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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian

Principles of Moral Thought and Action

Written by: Russell P. Dawn

Today the three Hookerian sources of authority have become four, and there is no uniform opinion as to how the four properly relate to one another.  Since the advent of Liberalism, the demise of universal agreement that scripture carries final normative authority has resulted in a scramble to fill the vacuum, with experience and reason predominating among those who tend to mitigate biblical authority. Consequently, Anglican ethical teaching has become greatly influenced by the cultural norms that color both human experience and conceptions of the reasonable.  Furthermore, even to the extent there is agreement as to where to turn for authority, interpretations of the contents of that authority differ significantly.

To the extent that the Bible remains authoritative among Anglicans, the most commonly cited ethical teachings would include the Old Testament's Ten Commandments, Jesus' Great Commandment (love the Lord God with all that you are, and love your neighbor as yourself--cited by Christ out of the Hebrew scriptures as the summation of the law and prophets), and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  The Sermon on the Mount includes:  the teaching that anger is as morally damnable as murder, and lust is as damaging as adultery; proscriptions on retaliation and judging others; injunctions to give to the needy and love one's enemies; and the Golden Rule, calling us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Another moral teaching that has become hugely controversial in recent decades consists of Old and New Testament indictments of  homosexual practices. Some view the statements as culturally conditioned and no longer relevant, while others uphold them as enduring pronouncements from God.  One recent view is that the indictments only refer to homosexual conduct by those who are not naturally homosexuals.

Anglicans have a long history of involvement in matters of social justice.  For example, William Wilberforce famously took a leading role in abolishing Britain's involvement in the slave trade, and Bishop Desmond Tutu was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  Today, Anglicans of all stripes continue the fight against oppression, poverty, and other social evils.

Study Questions:
     1.    Describe the Anglican relationship between faith and works.
     2.    What would classify one’s works as “good”?
     3.    How might culture influence one’s understanding of ethical behavior?
     4.    What moral teachings are often cited in Anglicanism?
     5.    Why could it be said that Anglicans have a long history of involvement with social justice issues?


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