January 31, 2008

Schaeffer on Preparing Future Thinkers

In "Back to Freedom and Dignity," Schaeffer writes about human engineering and manipulation, "We need to understand from a Christian viewpoint what is happening. More importantly, we must help those in decision-making capacities to recognize the implications of the issues we face together as a human race."

Schaeffer was something of a modern day prophet, he knew where we were headed in biotech and medical ethics, though he had many clues to go by.

I take his exhortation very seriously, and I hope you do as well. The things we need to understand and teach others about is like no other time in human history, yet we are barely scratching the surface on these issues that effect the most vulnerable in our society. The evangelical community cannot solely depend on the Colson's and Mohler's to equip believers on these issues, it has got to happen at the local church level.

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January 30, 2008

Excess Embryos No Argument for Access

In this land of plenty and culture of materialism, the tendency is to expect to get what we want and not wait too long to get it. Having an excess of money, for example, often doesn't make American's more generous, but helps them to get more stuff....and becomes a reason for spending more.

Though the debates over the use of embryos in research is a bit muffled by the political debates over immigration and the economy, this debate will take center stage again very soon. The point that needs to be made is that an excess of embryos in storage is not a justifiable reason for access to them for research that causes their death. This argument is put forth as a humane use of a natural resource as the research may lead to cures--inhumane to the embryo, of course.

The question used to support the use of the embryos is utilitarian in nature. "What are we going to do with them otherwise? They will be abandoned or die, we should use them for the greater good." The assertion that they ought to serve a particular purpose is implicit in the initial question, but doesn't speak to the debate over their moral status. Very simply, the argument is that since we have lots of embryos frozen in time, they should be used for research. The argument of quantity bypasses any discussion of quality, the nature of the embryo. Of course, it could be that the argument presupposes that the embryo has no moral status, but the politicians and the scientists have had little use for philosophers in this entire discussion, so it can't be argued that this has been thoroughly addressed.

An excessive amount of anything isn't a logical justification for access to it. We need to remember this as the debate is engaged in the coming months.

January 28, 2008

Obama Apologist in Need of Facts

"The Truth About Obama's Faith," another piece to be found at Wallis' sojourners.org makes clear who their candidate is.

Obery Hendricks works diligently in this piece to show not only that everyone has gotten the truth about Obama wrong, but that the various charges identified are believed and promoted by mainstream conservative Christians. If he was righting about exteme wackjobs, he wouldn't have written the piece (unless he thinks we're all wackjobs).

Obery states, "Barak Obama has been a baptized, fully confessed and practicing Christian, not only with his lips inside the church but, more importantly, with his limbs out in the community-striving to help the neediest and the most vulnerable..."

He has? Obama is a proabort in the strongest sense of the term, and though he may care about the poor and those lacking healthcare (both worthy causes) he has gone above and beyond the call of duty to defend abortion rights and withhold the most basic right to the preborn-the right to not be murdered. Obery, where does that fit into Obama's practical theology? His prochoice stance is more for political expediency-and he embraces it in full.

Finally, it needs to be said that the Christian faith is grounded on certain beliefs from which acts of mercy flow from. Jesus never taught anything counter to that. Obery Hendricks also wants people to think our criticisms of Obama make us hypocrites because we don't "publically indict the rapacious 'prosperity teacher' and fake healers.

We don't?? One simple google search will reveal otherwise.
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Wake Up to Wallis

Jim Wallis' new book "The Great Awakening" appears to be another attempt to marginalize prolife conservatives while embracing just about every other agenda under the sun. On the Sojourners website you can find the study guide to this new book. It's very telling as in these few pages it manages to impose a weak biblical hermeneutuc on the unsuspecting as well as promote a compromise in the abortion debate that "might reduce abortions" and be the "common ground" that unites prolifers and prochoicers.

"The Great Awakening" should be read with a very critical eye, not allowing yourself to be swayed to a so-called middle or common ground position that entails moral and ethical compromise. More to come on this book...and movement.
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January 26, 2008

Primetime Bioethics

The 25th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision was "celebrated" this week by the networks via Boston Legal and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. On BL, the 'right to choose' on the basis of it being her body, was challenged by her male partner who insisted that she abort. An interesting consideration as our society considers father's rights. But is 'he' a father if the embryo isn't a human person?

Law & Order:SVU also challenged societies varied views on the moral status of the preborn in its portrayal of prolifers and our view of embryos. The plot detailed the theft of embryos from a clinic, orchestrated by prolifers, that were being cryopreserved. The embryos ended up dying and the prolifers charged-with theft...though they and the parents who lost their embryos wanted them charged with murder. Bottom line of this episode is that the law hasn't caught up with the truth that each of us ultimately recognize, life does begin at conception.
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January 25, 2008

Developing Young Women for Work

We all (hopefully) are familiar with the cultural mandate (creation mandate) as it is termed by theologians. The command to have dominion over the earth...to fill it, subdue it, etc....this is an important place to develop ministry to young women.

In this first command, the inhabitants of the earth were called to labor in the garden. Genesis 2:15 states The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (ESV). Take note that this command is pre-Fall. Labor--work--has always been a component of our existence. Work is good and is a reflection of God's work. As Creator of everything, He labored to create. As image bearers, we reflect this through the business of cultivating the earth.

Today, young women have many opportunities before them--though we ought not forget the challenges women face in the workforce. But as a matter of spiritual care--because everything, including our work, belongs to God--we can play a part in their vocational journey by providing various mechanisms that serve to counsel her in career decisions. Here are some ways to bring this to a reality in your church's women's ministry:

1. Who on your women's ministry team is already geared toward ministry to young women? She will likely be a key player in this new component to women's ministry.

2. Discussions with men and women in various professions--develop a monthly meeting that will feature a Christian speaker (does not have to be a woman) who represents a select focation. Publicize the talk to the church and in the community. Your community may be pleasantly surprised that your church cares anything at all about career development!

3. Make it known that someone is available to guide and discuss vocation/career decisions, and that doing so is simply a piece of our work as believers.

4. Teach a solid Christian worldview study regularly, one that emphasizes clearly that a Christian vocation need not necessarily be vocational ministry.

5. After your young women begin to make their decisions, you need to nurture them so that they understand that work is labor for the Lord. Connect them with likeminded, mature believers and/or small groups if you know of any.

6. There may be other women in your congregation who are older and might be struggling with re-entry into the work force. Talk with them about their gifts and talents and how those might fit well with particular job or career choices.

7. For all of your women, infest in their development, preparing them to do the same for the young women she encounters in her future.

Further reading on this topic:
Heaven is a Place on Earth by Dr. Michael Wittmer
Total Truth by Dr. Nancy Pearcey
Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers
Creed or Chaos? by Dorothy Sayers

January 24, 2008

Obama's Politics of Religion

In a recent interview with Beliefnet, Barak Obama was asked about the role that faith and faith-based programs might play in confronting social ills. The question posed suggested to Obama that perhaps his view is similar to George Bush's. Obama replied:
No, I don't think so, because I am more concerned with maintaining the line between church and state. And I believe that for the most part, we can facilitate the excellent work that's done by faith-based institutions when it comes to substance abuse treatment or prison ministries...I think much of this work can be done in a way that doesn't conflict with church and state. I think George Bush is less concerned about that.

His response reminded me of the claims made by a Wisconsin based atheist organization that put forth a lawsuit claiming that the government had crossed the so-called wall of separation in allowing faith-based organizations to receive government funds for the purpose of taking on these social ills.
the Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc., objected to government conferences in which administration officials encourage religious charities to apply for federal grants.

But I'm not here to defend Bush's work against the charge that he isn't concerned about the separation of church and state. That's like asking someone if they've beaten their pet rabbit today. The charge is simply ridiculous as it assumes that Obama's view of the wall of separation is the correct position. To equivocate in response to the question posed to him is, at best, the artistry of lawyering, or is simply pure ignorance.

It's not been established that any of the faith-based organizations that have received federal grants to confront social ills have inappropriately diverted such funds to proselytizing efforts, nor has it been shown that Bush doesn't care whether that happens or not. But to put this to rest, the atheist organization did not get a hearing because their complaint was without merit. Faith-based organizations have always been a part of the work in our society, this isn't anything new.

January 22, 2008

Roe v. Wade: The 'Destruction' or 'Death' of Embryos?

January 22 is the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Courts decision to legalize abortion. In these 35 years, we've debated the issues from the perspective of women's rights, the right to life of the unborn, the health of the mother, the personhood of the fetus, etc. Images of dead babies ripped from their mother's uterus and the use of ultrasound to reveal babies in the warmth of their mother's womb have served to bring about wide range of emotions that have benefited the movement for life.

When we think of these images, we call them babies, people, and life. But when you see the image of an embryo, do you think of it as a human being whose life is at risk by the hands of scientists researching stem cells or women/couples who are utilizing ART's? The truth is, we don't speak of the death of embryos, we speak of their destruction. It seems perhaps we have adopted the language of science as we speak of embryonic people and this may prove to be a disastrous move on our part.

I believe part of why we speak of embryos being destroyed instead of being killed, destruction vs. death, is because the image of embryos does not conjure up the feelings we have for people at the infant stage. We are repulsed at the idea of small, vulnerable people experiencing a painful death at the hands of those who are expected to do no harm. While the image is important in retaining our sense of repugnance, it may be that this image has become the basis for our prolife position and is preventing us from being a stronger voice for the lives of embryos in frozen storage and/or being sought for research purposes. Without the images to generate our emotions, have we lacked the motivation to fight as hard for the embryo as we do for the child at a later stage of gestation? I believe this is the case, and this is why some of our republican presidential candidates are getting away with an inconsistent life position.

As this 35th anniversary comes and goes, remember the embryonic life at risk in cryopreservation and in research labs. We shouldn't need to have the bloody images to invoke our outrage and sense of humanity.

January 16, 2008

Fill the Earth....At Any Cost?

On Feb. 2 I will be speaking at Crossroads Church of Hillside (Hillside, IL). The topic I will be addressing is infertility, but from the perspective of the decisions that correspond to the problem. Should we be about fulfilling the creation mandate at any costs? In other words, should our interest in procreation be greater than the concern for the embryos that often die or put at risk as the result of IVF? Does the embrace of IVF provide a path to embracing preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). And what about sex selection? These are some of the questions I'll be discussing on Feb. 2 at Crossroads Church. If you're interested in attending, please email me and I'll send you more information. sarahflashing@gmail.com

January 14, 2008

Model4Jesus: Women's Ministry on the Catwalk?

Every once in awhile as I'm channel surfing, I check out what's happening on Oxygen channel's Janice Dickenson's Modeling Agency. It's not a very interesting show, as you might guess it features young women who look very hungry, involved in an industry that doesn't necessarily have their best interests in mind. Tonight I was surprised to see the show feature 2 models challenge the status quo of the industry, asking that they be excused from jobs that require nudity. Why? Nude modeling clashes with their Christian worldview...and this was my first introduction to the Model4Jesus, a ministry

for women and teenage girls that uses fashion shows as a tool to reach today's generation, demonstrating that a woman does not need to conform to the world's concept of beauty.

There is no statement of faith on their website, so this isn't a full endorsement for the ministry. But I'm left wondering about what it means to be a model for Jesus. I understand the need to challenge the image of beauty promoted by Hollywood, and I suppose there is forms of professional modeling that don't necessarily objectify the models while selling a product. Walmart ads and JCPenney catalogues come to mind in this regard.

I'm happy to see that there are young people in the modeling industry, as exemplified by Michael and Dominique on JD, struggling with the demands of their work. I just hope that at some point that they realize the compromises they are being asked to make happen long before they are asked to remove their clothing.

Purity Galas

Today I was interviewed by the University of Chicago Laboratory School's newspaper on the topic of Purity Balls. I would assume by their name that it's clear what these events are, but just in case....

Purity Balls, probably better termed "galas," are an effort on the part of predominately evangelical Christians to promote sexual abstinence in the lives of the young women in their families. Young women attend these galas usually with their fathers, sometimes with a brother, uncle, or another male role model in their lives. The purpose? To pledge to remain pure until they marry. As you might suspect, a lot of people find these galas, at best, meaningless, and at worst, the father's attempt to own their daughter's sexuality and her body.

From Generations of Light:
The Father Daughter Purity Ball is a memorable ceremony for fathers to sign commitments to be responsible men of integrity in all areas of purity. The commitment also includes their vow to protect their daughters in their choices for purity. The daughters silently commit to live pure lives before God through the symbol of laying down a white rose at the cross. Because we cherish our daughters as regal princesses—for 1 Peter 3:4 says they are “precious in the sight of God”—we want to treat them as royalty.

While the silent commitment is on the part of the young women participating in the gala, this pledge is give by the father:

From this, I don't see that these young ladies are pledging their purity to their fathers, but committing a precious part of their lives to God. One of the questions posed to me was, do the purity balls/galas work? My response is that in many cases, it won't, but many times what works is not necessarily helpful. What's right is not always the easiest thing to do or accept. Some of the criticism of the purity movement relates to the teaching of abstinence, and it is my belief that we are foolish not to teach abstinence. Not to teach abstinence because abstinence doesn't work is like saying we shouldn't teach long division because everyone owns calculators.

Nothing about the purity movement concerns me except any attempt to turn it into a commercial enterprise. The interviewer shared with me that one of the products marketed to the young women in the movement is underwear that says "my daddy is watching." That's a bit much. But the movement is, in general, a positive promotion of what is truly good and beautiful.

January 10, 2008

Human Dignity, Personhood, and Embryos

Referring back to the case study on infertility, think about what you believe—in thought and in action—about the issues. Do you hold that s/he is a fully a person created in the image of God or do you view an embryo in as an incomplete or potential person? I believe that the reason we, even as Christians, so easily embrace assisted reproduction is because we don’t fully embrace embryos as persons, though in their earliest stage. We are as attached to certain appearances and abilities as a requirement of personhood as is the proponent of embryo destructive research or abortion. Can a person truly be prolife if s/he passively and/or actively denies the personhood to an embryo? To follow with another question, if you hold that an embryo is a person, are you willing to freeze people via cryopreservation? I don’t believe we want to develop a nonchalant attitude toward the embryo by continuing to advise women and couples toward IVF. Granted, IVF doesn’t require freezing embryos, but the process is most economical when eggs are harvested and fertilized in larger quantities, thus necessitating the cryopreservation. If we are motivated by virtuous living and following Christ in thought and action, we ought to concern ourselves with the activities of an image bearer, activities which potentially mirror or deny the Creator. The call of the creation (cultural) mandate to multiply and fill the earth is not a call at all costs. We must not argue in action that to follow God we must violate his character by lowering our view of what it means to be human.

Bioethics Case Study: Infertility, Cures and Questions

This case study is an adaptation of true account. I hope you will take the time to engage the questions at the end of the case, and maybe provide some more.
Jane and John Dough are a happily married couple in your church. Jane grew up in the church, a daughter of an upstanding member of the community who is also a church elder. Jane met John while they were both in college. They were engaged and were married in Jane's home church and eventually moved back to the community where she grew up.

It's been 6 years since they were married, Jane is now 28 and John is 30. Still well within their reproductive age, they have experienced difficulty in conceiving a child. Their friends and others at their church try to encourage them by telling them "don't worry, you will have a baby soon enough," and "you just need to relax." Jane's best friend suggested that maybe she needed to consult with a fertility specialist. They take her advice and consult with a specialist.

Through many tests and procedures, they learn that they can have children, but not without IVF. Because this procedure is very expensive and the harvesting of her eggs can be a painful procedure, they opted to have 10 of her eggs fertilized at one time.

It is now 5 years since the IVF procedure, Jane is 33 and John is now 35. They have 2 beautiful children who are 3 and 1. They are the result of implanting 4 embryos, 2 of which did not successfully implant. A fifth embryo was discarded because it was discovered thorugh PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) that the embryo had a genetic defect, likely Down's Syndrome. 5 of the original 10 embryos remain cryopreserved, they have been there for 5 years. However, the recent debates over embryonic stem cell research have caused Jane and John consider the life of these embryos, but the prospect of 5 more children is overwhelming. They seek to donate them to family members of friends.

Should they have consulted with someone else in addition to an infertility specialist?
Is dealing with infertility about finding cures only, or is it a worldview question?
How might have things transpired had they been equipped before their own crisis?
What is the moral status of the embryo?
Does personhood apply to imperfect embryos?
Who will be affected if the embryos are adopted by close friends/family?
Does being a Christian guarantee that you will automatically pursue the right course of action in this or any other dilemma?

January 6, 2008

Embracing Change

What do women need to get from their church women's ministry? The answer to that will vary from church to church, but as younger women are entering into the community of believers, I exhort you as leaders to embrace change. This is not to say that we change everything, do away with anything that is old, and reject the older women in your circles. May it never be! What I am saying, however, is that if you remain set in your ways in the overall focus of how you do ministry, you will continue to get the same results you have always gotten and you may not have the opportunity to engage new women of many age groups. I'm not an advocate for embracing the philosophies of any given era because they might be popular, and anyone who knows me will vouch for me when I say I'm not a pragmatist. But as times change we must have a knowledge of what women are hearing and speaking, what they believe and what they want out of life. I also challenge you to look around your congregation: it isn't just singles, married, and widows. It's all those, but it's also the functionally single (the women with husbands at home), the divorced, the teen mothers, even the single women who have never been married but have elected through reproductive technologies to have children without a spouse.

This isn't a call to embrace unhealthy and unbiblical choices, this is for you to accept the fact that changes are occurring in our world in ways you could never imagine. Know that traditional women's ministries made primarily of fellowships and bible studies will not cut it without educating on matters related to todays culture. Embrace the changes you need to work on in your area of ministry so that you can embrace the women who need to be reached and discipled.

January 2, 2008

Women of Faith: In Church and Culture

Women mentoring women-this is an important aspect of women's ministry.In fact, I think it defines at the most basic level what women's ministry is. Of course, unpacking women mentoring women exposes numerous areas to women's ministry that are a part of this mentoring: bible study, theological reflection, personal coaching, fellowship, worship, prayer. These are some core areas of women's ministry...in the church. What about in culture? Is society interested in these areas of our internal ministries? Are women in the church prepared to go out into the world and give an answer for the hope within them? One might ask, should women go out into the world in this way. Isn't that men's work? I'm not one who is asking that question, the way of salvation and call to defend the faith is not exclusive to the domain of men. So how are you preparing the women in your church to speak to their culture? Are they prepared to defend their faith with meekness and gentleness? Our children are entrenched in other philosophies in their elementary, high school, and college course work. Women-moms-need to be prepared to speak to these issues. My own son, quoting Mr. Spock from Star Trek, didn't realize he was espousing a utilitarian ethic. I'll post on that another time....but I recognized it and it's dangers. Are you prepared?

We encounter other women every day who are from other religions and worldviews. Have we left the apologetics task to men or relying on our feminine relational nature to reach out to these women? Cookies and flowers may get you in the door, but a substantive relationship will necessitate engaging each other's minds.

I'm going to stop for now, but let me be clear that women need to know how to reach out beyond the walls of the church. We need to be women of faith in culture as well as in the church.

January 1, 2008

Women's Speakers Conference

Without a doubt, there are far less opportunities for women in the church to hone their speaking skills than their are for men. I was at my church this Sunday where we had the opportunity to hear from a seminary student in his mdiv program, obviously studying to be a pastor. He wasn't horrible, and although my kids were able to point out some of his inadequacies, I'm quite sure he struggled because his subject matter was a little too broad. He engaged the commentaries, but had a hard time engaging his listeners. I'm sure he would have done much better if his topic had been a bit narrower, but it was an excellent opportunity for him to become a better preacher with hands-on experience.

As I listened to him, and as I ponder it more this morning, I wish there were more opportunities for women's leaders to develop and grow their speaking and teaching gifts. In my world, the pulpit on Sunday morning will not serve this need (and I'm ok with that). So what exists that will give women more opportunities to get this training? And is there a need for it?

Last question first: there is a need for it. The more gifted women's speakers there are at the local church level, the more opportunity we have to provide solid teaching events. Being a teacher necessitates some degree of speaking ability, and while on the job training is helpful, it's very minimal within the women's ministry context.

First question: what exists that will give women more opportunities to further develop their speaking skills? Carol Kent provides Speak Up seminars that help women's speakers to fine tune what they do. These seminars get into the nuts and bolts of how to be a great speaker/teacher. I've never personally attended one of her events, though I wouldn't mind doing so in the future. I know someone who has and she greatly benefited from the event. Beyond Speak Up, there isn't really anything else. But an event like the Evangelical Theological Society's annual conference would provide women opportunities to speak on selected topics with theological/biblical content. Women theologians and student academics are already involved in these events (as do many male mdiv students aspiring to the pastorate), but nothing like this exists on the women's lay leadership level. Some would argue that it need not exist.

Would you participate in a women's leadership speaking conference?