the discussion of walls, doors, and tables and the theme of civic hospitality in the previous lesson. Elicit from the students what the wall, door, and table each represented, and ask them what this image might have to do with how we approach immigration specifically and the civic or political realm more generally. The goal here is simply to connect back to the last lesson and refresh the hospitality image and its relevance in students’ minds.
Second phase (30 minutes)
In this next activity you will use a question prioritizing process. This is loosely adapted from the Question Formulation Technique developed by the Right Question Institute. Visit their website for more information and free resources.
Display slide 1, which presents the question What is a good human being? and basic instructions for the process. Then complete the following steps:
- [3 minutes] Students work individually to list as many ways of answering the question, or further clarifying questions, as they can. At this stage they should not pause to evaluate—every question or statement should be listed as spoken.
- [3 minutes] Students meet in groups of three to pool their lists. They decide together which are the most relevant and insightful items on their combined list.
- [3 minutes] Each group shares their selected items with the class. This could be done in several ways, e.g., having them post sticky notes to a poster, post to an online white board, or write their top ideas on a fresh sheet of paper.
- [3 minutes] Each group reviews the suggestions of the whole class and decides what they think are the most relevant and insightful items that have emerged from the whole class.
Repeat this process with a second question: What is a good citizen? (Slide 2).
Third phase (17 minutes)
Display the text of Galatians 5:13-25 (Slide 3). Have students read this text carefully by proceeding as follows:
- Read the text aloud.
- Ask students to read it through again silently.
- Ask the class to read through it again chorally.
- Give students a few minutes to reflect individually on which words stand out to them or connect to their previous discussions.
Mention that the fruits of the Spirit and these verses are not the whole of what the New Testament has to say about character, but they provide one focused place to begin thinking about the topic. Mention also that in verse 13 and 25-26 Paul contrasts “the flesh” with service to one another, and identifies it with self-centered hostility, suggesting that “the flesh” is not a term focused on bodily or sexual sins but a metaphor for self-centered behavior more generally. Lead a class discussion on the following questions:
- Compare the fruits of the Spirit to your ideas from earlier about what it means to be a good human being—what are the similarities and differences?
- Are the fruits of the Spirit good citizenship qualities? Why/why not? How is being a good person different from being a good citizen?
- Which of the fruits of the Spirit might be necessary to practice hospitality toward others, especially others who are different from me? Are any qualities other than the fruits of the Spirit needed for hospitality?
If your government syllabus uses a list of democratic values, you could ask students at this point to compare them with the list of fruits of the Spirit in Galatians.
Finally, give students 5 minutes to journal silently on the prompt on slide 4:
- Which of the qualities needed to be hospitable toward others do you feel you exemplify right now?
- Which ones could you cultivate more?
- How could you begin to do so?
Show students the following quotation from Aristides of Athens, a 2nd-century Christian Greek author who wrote a defense of Christianity:
They love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him into their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God.
(Quoted from: Christine D. Pohl, Building a Place for Hospitality, Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2007, p.30)
Discuss what qualities Aristides points to as making Christians into examples of good citizens:
- What does the quotation suggest about the way in which early Christians conducted themselves in public?
- What qualities do you think Christians should be known for in society at large today?
Assign students to read a significant document from US History such as George Washington’s Farewell Address, the U.S. Constitution: Preamble, or The Federalist Papers: No. 10. Ask students to compare the document with their discussion from today’s class, and make notes on the following:
- What are the key qualities needed for a good citizen according to this document?
- How might any of those qualities relate to the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians? Are there similarities or differences? Why?
- How might any of those qualities relate to showing hospitality to those who are different from us?
Explore how a focus on hospitality can help us imagine our role in the public square. Students explore the images of walls (safety), doors (openness), and tables (hospitality) as a scaffold for thinking about differences.