Every proponent that I interacted with clearly brought with them certain unspoken assumptions about life, Christianity, ethics and sexuality that, while not clearly stated, directly influenced or were even foundational to their ethic. These unspoken assumptions can be reasonably interpreted from their arguments and it is with these unspoken assumptions are the root of my disagreements with them. While I’ve stated the ethic I believe in and am ultimately arguing for, I should make clear certain beliefs I have as well in regards to developing a public Christian ethic.
First and foremost I strive to be loyal to the Christian God in all areas of my life (though I know I do so imperfectly). While God is continually active among sons and daughters through the work of the Holy Spirit, His revelation in scripture is a public, widely affirmed, and an objective source of God’s revelation to humanity. I cannot say with certainty what the Holy Spirit has said to someone else, but I can say with certainty what is written in the Bible. To be loyal to the Christian God in developing a Christian ethic it is clear that this ethic must be based upon and critiqued by a legitimate exegesis of God’s revelation in the Bible. By legitimate exegesis I am appealing to a broad consensus of what is deemed scholarly sound and unsound when approaching the Bible. For example, reading Verse A in isolation of its context or ignoring a myriad of other verses that refute my interpretation of Verse A is seen as illegitimate. Likewise, if I go on a “verse hunt” to “proof” one of my beliefs is also seen as illegitimate as one should interpret the bible and develop ones beliefs from there not the other way around. One cannot base a Christian ethic on anecdotes, hypothetical situations, individual experiences, “What the Holy Spirit said to me…”, extenuating circumstances, other religious writings, “What Oprah said was…”, personal beliefs or other highly subjective rationale.
Second, I greatly value church tradition. Broadly speaking this means the time-honored practices and beliefs of the church regarding all areas of the faith (including ethics). For example, if Christians have read Verse A as meaning “X” and have consequently believed “X”, “X” would be a traditional belief of the church. Church tradition, unlike scripture, is fallible as it is a construct of humanity and needs to be critiqued through the scriptures. There have been and are Church traditions that were or are wrong and need to be changed. That being said the wider the belief (across cultures and across church traditions) and the longer such a belief has been held (throughout the centuries) the more it seems such a belief is trustworthy. An example of such a belief that has become actually part of orthodoxy would be the doctrine of the Trinity; while not explicitly spelled out in scriptures it has been so widely believed for so long it is a hallmark of Christian faith. My loyalty to church tradition makes me hesitant to advocate for any change to a long lasting ethic or moral code. Anyone suggesting a change church tradition (such as the church’s definition of pre-marital sex as immoral) has the burden of proof, as it were. Because of my loyalty to the Christian God, this burden of proof must be based on a legitimate exegesis of scripture.
Finally, I see the incredible pressure that the wider culture exerts on the church as a grave threat to Christian orthodoxy (right belief) and Christian orthopraxy (right action/practice). Secular Humanism is the religion of Western culture. The tenants of this religion (rationalism, naturalism and humanism) are deeply woven into our daily lives and are for the most part unexamined. This religion has its own gospel that contains these tenants and other beliefs, such as the celebration of individual rights, personal autonomy, and personal fulfillment over and against anything (including Scripture). This gospel is carried at times very explicitly when it was encoded into our founding documents (“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”), is taught by the public education system or in the narratives that play out in the movies and on TV. Other times this gospel is carried in more nuanced, but no less effective ways, such as a comment about the nature of things that is not explained but is still widely affirmed. Where the church is lax in teaching a biblical worldview, the pervasive gospel of our culture will fill in the gaps – and often times because of the enormous amount of pressure out there it doesn’t even wait for gaps. This secular gospel has influenced our churches greatly and it is my belief that the vast majority of Christians in the United States (myself included) actually have a syncretistic faith: they believe bits and pieces of Christianity and bits and pieces of Secular Humanism. What we believe greatly influences how we live our lives or put another way “we do what we think” and this has significant impact on our development of Christian ethics.
And now to interact with some of the other ethics in question…
I really appreciate position papers that lay out assumptions. It is probably the most helpful part of any paper, in that it makes explicit disagreements/agreements from the beginning. Looking forward to your series!