Most teachers and parents have long understood that the positive reinforcement of desired behavior is a much more powerful learning tool than any punishment for undesired behavior ;
Behavior modification assumes that observable and measurable behaviors are good targets for change. All behavior follows a set of consistent rules. Methods can be developed for defining, observing, and measuring behaviors, as well as designing effective interventions. Behavior modification techniques never fail. Rather, they are either applied inefficiently or inconsistently, which leads to less than desired change. All behavior is maintained, changed, or shaped by the consequences of that behavior. Although there are certain limits, such as temperamental or emotional influences related to ADHD or depression, all children function more effectively under the right set of consequences. Reinforcers are consequences that strengthen behavior. Punishments are consequences that weaken behavior.
(from “Behavior Modification in the Classroom” by: N. Mather and Sam Goldstein (2001) LD Online )
My pastor, Heather, worked this concept into a sermon last Sunday. She questioned the old school practice of frequently suspending offending students, essentially telling the student that because they don’t conform they aren’t wanted. Eventually this point sinks in and guess what? The student soon no longer wants to be in a place where they aren’t wanted. Suspension is no longer a punishment but a welcome reward. She used this analogy to point out that this is often how Christians approach the faith, they may feel unworthy of God’s love or may even make others feel this way. It wasn’t long before her sermon began to impact the way in which I look at things.
Case in point; on John Shore’s blog there has been a lively conversation going on about (surprise!) homosexuality and the Church. Predictably, the discussion tended to center on whether or not homosexuality was a sin or if it was a sin could it in some way be excused or was it even a sin deserving of any more mention than the sins that afflict all Christians.
Inevitably someone will say that it is our Christian duty to call out sin wherever and whenever we see it. But what is our ultimate goal here? For instance, in the classroom we do not use behavior intervention techniques to make individual students look and act more like ourselves. We are not interested in a change in their behavior just because we disapprove of them. The ultimate goal is for students to learn, as well as to have them help maintain an environment where other students can also learn .
If our goal, as Christians, is to spread the Good News (which hopefully will result in people coming closer to God) how is this accomplished by ‘confronting’ individual sin? Shouldn’t we be interested in lifting up those positive “Christian” characteristics that a person possesses, no matter how few they might be? Telling people that because of their ‘sins’ (especially if those ‘sins’ are not anti-social in nature) they are ineligible for membership in our community is selfishly aimed at satisfying the ‘supposed needs’ of the community and not the spiritual needs of others. ‘Supposed needs’, because no community ultimately benefits from a lack of diversity.
So, rather than focusing on what we see as the negative (yet non-threatening) behavior of those who might be seeking a closer relationship with God, let’s try and focus instead on their other, positive, qualities. What is more important to us as Christians; our behavior or our relationships? Not that behavior is unimportant, but at what expense comes our attempts to change certain behaviors in others?
Who knows? Perhaps the ‘righteous’ may learn a thing or two from communing with these ‘sinners’. Besides, if we all had to clean up our acts first then not one church pew would be occupied.