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Consider the Topic of Sexual Ethics sample essay

A. Introduction

The issue of sexual ethics is concerned with the intimate relationships which we form. Three aspects currently under debate are cohabitation, polygamy and same sex relationships.

B What do you think are the key issues in the debate?

Any debate regarding sexual ethics lies in whether or not our behaviour is contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The difficulty for Anglicans however, lies in the fact that we also look to tradition and reason to guide us.

1. Cohabitation

The question here is whether cohabitation is acceptable. Scriptural teaching regarding the sanctity of marriage[1] and the unacceptability of premarital sex[2] appears clear, but there are Anglicans who argue that a faithful and committed relationship with another person is acceptable in the eyes of God.

2. Polygamy

This debate demonstrates the tension that exists between cultural practices and Christianity. It is an issue of particular significance within the West African Province where polygamy is common. The debate centres on what happens when a polygamist converts to Christianity, both in terms of their own practice and what it means for their spouses.

Within the Old Testament, there is evidence that the practice of polygamy was acceptable[3] but there is no explicit teaching within the New Testament. [4]

3. Same Sex relationships

This debate addresses whether homosexuality is acceptable according to Scripture and whether or not active homosexuals should be ordained or even consecrated, and whether those in same sex relationships should be allowed to be married or have their relationships blessed in Church?

This debate also reminds Anglicans within the United Kingdom of the tensions between Church and State. The government’s Civil Partnerships Act 2004 allows registration of same sex relationships, and this has been followed up by the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises)(Amendment) Regulations 2011, which allows civil partnership ceremonies in places of worship.[5]

The teachings of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; I Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:26-27 are often used as evidence against homosexuality, though there are some who argue that the relationships of Ruth and Naomi and David and Jonathan contradict this.

C How is the Church going about debating these issues (what is the process and how is it going)?

1. Global Processes

Anglicans rely on three Instruments of Communion, to provide guidance for global issues affecting the Anglican Church, with the Archbishop of Canterbury acting as the focus of unity:

1. The Lambeth Conferences, held every 10 years

2. The Primates’ meetings

3. The Anglican Consultative Council.

I. Lambeth Conferences

In 1998, the Lambeth Conference issued Resolution 1.10 On Human Sexuality. [6] This laid out the position of the Church, affirming the sanctity of marriage and celibacy as an alternative.

However the 2008 Conference did not re-open the debate, with Archbishop Rowan writing to the Primates before it to say:

“ In my judgement, we cannot properly or usefully re-open the discussion as if Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 did not continue to represent the general mind of the Communion.”

I. Primates Meetings

These are called at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and can bridge the gap between one Lambeth Conference and the next. Primates’ Meetings were called in 2003 following Gene Robinson’s election as Bishop of New Hampshire, in the Episcopal Church of the USA. (ECUSA) This led to the reaffirmation of the Anglican Communion’s position as set out in Lambeth 1.10. It called for the voluntary withdrawal of the Anglican Church in Canada and ECUSA until the next Lambeth Conference in 2008, and for a Commission to look into the issue, resulting in the Windsor Report of 2004.

II. Anglican Consultative Council.

This meets every two to three years moving between the Provinces. It is composed of clergy and laity [7] . Its role can be shown by its response to the issue of polygamy. In 1984 it passed Resolution 18:

“Be it resolved that this ACC-6 requests the Council for Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) to study the issue of polygamy and the Christian family further in both its theological and pastoral dimensions and asks CAPA to co-ordinate the studies and to make available its findings to the Lambeth Conference of 1988.”

2. Local Processes

In addition, Provinces and Dioceses also hold regular synods which provide an opportunity for issues specific to that body to be debated, such as the issue of polygamy. These are attended by representatives from the clergy and the laity.

It was within this structure that the issue of same sex relationships became more prominent with the request of the Diocesan Synod of New Westminster Canada for the production of a rite of blessing for same sex unions and the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

In response to the Primates’ Meeting and the Windsor Report, the General Convention of ECUSA met in 2006 & passed 6 Resolutions.

3. Informal Processes

Besides these formal processes, there are also a number of informal ways in which this debate is being carried out amongst other members of the Anglican Communion.

These include a number of internet websites and forums as well as through publications. Indeed the most prominent place for debate is often via the world’s media, though the reporting is not always as balanced as one might like.

D And how do you think this discussion might in due course be resolved, without being untrue to the character of Anglicanism?

The Anglican way would be to seek a compromise which would allow all parties to continue within the Communion.[8] In theory this would allow the various Provinces, to hold true to their beliefs.

In 2008, Archbishop Rowan proposed a way forward which had been suggested in the Windsor Report (2004), namely the Anglican Covenant.[9] Although this seems to offer a possible solution, it is clear that in so doing it will fundamentally alter the nature of the Anglican Communion, with those who sign up accepting the consensus view on any issue. Perhaps this is true to the character of Anglicanism after all-for if we look back to the Reformation, underpinning it was the belief of churchmen at the time that “Ecclesia semper reformando” (the Church is always in need of reform).

E. Conclusion

The issue of sexual ethics is so complex because it generally provokes an emotional response in us. It is an issue where the tensions between church and state and Christian values and those of society are often at odds. For Anglicans the key challenge is how to keep a balance between Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

Appendix 1: Lambeth Resolution 1.10

This Conference:

a. commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality; b. in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage; c. recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;

d. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex; e. cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;

f. requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us; g. notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality[10] and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process. Appendix 2:

The Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality – 2nd Encounter in the South, 10 to 15 Feb 97

God’s glory and loving purposes have been revealed in the creation of humankind (Rom. 1:18; Gen. 1:36, 27). Among the multiplicity of his gifts we are blessed with our sexuality. 1. Since the Fall (Gen. 3), life has been impaired and God’s purposes spoilt. Our fallen state has affected every sphere of our being, which includes our sexuality. Sexual deviation has existed in every time and in most cultures. Jesus’ teaching about lust in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:27-30) makes it clear that sexual sin is a real danger and temptation to us all.

2. It is, therefore, with an awareness of our own vulnerability to sexual sin that we express our profound concern about recent developments relating to Church discipline and moral teaching in some provinces in the North – specifically, the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions.

3. While acknowledging the complexities of our sexual nature and the strong drives it places within us, we are quite clear about God’s will in this area which is expressed in the Bible. 4. The Scripture bears witness to God’s will regarding human sexuality which is to be expressed only within the life long union of a man and a woman in (holy) matrimony. 5. The Holy Scriptures are clear in teaching that all sexual promiscuity is sin. We are convinced that this includes homosexual practices between men or women, as well as heterosexual relationships outside marriage.

6. We believe that the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Holy Scriptures about human sexuality is of great help to Christians as it provides clear boundaries. 7. We find no conflict between cleaer biblical teaching and sensitive pastoral care. Repentance precedes forgiveness and is part of the healing process. To heal spiritual wounds in God’s name we need his wisdom and truth. We see this in the ministry of Jesus, for example his response to the adulterous women, “…neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

8. We encourage the Church to care for all those who are trapped in their sexual brokenness and to become the channel of Christ’s compassion and love towards them. We wish to stand alongside and welcome them into a process of being whole and restored within our communities of faith. We would also affirm and resource those who exercise a pastoral ministry in this area.

9. We are deeply concerned that the setting aside of biblical teaching in such actions as the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions calls into question the authority of the Holy Scriptures. This is totally unaccceptable to us.

10. This leads us to express concern about mutual accountability and interdependence within our Anglican Communion. As provinces and dioceses, we need to learn how to seek each other’s counsel and wisdom in a spirit of true unity, and to reach a common mind before embarking on radical changes to Church discipline and moral teaching.

11. We live in a global village and must be more aware that the way we act in one part of the world can radically affect the mission and witness of the Church in another


Chatfield, A. (2007) Something in Common. Nottingham, UK: St John’s Extension Studies.

Coogan, M.D. (Ed.). (2007). The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Version. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Bradshaw, T (ed) (1997) The Way Forward? London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton.

Linzey, A And Kirker R (eds) (2005) Gays and the Future of Anglicanism: Responses to the Windsor Report. Winchester, UK: O Books.,-family-and-sexuality-issues.aspx

[4] The early Church perhaps provides guidance with St Augustine stating in On Good Marriage: “ And yet it is not allowed; and now indeed in our times, and after the usage of Rome neither to marry in addition, so as to have more than one wife living.”

[5] Though not as yet in our Churches-as this would require a resolution at General Synod. [6] See Appendix 1 for the full resolution.
[7] The Anglican Communion website defines its purpose as follows: “to facilitate the co-operative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion, exchange information between the Provinces and churches, and help to co-ordinate common action. It advises on the organisation and structures of the Communion, and seeks to develop common policies with respect to the world mission of the Church, including ecumenical matters. The ACC membership includes from one to three persons from each province. Where there are three members, there is a bishop, a priest and a lay person. Where fewer members are appointed, preference is given to lay membership.” (

[8] The Windsor Report of 2004 affirmed the rights of Provinces and dioceses to self-government.

[9] “Second, the controversies of recent years have spotlighted the difficulties we have as a Communion of making decisions in a corporate way. The Windsor Report raised this as a major question, and we shall need time to think about the Report’s theological principles and its practical suggestions, particularly the idea of a ‘Covenant’ for our Provinces, expressing our responsibility to and for each other.” (letter to Primates 2008)

[10] See Appendix 2

Consider the topic of sexual ethics currently under discussion in the Anglican Communion today. Answer the following three questions on it: A. What do you think are the key issues in the debate?

B. How is the Anglican Church going about debating these issues (what is the process, and how is it going)? C. And how do you think this discussion might in due course be resolved, without being untrue to the character of Anglicanism?

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