A New Morality

Truman Smith
Akron, Ohio

Through the years, men have sought to set aside the law of the Lord by instigating new and different ways to survive the many difficulties of life's experiences. Today, many feel that the law of Christ is completely inadequate to cope with the varied complexities of life; and have therefore gone about to "establish their own righteousness" (Rom. 10: 3). One such example is that of a new morality known as "situation" or "contextual" ethics.

One of the leading exponents of situationism, Joseph Fletcher of the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass., says that he feels that situationism "is a reflection in the field of ethics of the pragmatic, open-minded thinking which is characteristic of an age of experimentation, inquiry and question-asking." (TIME Magazine, January 21, 1966, p. 55). This statement has a boastful ring to it, which I have heard many times. While it is true that we should be open-minded enough to accept all that Jesus teaches, we also should be narrow-minded enough to reject all that He does not teach. However, many of this age are so "open-minded" that they accept the theories and philosophies of men while charging the law of the New Testament with being too legalistic and old fashioned. I agree that it is a reflection of our age, but the thing that troubles me is that it is an outright rejection of the teaching of Jesus Christ!

This "new way to moral decision" is called "situation" ethics because it claims that the key question is: "What does God's love demand of me in this particular situation?" It is called "contextual" because it says "only in context are acts good or bad." To the situationist, says Fletcher, "even a transient sex liaison, if it has the elements of caring, of tenderness and selfless concern, is better than a mechanical, egocentric exercise of conjugal 'rights' between two uncaring or antagonistic marriage partners." What a prop for his theory! Of course, there are many things better than egocentrism and antagonism between the married; but just because that is so does not make "situationism" better than what the Lord has set forth in His word: "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Heb. 13.4).

"Fletcher argues that his approach is applicable to social policy and is no different from that of Jesus, who rejected the complexities of Jewish law and reduced his own ethical teaching to a twofold command to love God and neighbor. Situationism, claims Fletcher, is also implicit in the thought of such formative Christian thinkers as Augustine ('Love with care and then what you will, do') and Luther, who stated: 'When the law impels one against love, it should no longer be a law.' (Ibid.)" He implies that there is no law of Christ, but just a teaching of love that should apply in making moral decisions. Why, then, did Jesus waste his breath to say, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away cloth commit adultery" (Matt. 19:9)? Is there room for situationism in those words? Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote, "For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ" (Eph. 5:5). Yes, law must regulate man, and the law that is to govern him is the law of Jesus Christ. The law of Christ does not teach "situation" ethics. Mr. Fletcher is simply advocating that the individual is his own rule in making moral decisions. It was by inspiration that Jeremiah cried, "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23).

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 9, p. 18 June 1966