Revd Dr Sean Doherty, Tutor and Lecturer in Ethics at St Mellitus College, recently released a book titled The Only Way is Ethics: Part 1 - Sex and Marriage (Milton Keynes, Authentic: 2015). Below he answers a few questions about it.
Why did you write The Only Way is Ethics?
As someone who teaches ethics, I get asked what I think about all kinds of ethical issues all the time, and I am often asked to meet with and advise people who are facing serious ethical dilemmas in their lives. This is a tremendous privilege, but it worried me that so many Christians and even ministers do not feel equipped to think through ethical issues for themselves, using the Bible and the other wonderful resources for reflection which the Christian tradition offers. So, I wrote The Only Way is Ethics to try and meet that need: to give a really biblical but accessible guide to the ethical issues which affect so many of us at a very deep level in our lives today.
So, does that mean you are trying to persuade a wider audience to adopt your own ethical views?
Not quite! The goal isn't to get people to think what I think - although I am up front about what I think rather than pretending to a neutrality which I don't really have - but to equip them to think the issues through for themselves and make their own decisions which are shaped by their faith. Or to put it another way, to equip them to work out the will of God in the particular situation they face. My favourite verse for Christian ethics is Romans 12:2. I want to help people to 'test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.' That is a process of discernment.
A lot of people today think that the church seems obsessed with sex, or that that's all that Christian morality is about. Doesn't your book play along with that?
Good point! I hope that nobody imagines that sex is all there is to Christian ethics or that I think it is. This is only Part 1 of a series! But the meaning and significance of sex is something which is being heavily debated in the church at the moment. Most Christians today are well aware that the church teaches that marriage is between a woman and a man, but often in Church we don’t explore and unpack why that’s the case. I've tried to write in a way which is accessible to everyone, and in a way which encourages people to test what they think against what Scripture says. I don't mind if people don't agree with my conclusions - but I do want to stimulate them to base what they believe on Scripture.
So this is Part 1. What will Parts 2 and 3 be about?
A: Part 2 should be out around the New Year, and will be about Medical Ethics - looking at abortion, end of life care and euthanasia, and fertility treatment. These are all issues which affect an enormous number of people, but they are not things which we often discuss openly in the church. I hope it will help us break the silence around these issues in a sensitive way. Part 3 will be about money - my PhD was about economic ethics and I hope to make some of my findings accessible to a wider audience and apply them to the daily questions we all face.
You can buy the individual chapters of The Only Way is Ethics as eBooks for Kindle, or get the whole of Part 1 as a printed version.