Ethical guidelines

Christian values are based upon the life and teaching of Jesus, whose moral ethic is summed up in Mark 12 as, “Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself”. An expansion of this is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), which affirms that the Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for doing what is right, etc.

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 therefore viewed through this attitude to people – self-giving 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 to know what is right and wrong.

However, in practice, these principles may be interpreted in many different ways. It is therefore very difficult to generalise about Christians when defining their beliefs about particular social or moral issues. In seeking to apply the teachings of Jesus to everyday life, for some Christians the primary moral authority is their Church’s teaching; for others it is the Bible; for others individual conscience, or else a combination of all three. Christians who take a traditional or conservative social outlook might oppose abortion, homosexual relationships, sex outside marriage, and transition of gender, while Christians with a more liberal outlook might take a different view. Likewise, 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, based on Aquinas’ Just War Principles. Some conservative Christians believe that the death penalty is a justifiable form of punishment for a Christian community while others will disagree.

It is also important to note that not all Churches require their followers to adhere to an agreed statement of their Church’s moral theology, while others, like the Catholic church, may maintain quite a strict view of how the followers should believe and live. Even then however, there are often dissenting voices, even within those traditions.

One should be very wary therefore in assuming to determine Christian attitudes to finances, sexuality, family and so on, since groups and individuals will interpret these differently according to their particular teachings and the religious contexts of their own individual lives.

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