Why James Jones is Wrong

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Church of England Ecclesiastical Secular / Christian Sexuality Theology Wholeness

In his speech to Liverpool Diocesan Synod today, Bishop James Jones has argued that the Church should view the debate over human sexuality in the same way that in the past we have agreed to disagree over Just War. He says,

A cursory glance at the history of the just war theory and the ethics of pacifism show that for the last two thousand years the church has been exercised about whether or not it is ever right for a Christian to take up arms and to take the life of another human being.  Although it has been agreed that the early church (from the period of persecution within the Roman Empire until the conversion of Constantine) was the age of pacifism, since then the church has not only allowed but embraced a breadth of ethical opinion on the taking of life.

Augustine made the point that Jesus ruled out Malatia (hatred) not Militia (military service) and the church, without compromising the principle of the sanctity of human life, has made space within the Body of Christ for a variety of ethical positions.

I suspect that within our Synod there is a similar spectrum of moral conviction about whether or not it is ever justified to take the life of another.  No doubt should our nation ever find itself in another period of compulsory conscription to military service we would have lively debates on the floor of this Synod to argue the case and to discern the truth.  Meanwhile, on this the most fundamental of all ethical issues in spite of any divergent views, we sit comfortably with each other, recognise each other’s integrity, respect one another’s faith and moral judgement and enjoy communion in Christ with one another.

I have to say that I am not fazed by this for with you I recognise that in a complex world of absolute moral principles the application of them is rarely a straightforward process.  That is why our courts are presided over by people and not computers.

Even though we live in a society tempted to reduce every decision to a box-ticking exercise that can be processed through a computer, when it comes to making moral judgements about a person’s behaviour we have to hear the human story and form a moral judgement with regard not only to the nature of the action but also to the intent and the consequences.  And although I am not a lawyer I know enough to see that context frames a deed and can either mitigate or aggravate the seriousness of an action.

The histories of the First and Second World Wars when conscription was in force show how many wrestled with their conscience as they sought to apply moral principles to their own particular context.  As we look back, our society and the church both approve and salute the courage shown by both pacifists and conscripts even though at the time there were passionate debates, fierce division of opinion and great hostility shown to conscientious objectors.

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