This week I had the privelage of teaching at the University of Stellenbosch on two days. The topic of the lectures was Scripture and Ethics.
The Bible is a critical source that informs our moral and ethical decision making processes, and helps us to justify why we have taken a particular course of action. My lectures were based on two chapters that I have written.
“Reading the same Bible and reaching different ethical conclusions: The Bible and Christian ethics" by Forster, D (2009:131-156) in What is a good life? An introduction to Christian Ethics in 21st century Africa. Kretzschmar, L; Bentley, W; van Niekerk, A (eds). Kempton Park, AcadSA Publishers.
"Why you can't simply trust everything you read" by Forster, D (2008:25-46) in What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists. Forster, D; Bentley, W (eds). Cape Town. Methodist Publishing House.
When we need the Bible most... Complex ethical dilemmas and Christian scripture
Sadly, the Bible is often abused in moral and ethical decision-making processes. I often hear people quoting a single verse to justify a stance on something (whether it be politics, sexual choices, wealth etc.) An overly simplistic approach to ethics and an ignorant application of the scriptures can be extremely hurtful and damaging in complex ethical decisions.
In this set of lectures we began by examining the complexity of ethical decision-making. We used a story that a student shared with me when I was still a lecturer in Ethics and Systematic Theology at the University of South Africa (UNISA) some years ago:
Moral problems tend to have straigthfoward answers (right or wrong), whereas ethical dilemmas seem to have a mix of both good and bad. No matter what choice you make it will not be entirely good or entirely bad. The complexity is to work out what decision is best under the circumstances. This process of deciding is often complicated when one asks the question 'What would God want me to do in this situation?', or 'What does the Bible say I can and cannot do in this situation?'
The example used in class came from a student that I taught at UNISA.
Example: Is it ever right for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother? What does the Bible say? The answer is, no, it is not acceptable for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother. The Bible will not allow that. This is a clear moral problem. It is easy to resolve since the choices are either right or wrong, good or bad.
However, in this instances the young man was at home with his mother. A gang of thugs burst into their home, stole various items and then held a gun to the young man’s mother’s head. The told him that if he did not have sex with his mother they would kill her. What should he do? Does the Bible make some allowance for him to break a law on sexual purity because the value of his mother’s life is more important in Biblical terms?
This last point is an ethical dilemma. There is a conflict of values – the value of sexual purity in conflict with the value for life. Which is more important in Christian ethics? How does one use the Bible to inform such an ethical decision making process and choice?
Well, here are the slides from the lectures. You can download the original Microsoft Powerpoint slides from this link (5MB). These slides have notes and references in them.
However, if you simply want to click through the slides then please use the slideshare window below.
In order to illustrate the complexity of using the Bible in Christian ethics we used a very contentious subject, the Christian (Biblical) perspective on persons with a same sex orientation, and in particular persons in an active homosexual relationship, to consider an approach to ethical decision-making.
I would highly recomend that you read the chapters referenced above. They give a detailed technical outline of both the content of the lecture, but also the Analyse, Ask, Evaluate and Act model that is presented here.