I grew up hearing lessons preached on ethics. The lessons were critical of a ethical view taken by many religious people called “Situational Ethics.” While a situational view of what constitutes ethical action has always had a foothold in the world, it was largely rejected by those who claimed an affinity for the Bible. For generations religious people were content to let the word of God be the standard by which ethics were established. They accepted at face value the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who wrote, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). To those who accepted the Bible as an authoritative and absolute ethical standard, lying was always a sin, as was sexual activity outside of the marriage bed. Regardless of circumstance, sin was sin, and righteous behavior was well defined.
In the 1960’s things changed for many religious people. Situational Ethics was first popularized by an Episcopal priest named Joseph Fletcher, who wrote two books titled The Classic Treatment and Situation Ethics. In the books he contended that the principle of Love (agape) was supreme, and sometimes situations necessitated a breaking of God’s law for the higher good of expressing love for another. The concept was accepted by a large number despite its arbitrary, individualistic and subjective nature. Its influence is the primary reason why the hue and cry of religious people today, rather than obedience to God, has become, “You have no right to judge me!”