Situational Ethics and Gay Theology

A great post by Rik:

One of the things I appreciate about most professional debates is that both sides are usually open and honest as to where they are coming from theologically and philosophically.

The problem is that when non-academians get into debates (especially on the internet) is that they are often completely unaware as to how they have been influenced by the culture and their educational background from government schools, liberal churches and the mass media.

The result is that they can often think and act in such a way that is in accord with a particular school of thought and yet they are totally unaware as to where their ideas came from.

This is why it is important to understand the history of philosophy and theology in Christian apologetics. When you hear certain ideas being asserted you need to be able to recognize them, know where they originated and how to respond to them.

But if you are having a discussion with just the average person who does not know where they get their ideas then you cannot expect them to identify themselves by saying, “I’m an existentialist” or “I believe in situational ethics” or “I am a neo-liberal.” The fact is they often do not know that there is a label and school of thought for the way in which they think.

This is why I named a number of pro-Gay Theology schools of thought and addressed them but what I had not focused on in detail was the idea of Situational Ethics. As previously stated, this idea was popularized by Joseph Fletcher and although it has been refuted on numerous occasions it continues to be a popular idea.

When Situational Ethics is used in Christian morality it sets the subjective personal and social context for relationships against the rightness or wrongness of specific acts as stated in Scripture. This is an untenable means of establishing a justifiable system of ethics. Although the context (the situation) may may affect the degree of culpability for a wrong act, an objective normative standard for morality is needed in order to establish any justifiable universal standard for what may be called “right” or “wrong.”

The problem with Situational Ethics is that the Bible reveals a God to whom some acts are wrong whatever context is associated with them. Sexual acts (whether heterosexual or homosexual) that are outside the heterosexual marriage covenant come into that category. Heterosexual fornication is a sin regardless of the inner disposition and mutual consent of those involved. Likewise, homosexual sex is a sin regardless of the inner disposition and mutual consent of those involved.

The entirety of Scripture upholds the pattern of nature in creation in Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19:5-6 and Romans 1 as the norm for human sexuality. Both heterosexual fornication and homosexual sex are outside of God’s created order and to participate in such sins is an act of rebellion against God.

A loving motive – as important as it is – cannot override God’s objective standard (His moral law) for right and wrong which reflects His holy character.

Therefore, while homosexual behavior feels “natural” to someone who identifies themselves as being "gay" it is contrary to God’s set boundaries for human sexual expression and He has repeatedly throughout history judged those who violated His holiness whether or not they were in covenant with Him.

While I understand that restricting sexual behavior to a heterosexual marriage may sound severe and even burdensome to those who have homosexual temptations, nevertheless right and wrong is determined by God and not our subjective fleshly desires.

If Situational Ethics were to become determinative for Christian morality then any form of seemingly “natural” inclination will become acceptable and tolerated in the Body of Christ as it has in the Metropolitan Community Churches.

Spot on Rik. I’m doing a seminar with some sixth-formers in a week or so and we’ll be discussing whether Christians are fundamentalist, hypocritical bigots, or whether there is actually something to be said for revealed ethics.

2 Comments on “Situational Ethics and Gay Theology

  1. As far as the writer’s main point — yes, exactly! (Is that what ‘spot on’ means?) :)

    But the L-word tweaked me off onto this small tangent:

    The fact is they often do not know that there is a label and school of thought for the way in which they think.

    If a label is insufficient to accurately describe my sexuality, then a label is also insufficient to communicate my thoughts.

    My experience is more complex than a single word.

    I may be an “average person,” but don’t put me in a box (isn’t this rather arrogant of you non-average people?); my views may sound like a particular “school of thought,” but they’re not. Listen to me, as I listen to you.


  2. Hi Peter and Kitty,

    there’s a lot in Rik’s post and I’m not going to comment much now. Would just say that I’m sure there are things to be said for “revealed ethics”, but also that the implication of Rik’s words is that only argument based on ‘situational ethics’ is used to disagree with the traditional prohibition on same-sex sex. But I’d put it to you (and Rik… maybe should go to his blog) that there are arguments against the traditional prohibition that don’t draw on ‘situational ethics’ at all – close readings of some Biblical texts among them (e.g. Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s book, Wrestling with God and Men which I’ve mentioned before I think).

    in friendship, Blair

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