Examine the Key Ideas of Situation Ethics

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Examine the Key Ideas of Situation Ethics (21 Marks)

In this essay, I am going to examine the key features of Situation Ethics. Situation Ethics is a teleological theory that resolves ethical and moral issues relative to the situation and was developed at a time when society and the church were facing drastic and permanent change. It is most commonly associated with Joseph Fletcher and J.A.T Robinson and also William Barclay. Situation Ethics is also considered to be the method of ethical decision making that states that you must consider “noble love” (agapé) in decision making and that a moral decision is correct if it is the most loving thing to do. The theory is based upon this idea of agapé love which is defined by William Barclay as “unconquerable good will”.

Situation Ethics developed during the 1960s and the post war generation was a great influence on this. Between the end of the Second World War and the end of the 1960s, Western Europe and North America were socially, culturally and morally transformed. Up until the 1960s, many people still followed the “old fashioned” approach of Divine Command Ethics where by people obeyed the Bible and the teachings presented in them. People believed that by following the teachings of God as directly revealed by Him through scripture and the Church, they were doing good. However, by the 1960s all this changed. This quote was produced in 1966: “Greater independence; more money…the weakening of family bonds and religious influences; the development of earlier maturity, physically, emotionally and mentally; the impact of modern books, television and periodicals”. (Sex and Morality, SCM,). This study blamed many things on the fact that many people were turning away from the Church’s rules during the 1960s and more towards abandoning rules. The world was becoming more secular and people had stopped listening to the Church and their teachings on what was ethically right. During the 1960s, society and the Church were facing drastic and permanent change. By 1966, women occupied an increasingly prominent place in the work force and there was a universal shock of the foundation of the contraceptive pill. This allowed young women to have sex whenever and with whoever they pleased. The sacred bonds of marriage started to break as more people saw this as a chance to have sex without having to be in a secure marriage or even a relationship. This sexual revolution of non-marital sex caused the levels of promiscuity to rise drastically as paternalism, authority, law and government were ditched. Other moral perspectives that changed the latter half of the 20th Century included fashion, music, politics and the view of religion.

The drastic cultural and social changes during the 1960s caused a conflicting reaction by the Church. The British Council of Churches ordered a Working Party on Sex, Marriage and the Family to suggest how a Christian position on sex and marriage can be communicated to the community. As a result, in 1964, the British Council of Churches, on the advice of its advisory group on Sex, Marriage and the Family, appointed a Working Party that set out to “Prepare a Statement of the Christian case for abstinence from sexual intercourse before marriage and faithfulness within marriage…and to suggest means whereby the Christian position may be effectively presented to the various sections of the Community” (Sex and Morality, SCM, 1966).

J.A.T Robinson was a New Testament scholar, author and former Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, England. In 1963, he published his highly controversial book “Honest to God” which changed people’s perspective of God. As a result of this publication, it caused the Church to be thrown into disagreement. This in turn caused the traditional church to be shaken at its very roots. Robinson challenged the idea of the traditional and conservative view of God. He said that Situation Ethics was for “Man come of age”. In other...
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