July 27, 2008

The "Desperate" Women of Evangelicalism

Housewives we all are not, but according to Stephen Arterburn, well-know Christian counselor and founder of the Women of Faith conference movement, we are a desperate, needy bunch.

In an interview posted by Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe (July 25, 2008) in the Articles of Faith blog, Arterburn was asked if the Women of Faith conferences serve as method of evangelism. He replied, "I call it an inspirational conference. We're trying to inspire women that are in big trouble to hang on. We try to inspire them to live the life that God intended them to live."

Does the fact that around 400,000 women each year attend these conferences provide validity to his assertion that these women are in "big trouble?" Or perhaps this is one of the most dominant movements within the evangelical community that vasts amounts of women have access to.

Whatever motivates women to attend, it is clear that within the subculture of women's ministry, women have been convinced that they are in "big trouble." Motivational and self-help books dominate the women's section in Christian bookstores, women's ministries focus in on her need for encouragement and support, and if I were to take a survey, I'm confident that counseling programs would represent the bulk of advanced degrees held by women's ministry leaders.

It might be that women are in constant need of these self-help resources (books, conferences, etc.) because they are actually in need of something deeper will take them through the difficult times. The therapeutic culture of the church functions such that a solid theology is secondary to addressing the day to day issues we face. In other words, knowing God becomes a response to our "big trouble" instead of preparation for loving God and living in general. When relationships are pursued primarily for what one can get out of it, the relationship suffers.

Though well intentioned, I am concerned that Arterburn's comment and this therapeutic culture of women's ministry perpetuates an attitude of helplessness among Christian women. We ought to envision a ministry that develops women in such a way that their spiritual maturity, their relationship with God, is her ultimate resource in times of need. An anemic women's ministry will always need to be therapeutic. A theologically healthy ministry will produce disciples who naturally replicate and find their needs met at the feet of Jesus, and naturally among one another as Titus 2 models. This isn't to devalue counseling as I know how important it is, but the ministry to women in the church must first be Cross-centered. Knowing God makes it possible for women to help themselves.

July 23, 2008

Blog Talk: Living the Cross Centered Life

Tonite at church is week 3 of our book discussion group, reading Mahaney's "Living the Cross Centered Life." The last couple of weeks have been very busy, having had a loss in our family. So this is my first post on the book since introducing it a few weeks ago.

On page 99, Mahaney writes,

"You're being laid off at work. The test came back...you've got cancer. You're baby-I'm sorry, he's dead. It's a fallen world, and therefore we will all suffer. So we must prepare, because the ideal time to be educated about suffering is never in the midst of it. We need to be trained prior to suffering, so that we may be fully sustained in suffering."

Preventive care is an area where the church needs to develop more of a vision. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that ministries exist to support those who hurt during their time of pain. But being reactionary only is insufficient. We live in a world of suffering, and that is no cliche. Part of discipleship is helping Believers to navigate this world in all of its complexities.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

July 22, 2008

NARAL on the Secular/Religious Divide

Yesterday I mentioned in a post that fragmented thinking "has taught people to believe that certain matters are to be addressed by their doctors and certain matters are to be addressed by their pastors." In other words, an error often made within the Christian community is the split between the "spiritual" and everything else. Obviously, Christians aren't alone in this regard, perhaps they are taking cues from NARAL?

On NARAL.org, it states: "If you are facing an unintended pregnancy, it is important that you talk about your feelings and emotions with someone you trust, be that a family member, a close friend or a member of the clergy. It is also important that you consult a health care professional to discuss your options."

Did you catch that? You can talk about your feelings and emotions with your clergy--not the truth, but your feelings and emotions. The role of clergy in this circumstance is purely therapeutic where the role of the health care professional is about the facts, the "options." This fact/feeling divide is grounded in assumptions about the nature of religion, that it has nothing to contribute to the decision at hand. By relegating religious leaders to the domain of emotions, it deems them irrelevant to any discussion related to the fate of the pregnant woman and the unborn child. As well, it assumes that abortion is primarily a medical decision and that there are no spiritual dimensions to the situation. They have determined, as an organization focused on "health care," that philosophical/theological reflection has no place in discussing "the options."

It also needs to be pointed out that they believe in the myth of the purely secular, that they and abortion providers have no worldview commitments.

So you're wondering why this is news. It isn't to me, but for some, it needs to be clarified that the worldview being expressed here has a view of religion as fiction, or something created by culture. For them, life begins only at birth because that is when a person begins to be enculturated. The meaning of life isn't found in anything metaphysical, but in the influence of culture who has created meaning for itself. Until birth, there is no meaning, rendering preborn life meaningless.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

July 21, 2008

Staking a Claim: Women, Theology, & Bioethics

Dorothy Sayers, theologian, lecturer, author of detective fiction, and friend to C.S. Lewis, responded to the question of what is a “woman’s point of view” as it pertains to literature and finance. She said “…don’t be silly. You might as well ask what is the female angle on an equilateral triangle.”[1] The point to be taken from this exchange is that for those things which are a matter of basic fact, there is only one perspective and that is a human perspective. As it pertains to other matters, Sayers continues,

“…I prefer to think that women are human and differ in opinion like other human beings…you can not ask for ‘the woman’s point of view,’ but only for the woman’s special knowledge…’”[2]

Women today have differing points of view in matters of bioethics, yet the same experience of womanhood, though always with some exceptions. But the most dominate expression of this experience, this “special knowledge,” is not from the voice of evangelical women who, as theologians, can provide meaning and communicate hope, but from secular feminism. This is not to suggest that there are no evangelical women engaging in theological dialogue, but as it pertains to being an influential, prophetic voice in bioethics—in the academy, church, and in popular culture—few women address bioethical matters in this way. A cross-centered evangelical bioethic offered through the theological voice and experience of women can serve as an apologetic for a Christian worldview, helping to put to rest the suspicion and charges of female oppression by evangelicalism and evangelical bioethics that are often made by secular feminism, charges that view human autonomy as the highest value. In society and within the community of evangelical bioethics, woman as theologian offers a unique and fresh perspective to all levels of discussion, from academic scholarship and education to more public activist roles.

Secular Feminist Bioethics
Women’s issues, especially those related to women’s health and bioethics including abortion, pregnancy, contraception, and reproductive technologies have by default, come under the domain of secular feminism in popular culture. For years, since the second wave of feminism leading to Roe v. Wade until now, these women’s issues have been addressed primarily by secular feminist voices, and by specifically feminist bioethics. Academic journals like The International Journal to Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, blogs like the Women’s Bioethics Project, and popular organizations like NOW and the Feminist Majority exist to develop the next generation in the academy and in popular culture. The website of Women’s Bioethics Project states

Women’s health concerns have always been at the core of the Women’s Bioethics Project’s work. Moving beyond narrow conceptions of women’s health, we will be focusing on issues such as aging, women’s participation in medical research, the impact of traditional care giving roles on women’s lives, and end-of-life decision making. We have a series of initiatives planned to help bring these issues to the attention of the media, increase women’s involvement, and impact public policy.

It is clear that the focus women’s issues is expanding beyond what has been traditionally conceived of as important to women—contraception, abortion rights, infertility, reproductive technologies, and so on. And while feminist bioethics are expanding, with the persuasive power of mythical neutrality, evangelical women as theological bioethicists have yet to speak prominently in the theological academy, church, and in culture to these issues. With all of these voices speaking to women of all ages, and with women eagerly listening, it has to be asked, where are the theological voices of evangelical women? In there book, Living on the Boundaries: Evangelical Women, Feminism, and the Theological Academy, Pohl and Creegan ask similarly, “where are the good women?”[3] The gender discussions within evangelical circles are no doubt a contributing factor to the scarcity of evangelical women as theological bioethicists. But whether complementarian or egalitarian as it relates to women’s roles in the church and family, there is ample support in Scripture for women to be a strong voice in the academy, church and culture without concern for compromising conservative views of gender roles.

Staking a Claim Among Women
One might wonder why theologically-informed female voices need to be available as prominent voices in the church, academy and culture. There are no new metaphysical truths to be uncovered, we have a grasp on what the bible teaches on human dignity and the great commandment to love our neighbor, so why does the gender of the messenger have any relevance? Aren’t the prominent, sound voices of evangelical men in bioethics enough? I am especially thankful for all those I have and continue to learn from in the field, but I also see the gap of influence of women on other women – and on men, who, as a member of the human race, experiences life a bit differently. The way to answer the question about the importance of women’s voices is to see the women who have sought women’s voices due to their “special knowledge,” their experience. The female evangelical theologian in bioethics can offer a fresh and unique perspective, not because she offers new knowledge on the basis of her womanhood, but because she identifies with the same joys and pains of half of the people in our culture. The previously mentioned organizations have a great deal of influence in our culture not because they force their message on women or anyone else, but because women want to hear from them. Women are listening to these women, and these women come from all parts of society including the church. Even further, the fragmentation of faith and reason has led to further splits in our thinking, and quite noticeably between health and reproduction and our spirituality. Concerns about women’s health in the evangelical church often receives limited preemptive attention because this fragmentation has taught people to believe that certain matters are to be addressed by their doctors and certain matters are to be addressed by their pastors.

Crucial to the future of evangelical bioethics is the proactive willingness to develop theologically informed women bioethicists for work in the seminary, in the church, and in culture. Women continue to dominate church membership—60% as recently reported by Barna—and continue to enter into higher education in increasing numbers. Evangelical women who desire theological training find themselves in strange territory, one stating “I guess I’ll be too liberal for most evangelical institutions and too conservative for most mainline schools.”[4]

The Scriptures contain numerous stories of women’s experiences as it relates to matters of reproduction and even end of life scenarios. There are obviously profound theological implications of these stories—the barrenness of Hannah and Sarah, the end-of-life grief of Mary and Martha, sisters to Lazarus—as well, there are practical lessons to be communicated to women in our world today. God cares about the details and he is not uninvolved in our lives. For evangelical women in theology today, the task is to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ by taking ownership of these bioethical issues that have thus far been dominated by secular feminism.

The scope of this discussion is focused on the value of theologically-informed women’s voices for the sake of women, though it does not preclude the importance of her influence on men. But in terms of God’s calling on the ministry to women, I believe we can find direction for this work in Titus 2.

Typically viewed as instruction for how older women are to mentor younger women in keeping the home, I believe we can with all integrity see the broader implications of this passage in our contemporary culture. Titus 2:3-5 states:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Bioethical issues never operate in a vacuum, and a decision—whether related to reproductive technologies or end of life questions—will always involve members of one’s own family. For the woman as theologian and bioethicist, with her special knowledge as woman, daughter, and perhaps as wife and mother, has the opportunity to teach “what is good” to women in the academy, church, and culture. But we must be willing to take our place in culture and no longer be willing for women’s issues to be owned by the voice of secular feminism. Through this, we may see the new trends develop in society at large in how we view human nature, life, the unborn, and the disabled. Ultimately, then, women as theological bioethicists have one more way to advance God’s kingdom to his glory. WFC

[1] Are Women Human? Dorothy Sayers Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (November 15, 2005) p. 41

[2] Ibid, p. 43

[3] Living on the Boundaries: Evangelical Women, Feminism And the Theological Academy. InterVarsity Press, June 2006. Page 31

[4] Ibid, 41.

July 19, 2008

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care & the Common Good: Dr. Edmund Pellegrino (Final Thoughts)

All the dimensions of politics and the health care system are designed to care for the individual. Health is a desirable end, medical care is a need.

Should religion be engaged in the dialectical discourse? As Pellegrino discusses this I'm reminded of the works of H. Tristram Engelhardt discussing the role of religion in the public square and the notion of agreement among "enemies."

Autonomy started as a negative right but has become from a right of neglect to a right to demand treatment to the extent of micromanagement at the bedside. While wanting to preserve the autonomy of the patient, we also need to consider the autonomy of the health professional.

In clinical ethics, there need to be absolutes. Without them, morality will be left to the courts.
Augustine says 'an unjust law is no law.' Today conscience clauses are under threat and the value-free doctor is the most desirable.

Pellegrino very interestingly recommends bedside clinical ethics education. It takes a socratic approach, takes it out of the abstract and into reality. It seems this approach brings the clinician into a more intimate relationship with the patient.

"Inane thinking" about the hippocratic oath that pervades bioethics today. Pellegrino says that the hippocratic oath/ethos are not the whole of medical ethics. It is a statement of morality.

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care & the Common Good: Dr. Peter Lawler

Peter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor and Chair of the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He teaches courses in political philosophy and American politics and has won several awards from Berry for doing so.

A truly progressive society would subordinate technological process to personal progress.

John Locke - "My body is my property"
Autonomy trumps in our culture.

Locke - In an individualistic society, the only hold the older people have on the young is money.

Immediate crisis in health care is productivity over care giving.

Care should be given in the most personal way possible, knowing that each human being is more than a human being with interests.

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care & the Common Good: Solutions (Dean Clancy - Continued)

What about illegal immigrants and health care?
Response: Federal mandate that any hospital that takes Medicare must care for anyone who enters ER.

Would you put a cap on medical malpractice suits?
Response: Would all caps be just? More consideration must be given to the victims of medical malfeasance.

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care & the Common Good: Solutions (Dean Clancy - Continued)

Obama's Health Care Plan
1. Mandate employer coverage
Subsidize covereage or through payroll tax
2. Expand public coverage
Create a private "Medicare" option to compete with private plans
Would cost 30% less than other insurers and attract 40 million enrollees
Expand Medicaid and SCHIP eligibility
140-150 million people, or about half the US population would be on Medicare or Medicaid
3. Regulate private insurance
Define a minimum basic benefit package
Create a federal health care watchdog called the Exchange.
Mandate coverage of children
Regulate insurers' premiums and profits.

McCain's Health Care Plan
1. Create a voucher-like system for private insurance
Eliminate tax exclusion ($150 billion per year)
Create a refundable health insurance tax credit of $2500 for an individual, $5000 for a family
2. Enhance price competition by permitting purchase of health insurance across state lines
3. Create a Guaranteed Access Plan subsidy for people with pre0existing conditions
Assistance based on income level
Impose "reasonable limits on premiums"
4. Expand Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

Obama would grow public programs and control costs through greater regulation and administered pricing
McCain would grow the indivudual market and control costs through greater competition among insurers

Both plans would bring more cost control to the system
Both plans claim to build on the existing system
Bot plans claim to promote affordability and choice
Both plans would almost certainly have the effect of greatly shrinking or eliminating the employer-based system.

Jim Capretta's Four-Point Plan
Cap tax exclulsion, create limited tax credit
Give states regulatory flexibility, with state "exchanges"
Convert Medicare into a form of defined contribution
Implement incrementally

Dean Clancy Additions
Completely relieve states of Medicaid spending burden
Combine Medicare and Medicaid into a single federal program based on poverty and disability rather than age. No more Medicare benefits for millionaires and billionaires.

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care & the Common Good: Solutions (Dean Clancy)

The Common Good
1. The good of the whole community
2. The highest good for each of us
3. Communal virtue and happiness, built upon the virtue and happiness of individuals, families, towns, etc.

1. First order questions (what is right or just?)
2. Second order questions, what should be done?
3. Both sets of questions require debate, deliberation and participation by citizens.

Dean will get into Obama and McCain's health care proposals at some point into the discussion, be sure to check back for more details on that.

Problems in health care
1. Rising costs and coverage gaps
2. Changing roles and declining professionalism of caregivers
3. Ethical quandaries arising from science and technology
4. Cultural and political problems

Clancy points out that medical inflation must end and that government's share is about 1/2 and growing.

July 18, 2008

LIVE BLOGCAST: Ancillary Care Perspective: Deadly Denial of Dental Care (Case Study)

Moderator: Dr. Claretta Dupree

Panelists: Eileen Clark, Pat Emery, James Grear, Rochelle Moore, Barbara White

Overall health requires good oral health. In what way can society provide more access to dental care. Where does the moral obligation to be concerned with the common good come into play? Is there a professional obligation or does it land squarely in the domain of Christian values.

This has been an enlightening discussion on the topic of dental health, leading to more worldview questions. Christians don't have the corner on benevolence, but the Christian worldview makes sense of the good, gives it meaning.

If we can't get our community leaders and key people actively involved in advocating for those in need, how can we help? It isn't just about Christians, advocacy needs to be a community solution. And the solution can't always be about working harder, but worker smarter in as much as existing systems permit, though recognizing shifts must eventually occur in the existing systems.

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care in the United States: Strengths, Weaknesses, and the Way Forward (James C. Capretta, Ethics and Public Policy Center)

Ethics & Public Policy Center.

US health care is employment based. Employer participation protects private sector orientation and innovation.

If you get down to it, what's happening is the ability to organize care for the patient is difficult.

Pushing health care down to the state regulatory level is crucial.

LIVE BLOGCAST: Professionalism in Peril, Dr. Gene Rudd

When we lose sight of our core values, we risk moral meltdown in health care.

Professional adultery-medicine has its mistresses. More physicians now are employees rather than partners in private practice. Do those institution share our moral obligations? Are patients merely customers?

Autonomy-We have given it such priority that it comes without warnings. In a relativistic society we have a moral obligation to communicate the "thou shall not's."

Transition from covenant to contract - a move from moral obligation to legal obligation. Trust is an essential part of health care, but trust is eroding.

Dr. Gene Rudd is from the Christian Medical & Dental Association and provided a very insightful plenary talk on professionalism in health care and what that means from the perspective of our Judeo-Christian tradition.

July 17, 2008

LIVE BLOGCAST: Patient Perspective (Clinical Ethics): "Common Good" Case for Today

Moderator: Robert Orr, MD
Panel: Sam Casey, JD; John Dunlop, MD; Pat Emery, MSN, RN; Daniel McConchie, MA; and Pastor Keith Plummer, PhD (Cand)

Clinical ethics looks at the patient with the obligations of beneficence and compassion.

Case: Peter is 10 3/4 years old. 2 months - severe cardiomyopathy. 7 months received heart transplant. 27 months, severe rejection episode with cardiac arrest and hypoxic brain damage. Now he has markedly diminished renal function. Transplant? sever coronoary artery disease. Re-transplant?

KP - Are there other children?
RO - Mom is single, no siblings

PE - What does Mom want?
RO - let's assume she will want to pursue these things?

DM - What is the prospect for longterm dialysis?
RO - Covered by medicaid,

JD - Other issues with new organs?
RO - Kidney's might quit earlier than heart, likely not a combined transplant. Each transplant has a high chance for success.

SC - if successful, what is the longterm prognosis?
RO - Rest of body seems to be functioning well. Nothing in particular anticipating to take his life in the forseeable future.

RO - Mom wanted more education to care for him. Son is in institution and she cares for him on weekends. Mom content with his level of function.

DM - Child's level of cognition?
RO - Nonverbal. First able to sit at age 4. now he can walk with assistance. Can drink from a cup but needs assistance with self-feeding. Is in diapers, doesn't speak. Tries to mimic sounds. Loves music.

PE - Mother's support system?
RO - well connected

PE - mother's level of education?
RO - high school/college

SC - Concern: child is profoundly disabled. Other child on transplant list are otherwise normal. Are their listing criteria?
RO - Criteria: Adequate, cognitive attention.

SC - does this listing violate American's with Disabilities Act?
RO - What if this child were in PVS?

SC - if the child is PVS, that doesn't mean that the AwDA doesn't apply.
RO - Allocate upon some neutral criteria? Is there discriminatory criteria that the law points out?

Other questions/comments:
Something within this child that keeps him alive.

How much would all this cost. Public money that might be spent on more otherwise healthy children?

Has he had seizures? No

What is the relationship between his suffering and what he might have to gain?
Is that appropriate given his cognitive state?

Does he recognize his mother and respond differently to other people?

Is he in crisis right now? (no)

...the discussion continues...

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care & the Common Good: Dr. Edmund Pellegrino (continued)

Question: Has there been any official reaction to the article by Steven Pinker on the uselessness of human dignity?

Response: (Qualified as own opinions) Not a very intellectual engagement of ideas.

Question: Systems are not the answer...?

Response: First order questions are ethical/theological. IOW, what does it take for a society to pursue the common good? It's never been defined in the public arena. So which systems are helpful with regard to their ethical content. It's about getting clarification on the ethical implications of systems.

Question: The obligations to provide health care for people in need and suffering....how far does this extend?

Response: One of the conditions would have to be that any medical treatment that we're going to use or include...is going to have to be proven as effective. But are we committed to health care as a common good as an ethical concern or economic concern? Health care cannot be a commodity and the marketplace has no heart. We give it a heart by thinking about our obligations.

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care & the Common Good: Dr. Edmund Pellegrino (continued)

Mark 1:34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

"We have one virtue, that is the virtue of charity." Dr. Edmund Pellegrino

"With ethics alone you'll neither satisfy God nor fulfill your intrinsic possibilities. God is the Holy One. Goodness is one of the names of him whose essence is inexpressible. And he desires not only obedience to the commands of the 'abstract good,' but also your personal affection. More, he wants you to risk love and and the new existence that springs from it. Only in love is genuine fulfillment of the ethical possible." The Lord by Romano Guardini
First order question of a good society, obligations to see that people have what they need.

The notion that we are interconnected as human beings, we have responsibilities to each other. What happens to one happens to the rest of us. Whenever we can do something to recognize that we are members of a conjoined society, that is why the the common good is so crucially important.

Closing statement: Do we want to be passive bystanders? Do we not want to contribute to the relief of those who suffer? Is the picture we give....do we want to be seen as doing the Pontius Pilate act and not taking responsibility for others? What kind of society do we want to be?

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care & the Common Good: Dr. Edmund Pellegrino (continued)

All human beings have an inherent dignity that comes from the fact that they have been created equally. Agreed upon by the United Nations. The common good does not discriminate because we are all human beings.

What are some conditions for the common good? Everyone needs them, and someone needs to provide them. These are some elements
1. Security
2. Privacy
3. Education
4. Tolerance
5. Interaction
6. Freedom
7. Health
8. Peace
9. Medical care
10. Interaction
Objections to health care as the common good: why should we care for those who don't care for themselves? We must allow for the flourishing of every human being.

Can we be part of the human community if we are denied health care as a common good?
Benevolence is more important to a good society than autonomy. Not helping the sick undermines the kind of society we want to be (Adam Smith)

The function of a society as a whole is to preserve the above elements for a human being to flourish as a human being.

LIVE BLOGCAST: Health Care & the Common Good: Dr. Edmund Pellegrino

Chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, Dr. Pellegrino begins the conference with thoughts on the state of health care in the U.S. The debate about health care ethics in America has gone on for a long time and for the most part it has been argued in terms of economics, finance and practicalities - all important. But Pellegrino suggests that maybe these questions are secondary to other ethical matters. What obligations do we have to the ill? What does a good society owe to it's citizens? How do we judge among the programs available that we are meeting society's needs? How do we determine that we are a good society in this regard?

Health care for the common good, what does it mean? Many people move from reason to emotion in addressing this question. Pellegrino goes through 3 theories,
Aristotelean, Liberal, and Communitarian perspectives on the common good.

July 16, 2008

Live Blogging: CBHD Bioethics Conference

Beginning tomorrow night, I'll be live blogging the 15th ANNUAL CONFERENCE ON BIOETHICS at Trinity International University. The Conference, Health Care & the Common Good, will feature speakers Edmund Pellegrino, MD, Robert Orr, MD, Claretta Dupree, PhD, Peter Lawler, PhD, and others.

July 13, 2008

Bioethics & the Family

Many will remember July 12, 2008 as the day that Tony Snow and Bobby Murcer died. Each of them popular for their careers had also endured long battles with cancer. Most likely, no will remember -- or even know -- that on this same day my dad, Fred Brendemuehl, also died. He was 82.

Every person is created in the image of God and has dignity. As I watch my dad take each breath I was happy that he was alive, knowing that soon his breathing would probably become more labored and living more difficult. It was unclear to me if he knew we were there with him, we tried to let him know. I think I saw him smile once. But during his suffering he never lacked dignity.

I've always known the practical implications of bioethics, I never expected for them to present themselves these last few days. The "palliative care" team at the UW hospital was eager to take things to the next phase. The desire to keep dad comfortable during his last days or hours was overshadowed by those who simply believed in ending the life of the sufferer. On day 2, withdrawal of nutrition and hydration was brought to my family as an immanent option. In all fairness, a feeding tube had not yet been inserted, but the palliative care team made no efforts to educate my family on the rationale for their recommendations. Reflecting back on those moments, I recall these 3 professional women speaking in a soft tone with compassionate words of kindness, discussing the ways they could possibly make dad comfortable should he be in any pain. Moving from his comfort to his death was without segue, and in my opinion, the height of arrogance.

I also know that my dad's advance directive was signed by him on July 8, 2008. This is 4 days before he died and during the time he was having neurological difficulties. I'm not suggesting he never thought about the circumstances of his death before this time, I know he did. But I'm unsure how much he actually understood about "tube feedings" which was indicated on the advance directive as something he did not want if found to be terminally ill.

Overall, I believe my dad was well cared for in the hospital and I think he felt the love of his family around him. But it is even more clear to me that bioethical decision making happens to every day people, it is not just a topic for the halls of academia.

July 9, 2008

Hearing Her: Evangelical Women's Voices in Bioethics

When we think about women's voices speaking to any particular issue in society, it's easy to assume those voices belong to secular feminism and not evangelical theology. This isn't to suggest that there are no evangelical women theologians involved in important areas like bioethics, but the numbers are low and have little bearing on what is referred to as "women' issues." This is a topic I will be speaking about next week at CBHD's summer bioethics conference.

Part of the problem is internal. Evangelicalism doesn't provide much space for the female theologian as she is almost always relegated exclusively to matters of the home (if she is married).. The debates over roles in the church and family limit the likelihood that a woman would enter into the theological academy, and as a result her voice is silent and she has little influence on other women in church and culture.

Feminists and other women's rights activists have a significant voice in public debate largely due to the fact that the Christian community is viewed as being oppressive of women, something that is not entirely true. But the absence of female voices can feed into that generalization.

Grounded in a theology committed to a historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture, evangelical women can bring a voice of faith, reason and experience to bioethics issues. The experienced joy of womanhood within the framework of a Christian worldview is an invaluable resource for the church in ministry to women in church and society at large.

July 6, 2008

Elevating Theological Reflection in Women's Ministry

The stated mission if the Foundation for Women of Faith in Culture is to play a role in the spiritual growth of Christian women through biblical, theological, and worldview education. Implicit in this is the belief that the Scriptures are God's revelation to man and that it is God's desire for us to understand what is communicated therein.

Now obviously, there are are debates about the meaning of some of that which is contained in Scripture, and these differences logically lead to denominationalism. We may not like denominations, but as we search the scriptures and are convinced of their meaning, it makes no sense that we would reside in a setting that is unwelcoming of certain held beliefs. Some of the more minor issues that are often a source of division include the frequency of communion and the style of worship. More significant issues might include the form of government espoused by a church, the manifestation of certain spiritual gifts, the involvement of women in the congregation, and the meaning of baptism. While I don't believe any person's salvation is hinged on what they believe about any of these issues (with the exception of baptism), we must not reduce theological reflection to the latest "hot" theological topic that has no real significance. Nor should we be left to assume that we can't possibly get to the truth on theological issues simply because thoughtful people differ. The message that is sent is twofold: 1) it is impossible to get to the truth of complicated biblical passages and 2) the truth of those passages doesn't ultimately make that much of a difference.

Helping women to think theologically is my life's passion because I know personally how knowing God, his relationship to his creation, and how he functions in the world makes sense out of my own life. Knowing that nothing is outside of God's control gives me great comfort when life presents great difficulties, and knowing that I am saved because God prepared my heart to understand the things of the spirit (1 Cor. 2:14) leaves me in complete awe of his absolute power. The fact is, every time we do Bible study and reflect on its teachings, we are doing theology. And there are no limits to what we can reflect on in Scripture and occasionally we bump into areas of theology that require a bit more intellectual elbow grease than we are accustomed to using. Unfortunately, a recent teaching by Beth Moore and her series on Romans only seems to intimidate and discourage women from the process of doing theology in hopes of locating truth, though to her credit, she says she hopes women will study the issues of systematic theology on their own. You can listen to the audio for yourself here.

The following are comments transcribed from the audio on the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. It refers to whichever theological box one might espouse:

...we will be tempted in every class we’re in, every sermon we hear….everything’s got to fit into it because it’s so important it’s going to be how the heart of salvation expresses itself in the hearts of man….we’ll hear everything according to this. I beg you not to do it....I beg us not to decide what we really think and make everything have to line up with that. I beg you like I begged myself that you and I are going to have to go into this with some kind of openness.
Beth Moore's assumption is that if you think systematically, your tendency is going to be to fit new found beliefs into a given system rather than allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves. That may be a danger for some people, but there is also the element of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, and if we see a contradiction in Scripture--not a paradox--then we have to search out other areas of Scripture to help make sense out of things.

Beth suggests at one point that as it pertains to the Calvinist/Arminian debate, she would like to be free to put her own doctrinal points together, thus creating another system.

I don’t want to be in either one, I want to pick and choose….I want to mix and match my own. And still we come up with our own thing. There is all manner of modification of Calvinism. I want you to hear in Arminianism….a real leaning of mine….Arminians believe that God’s omniscient foreknowledge is the basis of unconditional election. I want to believe that how God makes his choices is because of what he knows.

Another area I'd like to focus your attention on has to do with Jacobus Arminius and his relationship with Beza. She states:

One reason we have so much debate is because both of these schools of thought can be found in Protestantism. That’s our deal, we can’t agree on anything… It’s absolutely exhausting. A dutch pastor, his teacher Theodore Beza was John Calvin’s chosen…he was his chosen, his hand-picked successor. Beza was Arminius’ teacher… but he could not accept that God was the author of sin...he could not go there. Mainline hyper-calvinistic thought still has to come back there, does not mean, let me be clear-God is absolutely sinless, but saying he is still the originator of it, and the author of it..

The above transcription from the audio deserves to be heard as I admit, the punctuation may cause some inflection to go missing. Be sure to listen to it on your own. But I am concerned that her teaching on the Calvinist/Arminian debate moved into the area of hypercalvinism without explanation, creating a logical fallacy. This is entirely unhelpful to the listener who lacks familiarity with theology, or only has minimal understanding of this timeless debate. And as it relates to the problem of evil and God's sovereignty, her discussion irresponsibility lacks the precision required to effectively discuss these matters.

Beth has a large audience of women paying close attention to her teachings of Scripture, reflecting with her theologically and integrating into life the truths they are discovering together. I hope this particular presentation of Romans 9 causes women to pursue a greater understanding of God--doing theology--than was encouraged by this particular message. She said it would be good for her listeners to search these matters out on their own, but she spoke in a way that communicated it ultimately didn't matter that much, that it would be incredibly exhausting and one could go for years without really knowing anything at all. She concluded her discussion with the following quote by A.W. Tozer which she says she quotes "many times":

God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, "O Lord, Thou knowest." Those things belong to the deep and mysterious Profound of God's omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints. link
True enough that there are areas of Scripture which will never make complete sense given our incomplete knowledge, but our willingness to live and love mystery is not a concession to doing theology, it is part of the process. We don't entirely understand election, predestination, and divine sovereignty, but we know from Scripture that they are true. Women in the church need not avoid theology, we need to engage it. As mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, there are people in our life who need to hear from us on the truths contained in Scripture. By conceding to the idea that we can't get to any truth, we leave ourselves enslaved to an immature faith.