Posted by: dacalu | 5 February 2014

Ethical Authorities

In my last post I claimed that Millennials are interested in the church being clearer about moral expectations (though not necessarily moral requirements) around sex.  Having said that, I thought, “Wait, I’m a priest and a theologian and a biologist; Why am I not writing about this?” It’s a tough sell politically and a tough problem theologically.  Of course, neither of those is a good enough reason to stop proclaiming the good news.  And yes, I do think it needs to be good news: there are positive, healthy, practical ways to deal with sex and romance in a way that leads to loving relationships.  I keep complaining that others are not talking about sexual ethics, so I suppose I should give it a try.  With that in mind, please say a prayer for me as I try to start a productive conversation on sex and morality for Anglicans in this time and place.  Hopefully it goes without saying that I encourage your input.

I have entitled this piece “An Anglican Ethics.” Anglicans rarely commit to a single theological perspective.  Largely we are more about method than conclusion.  That means, I’m asking you to follow me and see how I do this.  If I do my job properly, you will be able to do the process for yourself.  You may not come to the same conclusion, but you will come to a similar and similarly informed position.

The Via Media

Any Anglican theology starts with the via media, the middle way.  The via media suggests that theological and ethical questions should begin with a survey of expert opinion, where each perspective is carefully considered and given due weight.  Note that you listen to everyone, but take some sources much more seriously than others and reflect critically on the way the community (tradition) and personal reason shape your understanding of those sources.  For Anglicans, the foremost authority will always be the Bible.

Secondary authorities include the teachings of theologians, past and present, who have special purview either because of their universal scope and acceptance (Augustine, Aquinas, Hooker) or particular expertise (I’ll be drawing on Aquinas, CS Lewis, and L William Countryman).  The Episcopal Church has produced few institutional documents, but I plan to consult the Book of Common Prayer, “To Set Our Hope on Christ” and “I Will Bless You and You Will Be A Blessing” the latter two being as close as we come to an Episcopalian position on homosexuality.  (Sadly I am unaware of parallel resources on heterosexuality.)  Secondary authorities also include the findings of experts in biology, psychology, and related fields who report on specific relevant empirical evidence regarding human sexual identity and behavior.

Tertiary authorities include learned and wise commentary on the primary and secondary authorities.  There are many people whose opinions I deeply respect.  My opinions are shaped by the many conversations I have had with them.  Here I include theologians, bishops, pastors, and scientists who have reflected carefully on issues of sexuality both practically and theoretically.  I will not name any of them for fear of misrepresenting their opinions.  Any mistakes are surely my own.

Finally, there are quaternary authorities.  (Did you there was a word for fourth order? It’s one of my favorite words.)  In fourth place, we find public opinion.  It’s true that public opinion has changed radically with regard to sexual ethics over the last 60 years.  I have no doubt that that informs my opinion, but I give it lowest weight.  Within the quaternary category, I include anecdotes, personal narratives, and feelings and the experience of friends and family members.

Once you have this giant mass of opinion, it’s time to do something with it.  It’s time to actually practice ethics.  I have devoted a post to the question of which authorities you choose, however, because I find it critical in reasoning well about ethics.  Transparent reasoning about ethics requires that we first put our cards on the table about where we begin.  Much disagreement can be avoided, or at least clarified, by communicating about your different choices of authority.

It is both silly and arbitrary to assign numbers, but I found it a remarkable meditation, so I’d ask you to try to put together your own list.  It’s difficult, but as I sit here, let me propose:

40% Bible

15% respected theologians

15% respected scientists

10% The Episcopal Church

12% wise friends (6% in TEC)

8% popular opinion

In the next post, I will turn to the process of sifting through the authorities and coming to ethical principles and moral rules.

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Responses

  1. […] which I attempt to lay out one Anglican Christian approach to sexual ethics.  The sequence starts here with the collection of ethical authorities, with the Bible being the first and […]

  2. […] My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics.  The process began by exploring relevant authorities and continued with an outline for moral reasoning.  That outline […]

  3. […] My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics.  The process began by exploring relevant authorities.  In the last post, I set forth “Love of neighbor and love of […]

  4. […] post continues a series on ethics. The series begins here. My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics. In my last two […]

  5. […] post continues a series on ethics, which began here. My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics. In recent […]

  6. […] post continues a series on ethics (which began here). My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics. In a recent […]

  7. […] post continues a series on ethics (which began here). My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics. In the last […]

  8. […] post continues a series on ethics (which began here). My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics. In the last […]

  9. […] post continues a series on ethics (which began here). My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual […]

  10. […] post continues a series on ethics (which began here). My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual […]

  11. […] post continues a series on ethics (which began here). My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual […]

  12. […] post continues a series on ethics (which began here). My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual […]

  13. […] post continues a series on ethics (which began here). My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual […]

  14. […] post continues a series on ethics, which began here. My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics. This posts […]

  15. […] post continues a series on ethics, which began here. My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual […]

  16. […] post continues a series on ethics, which began here. My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual […]

  17. […] post continues a series on ethics, which began here. My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual […]

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  22. […] reasons people have sex. This is part of a continuing series on Anglican sexual ethics that began here […]


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