The Failure of Christian Ethics

It is my growing contention that many of the ills and squabbles of the Christian Church exist not because of a lack of knowledge, but rather due to the wrongfootedness of so much discourse.

Perhaps you were told that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; that by converting to the faith you would be fulfilled and enabled to experience reconciliation with God, neighbour and fulfil your destiny. The promises and the testimonies you heard had you hooked and you could not wait to hear more, to be in the company of these people who all had a story to tell of how God had blessed them.

Maybe your experience of church is less Evangelical than this, and in fact was an exercise in self awareness as you were taught to respond with tolerance to the preferences and pains of others. In Sunday school you were taught that the Church is God’s rainbow people, a coming together of diversity and that you should be suspicious of anyone who was too exclusive.

These two experiences might not be too far removed from the general state of many churches today as either side entrenches itself against the other over matters of sexual health, human sexuality and gender understanding. I’m sure one enterprising journalist could make a tidy sum, selling Bingo cards with the clichés and proof-texts either side hurls at the other.

So there exists a disunity in the church from the point of entry through to the living out of Christian faith in the world.

That is, we have no idea how to be in the world. 

One side believes that the desires of all people could be met if only they would repent and join their church. The other believes that the fulfilment of human potential is possible when there is no longer anyone to prevent them form fulfilling their desires.

If you struggle to see the difference, I think you might be grasping the problem. 

Both sides hold the idea that the fulfilment of human desire is the true and proper path to peace.

The difference lies in the method of bringing this about. Nobody, neither the Evangelicals or the Liberals, are willing to question the first premise.

That desire is now morally determinative.

Of course there are a few caveats to this: The desire to rape, to abuse children or to take a life are still viewed as evil. Yet this evil stems principally from the fact that the act is not bilaterally agreed. The evil of evil acts today is found not in the act itself, but in the way the act robs an individual to express their intention to fulfil a desire. So rape is not evil as such. The robbing of the other of the right of consent is evil.

When the evil of an act is only determined by the proximity to  the person the act offends, evil acts slip under the radar as the proximity widens.

Google have paid just 1% tax on all the money they have earned in the UK. High street fashions are made by children and women are trafficked to star in porn flicks. The person is removed from us through a supply chain or DSL cable and so our conscience is not pricked.

Of course we know that a child groomed for sexual acts and a child who works for 18 hours in an assembly line are experiencing a wronging of the most deplorable sort–namely, that they have no knowledge that their treatment is wrong–yet we do not believe this to be the case. 

If we believed this, if the reality of this bore down on our daily existence, perhaps our response would be the same sort of outrage in both instances.

The church ought to have the resources necessary to believe the evil of both of these acts with the same strength. 

The fact that it is just as charitably imperial in its response as the average Guardian reader demonstrates further the ethical crisis stemming from the conflict between a faith of revelation, and the modern construction that a person’s desires have moral weight, and en masse can direct national ethical discourse.

Many churches seem all too eager to cater to the desires of a community, either suggesting that their teaching can give them everything they want, or else changing their teaching until they get what they crave.

What would Christian ethics look like if we made our decisions as though God were more important than personal fulfilment? 

As for man, his days are like  grass;
he flourishes like  a flower of the field;
for  the wind passes over it, and  it is gone,
and  its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from
everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.

Psalm 103:15-18


One Comment

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  1. I’m not sure that blaming different strands of Christianity for arguing differently, or that wrongly defining evil by defining it from a humanistic point of view is ever going to fulfil our only ministry calling, as followers of Jesus , by being reconcilers of people to the Truth of God – which is that God isn’t angry with them any more because he placed all his wrath on Jesus. How about talking about what God through his word calls evil and how he has solved the problem rather than using human argument? Only once we make people aware of what All evil is – which is working in opposition to God’s Will – will we be able to show people how to stop evil in this world.

    So is it possible for you to now share with your readers what God says about evil?


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