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date: 17 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The history of ethics in the Presbyterian Church has been shaped by the theological commitments of Reformed theology, the church’s ecumenical and interreligious encounters, its interactions with the wider cultures in which it functions, and its global scope. Consequently, Presbyterian ethics have become increasingly diverse, culturally diffused, ecumenically directed, and frequently divisive. That said, its history can helpfully be divided into three lengthy periods. In the first (roughly from the church’s origins in 1559 to the Second Great Awakening in the early nineteenth century), theology, ethics, and politics are so interwound that distinguishing one from the others is difficult. In the second (roughly from the Second Great Awakening to the end of World War II), moral concerns emerge as forces that drive the church’s theology and polity. And in the third (for which proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 might be a heuristically helpful starting point), ethics increasingly functions in ways that are only loosely tethered to either Reformed theology or polity. The strength of the church’s social witness, the consistency of its global engagements, and the failings of its internecine strife are all evident during its five-hundred-year history.

Keywords: politics, social witness, vocation, freedom, order, church and state, sexuality, diversity, contextual, ecumenical

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