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Reflections on Ethics 113
The infinite mutability of scripture-based morality

by: John Tyrrell

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As noted in the previous Reflection, views on morality can change over time. And, in the example used, they can change in spite of churches preaching the biblical teaching that the wife's duty is to submit to her husband.

But we can also see churches leading their congregations in a 180 degree turn on moral issues - from supporting something to being opposed to it - and somehow finding scriptural basis for this turnaround.

A couple of years ago, Fred Clark, in the Progressive Christian Channel on Patheos, wrote how wrong the idea was that white evangelical Christians had always been opposed to abortion. (I'm not sure why he limited the discussion to "white" churches - perhaps the change there is not as pronounced)

According to Clark:

White American evangelicals are “pro-life.” This is the single most important political aspect of American evangelicalism. It is the single most important theological aspect of American evangelicalism. And it is the paramount factor in evangelical identity for evangelicals themselves.

It’s also a very recent development. Thirty years ago, this was not the case. Fifty years ago, it was unimaginable.

(I suggest you continue to read the full article.)

Again - only fifty years ago, it was unimaginable* that evangelicals would be opposed to abortion. And today they are. And Clark rightly calls it a huge change that no one talks about.

And evangelicals fairly consistantly claim they get their morality from scripture. How did this 180 degree turn come about?

But it isn't just abortion. Consider birth control.

I expect most of you are aware of the song Every Sperm is Sacred from the 1983 Monty Python film The Meaning of Life. The song opens with a specific identification of the father as Catholic. And in 1983, it was pretty much the Catholic Church alone as a major opponent of birth control. And after the song and dance number, the dialogue between the Protestant husband and wife who live across the road lays out the predominant Protestant position of the day:

...because we don't believe in all that Papist claptrap, we can take precautions. ...

That's what being a Protestant's all about. That's why it's the church for me. That's why it's the church for anyone who respects the individual and the individual's right to decide for him or herself. When Martin Luther nailed his protest up to the church door in fifteen-seventeen, he may not have realised the full significance of what he was doing, but four hundred years later, thanks to him, my dear, I can wear whatever I want on my John Thomas... [sniff] and, Protestantism doesn't stop at the simple condom. Oh, no. I can wear French Ticklers if I want.

In 1983 - that was the position of the overwhelming majority of Protestant churches. Birth control was fully acceptable. Opposing birth control was indeed "Papist claptrap."

And what do we see today?

Increasingly we see fundamentalist and evangelical churches opposing birth control.

As Dawn Stacy writes in About Health

Opposition to birth control is growing in conservative Evangelical groups who rely more heavily on Catholic teachings, so birth control still remains controversial. Some oppose all forms of contraception short of abstinence while others allow natural family planning but oppose other methods. Some sects even support any form of birth control that prevents conception but are against any method that keeps a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

The denominations currently opposing birth control probably still constitute a minority, but they are a growing minority. And it is a 180 degree turnaround for these Protestants who insist they get their morality from scripture.

From supporting necessary abortions to absolutely opposing abortion in the span of half a century based on unchanging 2000 year old scripture?

From supporting the use of birth control to absolutely opposing birth control in the span of half a century based on unchanging 2000 year old scripture?

Or is it just reading what they want into the "Good Book"?

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