As the Episcopal Church approaches the 2015 General Convention, there has been discussion, yet again, of same-sex marriage. On a Listserv that I can’t quote without permission, someone wrote “An important question to be addressed is whether the individual or the nuclear and/or extended family is the fundamental moral unit in Anglican (and/or our) moral theology, that is, the possessor of rights and privileges, and duties and responsibilities, within the Christian community. (This of course is the or a classic distinction between so-called liberals and conservatives.)”
I must confess that I am astounded by this remark. First off, on its face it begs a question. It seems to me to be debatable whether “the fundamental unit of moral theology” is equivalent to “the possessor of rights and privileges, and duties and responsibilities, within the Christian community.” Any relevant rights and privileges we have as Christians come to us through God’s grace. And all of us have duties and responsibilities – to each other, to God’s creation, and to God.
Second, is not “moral theology” the catholic term for Christian ethics? It seems to me that ethical responsibility ultimately rests with the individual. The summary of the law says “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “Thou shalt love hy neighbor as thyself.” Note the singular pronouns. [I am quoting the Rite I version from page 319 of the 1979 prayer book because contemporary English does not make a distinction between singular and plural in second person pronouns.]
In the baptismal covenant of TEC, we are asked “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” The answer to each is “I will, with God’s help.” Again, note the singular pronoun.
We are called by God and by the church to act ethically and morally as individuals. To act ethically and morally is to be in right relationship with God. As human beings, we can only be in right relationship with God if we are in right relationship with our fellow human beings, and indeed with all creatures great and small and with all creation. And the responsibility to do so in on each one of us as an individual.