There is an old saying about the Roman Catholic Church that with them "everything is forbidden until it becomes mandatory."
Reflecting on the developments in moral theology in the Anglican — and Roman, and Jewish for that matter — traditions, it seems to me that the morality of any given act or behavior falls on a spectrum, and sometimes moves through it over time, sometimes one way and sometimes another.
- X is forbidden
- X is [contrary to, incompatible with, etc.] [Scripture, the teaching of the church, etc.]
- X falls below the [ideal] standard of behavior, and is not practiced by leaders
- X, while wrong in itself, is not as bad as Y, and may be tolerated in certain [pastoral, cultural, etc.] situations
- X, while permissible, is avoided by the truly virtuous
- X, while not required, is practiced by the truly virtuous
- X, while not required of all, is expected of leaders
- X is expected of all
- X is mandatory for all
Those who argue that morality is necessarily as fixed as the laws of the Medes and Persians are mistaken. And that is not only true in Anglicanism, but in many different traditions and, indeed, faiths.
Panta rhei, as the old philosopher Heraclitus put it. "Things change" — and that includes how we regard human behavior. If you have any doubt, check the ancient canons on clergy conduct, and tabulate the number of things that could have gotten you defrocked in the fifth century that wouldn't raise an eyebrow today.
Is there, in all this, a core morality that doesn't change? I think there is, and Jesus enunciated it, not as a "moral thing" in itself, but rather as a means by which to determine morality, as a way to judge one's own actions — judging others having been reserved to another authority. He said that the whole of the law and the prophets hung on this basic principle — "Do to others as you would be done by." (Matthew 7:12) I think we can take his word on it.
Tobias Haller BSG