Is there a positive case for the ‘traditional’ sexual ethic?

This morning the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) have released a video entitled ‘The Beautiful Story’ which seeks to set out the case, in accessible terms, for the ‘traditional’ sexual ethic that sex belongs in marriage between one man and one woman, as currently taught in the doctrine of the Church of England. I have contributed to the video, but I was not involved in its design or production.

There are several things I really like about the video.

The first is that it locates the whole current discussion of sexuality in the wider question of what has been happening in society at the moment, and our call to share the good news about Jesus. And, in the opening comments by Jason Roache, it highlights the fact that the Church’s teaching is not something we just improvise, but something we both inherit and pass on, just as Paul comments in 1 Cor 15.3 that he is passing on what has been passed to him.

Secondly, it is clear that the teaching of Scripture that the Church of England has received is counter-cultural, and so might not be well received—but it is good news nevertheless.

Thirdly, there is a really good diversity of both people and issues in this area. The speakers include those from single-parent families, those who are married, those who are heterosexual and single, and those who are gay (or would call themselves same-sex attracted) but accept and live by the teaching of the Church. There is up-front ownership of the failings of judgementalism and moralism that the Church has fallen into, but the speakers want to reject these approaches and move on to something more positive. One striking thing is the way that the video involves evangelicals from different viewpoints on issues which are seen to divide them, particular on the question of the ordination of women. A number of speakers do not agree with the Church’s current position on that issue—but are working with women in leadership and women bishops on this subject.

Fourthly, it locates the debate about sexuality within the broader theological context of our understanding of creation and anthropology—what Scripture says about what it means to be human in the light of who God is—as well as questions of eschatology, where the creation is heading. These theological themes reflect the different ways that Scripture talks about marriage and makes use of the metaphor of marriage in a range of contexts.

Fifthly, there is quite a substantial section on the failings of the Church and its teaching (from 16.28), both in terms of homophobic attitudes (in the true sense of that word—irrational hatred and fear) and the exultation of marriage to the exclusion of those not married. It notes that this failure does demand repentance—but it does not demand that we think that the teaching of Scripture is either irrelevant or unclear.

Sixthly, I think it does a good job of making a positive, accessible and attractive case for the ‘traditional’ position.

And, seventhly, whilst it does highlight the problems and challenges that might come should the Church of England start considering changing its doctrine, it still makes the case for active engagement in the LLF process in the Church.

I hope you enjoy it, and feel able to share it with others and make use of it in your context.


PS Comments are off for this post, since the video is for sharing rather than analysis, and there have been plenty of chances for comment in the last week.

PPS The image is from a still from near the end of the Bible Project YouTube video on the wisdom books of Solomon. Rather than suggesting a ‘nuclear’ or separate relationship between a man and a woman, it points to the broader theological significance of the image, relating creation to the wisdom of God and its connection with sexuality in the biblical narrative.


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