Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: Christian ethics (Page 1 of 4)

First Things on Eric Metaxas on Bonhoeffer and the Health and Human Services Mandate


Christ tempted by Satan

Christ tempted by Satan: Christians are always in need of Discernment to know whether they are falling prey to temptation or being faithful

First Things has published a video (also available after the break) in which Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, takes a shot at what Bonhoeffer might have said about the Health and Human Services mandate that has raised such a furor and so many questions related to individual liberty vs. religious liberty as well as the common good. Some of you might remember Metaxas from his prayer and presentation at the National Prayer Breakfast. It might also interest some of you to know that Metaxas did–and as far as I know, still does–attend the Episcopal Church of Calvary-St. George’s in New York.

At any rate, I left the following comment on the post over at First Things, and I think it expresses my ambivalence on this question quite well. On the one hand I am uncomfortable with the government taking on greater and greater authority to define the boundaries of religious institutions and their functions. On the other, I’m not quite certain that the “cooperation with evil” portion of the argument against the Health and Human Services mandate rings true. Perhaps that’s because I think simply existing in our society means we cooperate with evil every day (that’s something i think Bonhoeffer would agree with), so we have to b careful how we frame these sorts of arguments. Additionally, I think a good argument can be made for the mandate from the area of supporting the common good of our society (many of the treatments covered by the mandate will serve to improve overall health and may, if statistics are any guide, actually result in fewer abortions as well as better overall health for women).  At any rate, here’s the text of my comment:

In many ways it seems that the most troubling part of the mandate is that it draws the circle even more narrowly in terms of what sorts of organizations are considered religious organizations and, as has already been mentioned, unnecessarily and harmfully forces religious institutions to weigh whether they can in good conscience offer services for the public and the common good.

At the same time, David Nichol is right that there are always certain agreed upon restrictions to religious liberty. For example, I imagine far fewer Americans would find it problematic to require employers–including non-profits–that were associated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses to provide for blood transfusions than there are folks who find the contraception/sterilization/abortion issue problematic. A lot more could be said about this, but where I really have the question is in another arena.

The public conversation has focused on who pays for specific treatments etc…, and whether it is moral or constitutional to mandate that a religious institution provide insurance that covers procedures or treatments that they find objectionable rather than on the question of who defines religious institutions. The deeper question, to my mind, is related to individual choice. Insurance is a benefit that is simply one part of a persons compensation, and many people put forward a certain amount of their monetary compensation to pay for a portion of their own insurance. If it is morally objectionable for an institution to pay for an insurance policy that would, in the event the individual chose to avail themselves of a certain service, cover a treatment that the employer felt was immoral, then why is it *not* morally objectionable to provide a salary to a person who might go out and choose pay for the same procedure out of pocket. Simply having the option of having a treatment covered by insurance doesn’t mean that a person will choose to use it, and not covering it doesn’t ensure that a person might not use other resources provided by their employer to attain it. In the end, it seems that they are the same degree of separation away and the real issue is that an institution is employing folks whose moral reasoning they find questionable or lacking.

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The Christian Century: Public pews

This book review in the Christian Century hits on something that I believe has hamstrung not only the oldline protestant churches, but also the evangelical movment.  The polarization of the institutional oldline churches against many of their own members is epitomized my the fact that churches such as The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church are affiliated with the Religious Coalitition for Reproductive Choice despite the oppositon of many of their members and the fact that–at least in the case of the Episcopal Church–aspects of the RCRC’s agenda blatantly clash with General Convention Resolutions on abortion.  The fact that mainline churche maintain lobbying offices is a situation that I’ve found profoundly disturbing since I became aware of it.  The fact that these lobbying offices often support legislation that many church members oppose is simply another way that our institutions are furthering alienation vs. reconcilliation.  If the oldline is ever going to be able to reform itself–or to birth a separate renewal movment that will offer hope to those in the evangelical wilderness without becoming part of that wilderness itself–then it is going to have to address these sorts of unnecessary means of fragmentation and alienation.

Tipton’s study proves my point. It tells the story of the “institutional ecology” of the public sphere in which the denominations operate: In the 1960s and 1970s the mainline churches’ leadership moved from a centrist or mildly conservative position to a frankly progressive one, while their congregations were far more mixed. The institutional consolidation of a progressive agenda was secure by 1980; one sign of this was the emergence then of parachurch groups—such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy—that protested the consolidation. These groups complained about the “leftist” and “Marxist” captivity of the mainline leadership and initially seemed interested in offering the laity a big-tent alternative to the official line of the churches, purportedly to preserve the traditional faith against the elite’s woolly liberationism. But by the 1990s these parachurch groups had begun to focus their efforts on simply attacking the other side. While members of the official church hierarchies didn’t fixate so totally on their enemies, they became ever more resistant to ceding them any intellectual or theoretical ground. This polarization left the vast middle underserved. And that is our condition today.

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Obama: Friend or Foe of Faith? at Per Caritatem

I realize that many of my good friends, Roman Catholic, Anglican, evangelical, and others will not understand why I have chosen to try to find common ground with our President-Elect Barack Obama given his views on Roe v. Wade. Let me say very clearly that I disagree with Obama’s support of Roe v. Wade and his pro-choice position; however, I find disturbing the way in which Obama’s views on abortion have been misrepresented by well-meaning Christians. For example, the complexities of Obama’s reasoning for choosing to sign or not to sign Born Alive legislation have been flattened and presented in a way that paints his position in the worst possible light. If you examine Obama’s vote on this legislation, what you find is that the Illinois and Federal “Born Alive” legislation had different clauses added and that the two bills were not the same legislation, which is why e.g., NARAL did not oppose the federal legislation.

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Invitation to reflection on abortion and the election | Covenant

Dear readers,

Following on Fr Matthew Olver’s piece posted here last night, I am pleased to present a thoughtful exchange–intended to be a conversation starter and an aid to reflection–between Neil Dhingra and Fr Will Brown on the thorny question of how Christians in the U.S. committed to “life” should approach the question of voting in the presidential election next Tuesday. Neil and Will are inclined to different answers to this question–the former believing that a case can be made out for “pro-life” support of Obama’s candidacy, the latter believing that this is not possible (leaving aside the question of whether or not a case for McCain can be made). But much common ground is shared by both writers, as well.

What else can and perhaps should be said? We invite your comments, and wrestling along with Neil and Will and others of us. How to move along the conversation? Is the strategic question of how to vote something about which we can reasonably disagree as Christians who do not disagree about the blight visited upon American democracy and order by the contradiction of abortion tolerated in our midst?

Lord, give us your mind and your heart, to the end of justice in our country, especially for these voiceless and silenced ones, callously killed in the name of “freedom” and “choice.” Forgive us, Lord, for our own complicity in this culture of death. And give us the grace, individually and as a Community of counter-witness, to model for our nation a spirit of repentance, joined to a willingness to make amends for our sins. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Invitation to reflection on abortion and the election | Covenant

From: Abortion, Theologicaly Understood, by Stanley Hauerwas

Hauerwas at Luther College

Hauerwas at Luther College

When I taught the marriage course at Notre Dame, the parents of my students wanted me to teach their kids what the parents did not want them to do. The kids, on the other hand, approached the course from the perspective of whether or not they should feel guilty for what they had already done. Not wanting to privilege either approach, I started the course with the question, What reason would you give for you or someone else wanting to have a child?” And you would get answers like, “Well, children are fun.” In that case I would ask them to think about their brothers and/or sisters. Another answer was, Children are a hedge against loneliness Then I recommended getting a dog. Also I would note that if they really wanted to feel lonely, they should think about someone they raised turning out to be a stranger. Another student reply was, Kids are a manifestation of our love.” “Well,” I responded, “what happens when your love changes and you are still stuck with them” I would get all kinds of answers like these from my students. But, in effect, these answers show that people today do not know why they are having children.

It happened three or four times that someone in the class, usually a young woman, would raise her hand and say, “I do not want to talk about this anymore.” What this means is that they know that they are going to have children, and yet they do not have the slightest idea why. And they do not want it examined. You can talk in your classes about whether God exists all semester and no one cares, because it does not seem to make any difference. But having children makes a difference, and the students are frightened that they do not know about these matters.

Then they would come up with that one big answer that sounds good. They would say, “We want to have children in order to make the world a better place.” And by that, they think that they ought to have a perfect child. And then you get into the notion that you can have a child only if you have everything set–that is, if you are in a good “relationship,” if you have your finances in good shape, the house, and so on. As a result, of course, we absolutely destroy our children, so to speak, because we do not know how to appreciate their differences.

Now who knows what we could possibly want when we “want a child”? The idea of want in that context is about as silly as the idea that we can marry the right person. That just does not happen. Wanting a child is particularly troubling as it finally results in a deep distrust of mentally and physically handicapped children. The crucial question for us as Christians is what kind of people we need to be to be capable of welcoming children into this world, some of whom may be born disabled and even die.

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First Things » Blog Archive » Abandoning the Frightened and Depressed

A disturbing piece from First Things, but it needs to be read.

A story just published in the UK’s Guardian is a diary account of the euthanasia death of Mieneke Weide-Boelkes, a woman with brain cancer, written by her son Marc Weide, who made it public. As such, and because it is so awful, it seemed to me that public comment is warranted.

The story of Weide-Boelkes’ euthanasia amply demonstrates the abandonment that assisted suicide/euthanasia consciousness generates in society, within medicine, and among families. And it proves clearly that the “protective guidelines” are utterly meaningless. It also demonstrates that once mercy killing is sanctioned, families become almost remote bystanders to their loved one’s end.

To cases: One of the supposed requirements of Dutch euthanasia is that there can be no other way to alleviate suffering other than killing the patient. Yet, in this actual case, the woman who would soon be dead wants to die for fear of going bald during life-extending chemotherapy. From the story:

The prognosis is she could live another year if she undergoes chemotherapy. But she won’t. “I’m not going to go bald,” she says. “I don’t want people saying, ‘How sad, that beautiful hair all gone.’ Never.”

Despite the ability to extend Weide-Boelkes’ life, and the driving motives of worries that she will not be pretty (and hence not worthy of being loved?), and fears about losing the ability to engage in enjoyable activities as the reasons for wanting euthanasia, the doctor agrees to kill.

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That a child might live…

Theotokos: Life-giving Spring

Theotokos: Life-giving Spring

As if the world of medical ethics were not convoluted and strained enough, our technology allows us to continue pushing boundaries while raising moral questions that were not even on the radar screen 100, 50 or even 25 years ago. Thankfully there are those who still ask the questions begged by various procedures–but such voices seem to be crying alone in the wilderness at times.

For example, I checking my RSS feeds today and came across this piece via Touchstone’s “Mere Comments” blog.  It seems that California courts have determined that it is illegal for doctors who perform in vitro fertilization procedures to refuse their services to homosexuals.  Don’t import your (private) ethics into your (public) work, the message goes.  Of course, the real question is, as James Kushiner rightly notes, why these Christian doctors (and evidently those protesting universal access to fertility and conception services are Christians of some variety or other) are performing such procedures in the first place, “Artificial insemination should never been accepted by Christians doctors in the first place,” he says “so the moral issue here lies further downstream.  On the face of it, the court decision might force Christian doctors to reeducate their consciences by learning what real Christian medical practice is.” (read his complete comment here)

But this wasn’t the only ethical quandary lurking in my blog-reader today and the second issue hits somewhat closer to home.  It seems that some doctors up in Denver have just released the findings of their government funded research in which they experimented with removing the hearts of severely brain-damaged babies shortly after their hearts stopped beating, but before total brain-death was pronounced.  As the article puts it:

Surgeons in Denver are publishing their first account of a procedure in which they remove the hearts of severely brain-damaged newborns less than two minutes after the babies are disconnected from life support, and their hearts stop beating, so the organs can be transplanted into infants who would otherwise die.

It just so happens that a family with close ties to St. Francis Church has a child who is in the hospital as we speak awaiting a viable heart transplant match.  What is one to say to this family, hoping against hope that prayer and modern medicine work together to bring their child a long and happy life.  The task to even think about this topic almost becomes too heavy a burden when one has not been in their situation, praying for one’s own child.  But is it their hope that puts this situation into a moral gray area, or is it the eagerness of doctors who, in their desire to save some may be depriving others of their lives (and it is murder to take life, even a life that would otherwise have ended minutes or seconds later without interference).  Again, from the Washington Post article:

Critics, however, are questioning the propriety of removing hearts from patients, especially babies, who are not brain-dead and are asking whether the Denver doctors wait long enough to make sure the infants met either of the long-accepted definitions of death — complete, irreversible cessation of brain function or of heart and lung function. Some even said the operations are tantamount to murder.

I don’t have an answer to every question, but I do wonder sometimes why we as Christians avoid such important issues and instead find ouselves locked in heated battle over what color the carpet in the foyer should be.  I’m not certain Christians would be as divided as we are on moral and ethical issues if we actually talked, as Christians, about them.  As it is, we are divided about large issues because we focus on and become defined by much smaller differences of opinion, so that we are no longer schooled in the Christian tradition that is meant to form us as followers of Christ.  As Kushiner says “Isn’t it time to establish an alternative, and moral, traditional Christian medical practice around the country? The fault line is already there, but we’ve got Christian doctors standing on both sides of it.”  That pretty much describes the relationship of Christians to every moral issue out there.  There is no unanimity among Christians on these topics.  And without a willingness to approach them, there never will be.

So here’s the hard question for us: what lengths are available to us from a Christian perspective in the creation of life, or in the preservation of life.  What are the legitimate actions to take so that a child might live.  Are we prepared to say that another must die–even if only a bit sooner than otherwise.

Rowan Williams on Christians and the Human Body.

Lost Icons

The following is a selection of highlights from a lecture Archbishop Rowan Williams gave in June at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Anyone who has read Williams’ theology knows that it is both very cruciform and concerned with avoiding any sort of gnosticism. His essay–thought experiment really–that he presented several years ago to the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement in England entitled “The Body’s Grace” was both very good and troubling in the questions it presented about how we’re to treat same-sex attraction. It was very good in that it avoided many of the cliches we see in current rhetoric, and troubling because of some of the questions raised about the permissibility of homosexual behavior from a Christian perspective. The lasting impression it made upon me, however, was its refocusing of the debate away from strict heterosexual= intrinsically good and homosexual= intrinsically bad thinking, and more toward a consideration of motivation and what it actually means to have a disordered sexuality, i.e. any sort of sexuality that seeks to deprive the other of individuality, objectify or in any other way use another person toward our own ends. That traditional Christian theology sees homosexuality as inherently disordered does not take away from the positive fact that Williams challenges us to examine all of our relations to ensure that we are not forcing our own meanings onto another, or denying the image of God in which they are created. He pushes this understanding forward very well, I think, in his book Lost Icons: Reflections of Cultural Bereavement, where he talks clearly, for example, about the many ways in which our culture deprives children of their childhood and instead forces them to become sexual subjects at younger and younger ages, putting them in a situation where they are made to become both overly sexual at earlier ages as well as parentified children to childish adults who’ve never learned to tell the difference between a child’s wants and needs and those of a grown up.

Since he has being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, it seems that Archbishop Williams’ personal beliefs have taken a more conservative turn in the area of human sexuality, and he has indicated as much in various interviews, though never going into much detail. I doubt his views are “conservative enough” for some still, but he has also maintained consistently that there is a difference between an academic theologian asking certain questions in order to engage in a conversation on a given topic and a Bishop or Archbishop who must always teach what the Church teaches on a given issue, especially one that is controversial. Hence his support for Lambeth resolution 1:10 and his insistence that the various transgressions of the American and Canadian Churches cannot be justified by rights talk.

The video below, I believe, demonstrates very well why Williams takes seriously the question of what it is Christians are supposed to do with our bodies. He reminds us of something very important in our Christian tradition: the fact that bodies matter. It really makes a difference what we do with them. In contrast to various paganisms and mystery cults that inhabited the Greco-Roman world, and the sort of neo-gnosticism that has taken root in our own day, for Christians the body is of utmost importance. As someone put it, it is never appropriate for a Christian to talk about someone “having a body” for Christians we are bodies. Enjoy this selection (it’s a little over 3 minutes) and if you have time, watch the whole thing here.

Note that these highlights begin in an odd place, in the midst of one of Williams’ thoughts. He’s just finished talking about how odd it is that so many modern people are enamored with philosophical systems that Christianity “saw off” in its first few centuries, systems referred to as gnostic, “we can see” he says, “how an affirmative view of the material world began to take root within early Christianity,” and then he says “but surely, people may say, surely early Christianity was neurotic” which is where the clip begins. Williams himself is not saying that early Christianity was neurotic (at least not totally), he’s actually showing why that is not the case. Interesting editing.
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Princeton debate: Is It Wrong to End Early Human Life?

Patrick Allen+ posted about the following debate on the morality of ending “early human life.” While the positions of Harman and Singer are disheartening, I find it encouraging that they are at least honest about what abortion is: the ending of a human life. At least we can move beyond the silly and unhelpful debate about whether a child in the womb is a life. (Hopefully anyway).

Thursday, May 1, 2008
2:30 – 6:00 p.m., Friend 101
Is It Wrong to End Early Human Life?
Moderator: Harold T. Shapiro, Princeton University
Panelists: Robert P. George, Princeton University; John Haldane, University of St. Andrews; Elizabeth Harman, Princeton University; Patrick Lee, Franciscan University of Steubenville; Don Marquis, Princeton University & University of Kansas; Jeff McMahan, Rutgers University; Peter Singer, Princeton University;
A Public Conference co-sponsored by the University Center for Human Values

Watch the video here:

“Is It Wrong to End Early Human Life?” (350K)

or here (56K)

Patrick also posted the following reflections from Ryan Anderson in the Wall Street Journal:

“Look, when we think about ending an early human life, this is something that is really bad for the embryo or early fetus that dies, it’s losing out tremendously—I agree with that as I already said. And then you said that it’s one of the things that we should care about. And, um, I think that I should have said before that I think it’s really dangerous to slide from noticing that something is bad for something, to thinking that that gives us a moral reason. And just to prove that that doesn’t follow, think about plants. So lots of things are bad for trees, and plants, and flowers, and often that gives us no reasons whatsoever, certainly no moral reasons. In my view, fetuses that die before they’re ever conscious really are a lot like plants: They’re living things, but there’s nothing about them that would make us think that they count morally in the way that people do.”

That came from Princeton philosophy professor Elizabeth Harman during the question-and-answer period of last week’s star-studded symposium at Princeton titled “Is It Wrong to End Early Human Life?” The participants included Harman and her Princeton colleagues Robert George and Peter Singer, along with Don Marquis (Kansas), Patrick Lee (Franciscan), Jeff McMahan (Rutgers), and John Haldane (St. Andrews). Moderating the discussion was Harold Shapiro, Princeton’s president emeritus and the chair of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission under President Clinton. On any measure, these are among the most prominent voices in contemporary philosophy and bioethics, and to have them together on one three-and-a-half-hour panel was an intellectual treat. (Disclosure: George, Lee, and Haldane are affiliated with the Witherspoon Institute, as am I.)

Many, no doubt, will find Harman’s comparison of human fetuses to plants—not to mention Singer’s moral defense of infanticide—deeply repugnant. I certainly do. But these are merely the conclusions of a chain of (gravely mistaken) moral reasoning, and such intellectually honest reflection is to be preferred, in fact welcomed, over the unprincipled rationalization that often takes its place. When people like Harman and Singer speak openly and follow their premises to their logical conclusions, the audience realizes what is at stake when a commitment to intrinsic human dignity and equality is rejected—and that realization is a very good thing.

Though ethical disagreement about such important matters as killing human beings, restricting women’s liberty, and forestalling scientific research often generate more heat than light, one of this panel’s many virtues was its consistent civility. The participants themselves stressed that intelligent and reflective people of goodwill can and do disagree. Eschewing ad hominem attacks, they opted to offer arguments and rebuttals, a mutual exchange whose currency is reason. This brought to mind Fr. John Courtney Murray’s famous remark that “disagreement is a rare achievement, and most of what is called disagreement is simply confusion.” So it is a credit to the panelists that the discussion was marked by a lack of confusion, albeit much disagreement.

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Fr. Matthew Olver: The Gospel of Life and the Economy of Desire

My new friend Fr. Matthew Olver, a fellow Covenant author and one of three or four Gen X/Y Diocesan Ecumenical Officers at the National Workshop on Christian Unity, has written a fantastic piece reflecting on the value of life. It’s very good and I hope you’ll take the time to read and reflect on it:

In Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men (recently and excellently adapted for the screen by the Cohen Brothers), the sheriff describes meeting a woman at a conference in Corpus Christi, who tells him:

“I don’t like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion.”

And I said, “Well, ma’am, I don’t think you got any worries about the way this country is headed…I’m goin’ to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she’ll be able to have you put to sleep.”

Which pretty much ended the conversation.

The Gospel is a call to live by grace in union with the Father, by grace to share in that bond of love between the eternal Father and his coeternal Son. The Gospel beckons us into Life itself. Near the very end of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, God puts the choice starkly before them: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live” (Deut 30:19).

Jesus’ summary of his redemptive mission is straightforward: “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). This life is the fulfillment of how the Blessed Trinity created us, “in our [God’s] image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). The power of sin’s infection in all creation is profound: it obscures, but does not obliterate, God’s image in us. This tension is where Christians begin in their understanding of the human person.

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