Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Among The Unborn and The Undead

Lawyers, Guns and Money has more on the links between Terry Schiavo's "supporters" and the religion-abortion nexus being used by the religious-right to increase support for their cause. It's interesting to see that some conservatives aren't buying it.

But also of interest is this post from Balkinization that LGM links to, regarding what will happen when Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Against my will and better judgement I tuned into Larry King Live! last night and saw The Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren on. Now, I have a copy of The Purpose Driven Life and have read from it. I think it's a good book and I generally like Warren and I believe in the message of his book and his broader ministry. He's a good man usually willing to go against traditional orthodoxy to reach people, and for that, he has my gratitude.

But of course, and unfortunately, Warren was asked to weigh in on the Schiavo controversy. And of course, and unfortunately, he merely parroted the lines being recited by her parents and supporters: Terry's alive, she can talk, respond, feel, etc and that attempts to disconnect her feeding tube were actions worthy of the worst of Nazism, etc.

This is why I've come to the painful conclusion that ministers of the Gospel should refrain from entering into political debates, particularly when they don't understand all the issues involved (and this goes for liberal preachers and liberal causes, too).

Now, the obvious counter to this is, well, what about cases in which the government is behaving as the Nazis did, rounding up people for extermination, launching unwise wars, etc?

My answer would be that when the government begins to indiscriminately arrest and confine people and launch wars, then there is a basis for the church to respond. But in the case of Terry Schiavo, and the abortion-culture wars, there is no orchestrated or mandated government activity occuring. In the case of Terry Schiavo and the millions of women that seek to terminate a pregnancy and in the cases of individuals of terminal health who want to the right to die peacefully, it is not the government that is collectively or forceably taking action. It is merely allowing individual action to take place.

It is peculiar that it is precisely this set of arrangements that the so-called religious-right and the dubiously entitled right-to-life groups are so vehemantly against.

On the other hand, instances of where it is the government or an institution that is taking life, such as is the case with the death penalty and in the case of the Texas law allowing hospitals to disconnect feeding tubes and other life support mechanisms, are left unaddressed by the forces of the conservative right.

However, it is this second level of cases that I think presents the most alarming cases of governmental or institutional abuse versus the individual. But about these, conservative groups have no complaint at all. What about wrong-ful executions? Where is the National Right to Life Committee on this? We know they have occured and can occur without adequate protections. But these many religious conservatives seemed unconcerned about.

So the risk for church involvement seems to me to rest along two main points. One, most issues are complex enough that they cannot be easily summarized or remedied from the pulpit. Unless the government or an institution is acting against the interests of an individual, the church should allow the government and its representatives to do their job. Just as pastors are trained for their profession, lawyers, policy analysts, and educators are trained for theirs. Before you weigh in on an issue, make sure you have a good grasp of the conflicting sides of the story before passing judgement.

The second point is that far too often, church involvement because of its ignorance, is set up to be duped by alliances that don't have the church's true interests at heart. Such is the case, I would argue, with many of the anti-abortion groups that rely on religious support but in actuality, attend to only a narrow range of issues and don't embrace the concern for the whole life that the church and its Teacher and Lord, Jesus Christ, advocates.

Before pontificating on the fate of Terry Schiavo I would hope that in the future Warren, and other evangelical leaders will be willing to ask similar questions of bankruptcy "reform", tort "reform", Medicare and Medicaid "reform" and other initiatives that stand to have a much wider inpact on life than the removal of a feeding tube from one individual.

But preferably, I'd like to see church leaders take the position towards public issues as that taken by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step groups: "AA has no opinion on outside issues and seeks no controversy." To do otherwise is to impinge upon the church's primary task--preaching the gospel and changing individual hearts and minds, which alone will produce a more fair, just and peaceful society.

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