Understanding how moral values and a sense of obligation can come from beliefs and experience;
Evaluating their own and others’ values in order to make informed, rational and imaginative choices.
Christian values are based upon the life and teaching of Jesus. Jesus’ moral ethic is summarized in Matthew 7:12a “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you”. In the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5 – 7, a definition of Christian ethics is expounded by Jesus.
Bob Bowie writes – “there is a wide variety of approaches to Christian ethical decision-making. Catholic ethical thinking involves natural moral law, virtue theory and ideas about conscience. Other Christian denominations have various ethical approaches, from the very liberal protestant situationist approach to the more conservative absolutist understandings of biblical teachings. (See also Global Issues.)
For some Christians the primary moral authority is Church teaching, for others it is the Bible and for others again, it is individual conscience, or a combination of all three. This diversity means that it is very difficult to generalise about Christians when expressing their beliefs about certain moral issues. Conservative Christians might oppose abortion, homosexual relationships, sex outside marriage, while liberal Christians may well take different views.
Some Christians take pacifist views on war and violence (such as Quakers and some non-conformist traditions) while others take a view that wars may be just (Aquinas’ Just War Principles). Some American conservative Christians believe the death penalty is a justifiable form of punishment for a Christian community while others disagree. It is also important to note that not all Churches require their followers to adhere to all of the Church’s statements of moral theology, while others maintain quite a strict view of how the followers should live. There are dissenting voices within single traditions.”
In Luke’s gospel Jesus says, “… Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-31).
Right and wrong for a Christian is to be viewed through this attitude to people – that of unconditional love. In I Corinthians 13:4-8a St Paul defines this further, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
For a Christian, these words are the starting point for how a Christian arrives at an understanding of what right and wrong are.
Although many Christians would hold to the principles of the 10 Commandments as a guide for living, many would interpret these according to the pressures upon their own lives.
Thus attitudes to finances, sexuality, family and so on would be seen through the way in which the Golden Rule (“Do to others as you would have them do to you”) is applied to both individual and community.
Commitment to the Christian belief in Jesus as the template for living a modern life entails responsibility to other people. The many stories in the gospels of Jesus assisting people who were under-privileged, sick, distressed or outcast, illustrate that modern Christians must respond to these same needs. Society generally and the world specifically, is still stricken with these problems. Some Christians might say the world is sinful and only through the action of Christian work will this be healed. By bringing about a state unconditional love is the ruling principle, will the needs of all be catered for.
Although this is an ideal to which many Christians aspire, others have worked practically to make this a reality. Christians such as Martin Luther King Jr., Blessed Mother Teresa and Father Kolbe all tried to live their lives according to the Golden Rule. Other examples range from John Howard the prison reformer, Abraham Lincoln president of the United States of America and a committed abolitionist, to Lord Shaftesbury’s role in improving the working conditions of poor children in the nineteenth century, Father Damien who helped lepers in the South Seas and Dr Barnardo who established homes for orphaned children. Present day reformers include Christian groups who assist sufferers of HIV / AIDS, those with alcohol and drug related problems, children and adults with mental health issues and working to provide hospice care.
Christians have always seen their social responsibilities as part of their faith. The Christian Social Movement of the 19th century founded by FD Maurice gave its support to improving the appalling conditions of working men of Victorian England. In the 21st century, there are still many unresolved problems, and Christians continue to find ways to play a central role in this.
Christianity has always had a strong commitment to alleviating social injustice. Jesus was concerned for the poor, sick and outcastes of society and St Paul, Jesus’ theological interpreter, gives many instructions about how to respond to those in need.
In modern times, many Christians ranging from William Wilberforce (1759-1833 slavery), Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845 penal reform), William Booth (1829-1912 alcoholism & poverty), Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965 under-developed nations) through to Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968 civil rights), Fr. David Randall (1947-1996 HIV/Aids) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931- apartheid activist) have felt inspired to respond to the Christian message of applying unconditional love to all humans.
Christianity has not had such a long history of involvement with environmental issues, but because of the belief in a creator God (Genesis 1) who has a relationship through his creation with humans, Christians have become more aware of environmental issues in the past two or three decades. Although Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is often considered the precursor to environmental Christianity, it has only been in recent years that Christians have taken seriously the concept that humans are stewards of God’s creation, not masters of it. Most Christian leaders and organisations have responded to the need to include environmental issues in their debates – and churches with solar panels are not uncommon.
James Lovelock’s Gaia ethic explains that the human species is dependent on planet earth and left unchecked, humanity will bring about events which will lead to the diminishment or destruction of human civilization, if not the species itself. Although not a religious theorist, Lovelock has enabled the debate about these issues to come to a wider audience and his views are considered relevant by many Christians.
Roman Catholics have recently agreed with the idea of the value of creation in its own right (because of its sacred status as made by God), rather than the more traditional notion of humanity having dominion over all. The World Council of Churches is developing a new theology of nature in line with 21st century Christian views on the environment.
Historically, Christians have tended to use the Creation Stories in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 as the justification for many attitudes to the world, to the environment and to the animal kingdom. This is based upon the premise that God created all things, but that humans have dominion over the resources of the natural world, including animals. In modern times, these attitudes have been questioned and the concept of stewardship has replaced that of ownership. Because Jesus was concerned for the poor and outcast of society, healed the sick, and made certain statements in both his life and teaching about various ethical situations, Christians have guidance on many moral matters.
However, as there are many Christian denominations holding views on the nature of Jesus, on the Bible, and how the Church should interpret this, there are many Christian answers to ethical and moral questions. Aid programmes to developing nations and responses to the plight of those living is less economically developed countries are often led by Christian groups. The proper use of wealth and philanthropy has been pioneered by Christians, for example, the Cadbury and Sainsbury families. Attitudes to animal rights and the environment feature large in the thoughts and actions of church leaders today.
Although naturalistic theology is still extremely influential throughout the Churches, there is significant debate about the philosophical and theological justification for ethical issues. Bob Bowie, senior lecturer in RE at Canterbury Christ Church University writes, ‘It is important that students understand that there is a wide variety of approaches to Christian ethical decision making. Catholic ethical thinking involves natural moral law, virtue theory and ideas about conscience. Other Christian denominations have various ethical approaches, from the very liberal protestant situationist approach to the more conservative absolutist understandings of biblical teachings. For some Christian’s the moral authority that is primary is the Church teaching authority, for others it is the Bible and for others it is individual conscience, or a combination of all three. This diversity means that it is very difficult to generalise about Christians when expressing their beliefs about certain moral issues.
‘Conservative Christians might oppose abortion, homosexual relationships, sex outside marriage, while liberal Christians may well take different views. Some Christians take pacifist views on war and violence (such as Quakers and some non-conformist traditions) while others take a view that wars may be just (Just War Theory). Some American conservative Christians believe the death penalty is a justifiable form of punishment for a Christian community while others disagree.
‘It is also important to note that not all Churches require their followers to adhere to all of the Church’s statements of moral theology, while others maintain a strict view of how the followers should live. There are dissenting voices within single traditions.’
Christians nevertheless believe in the sanctity of life and the place of the world, as God’s creation, as the stage upon which life is acted out. By placing God, rather than humans, at the centre of these issues, Christians are able to reflect upon controversial issues before forming a conclusion.
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