Monday, May 30, 2005

Evangelical idolatry for families undermines stance on abortion

The recent debate over stem-cell research has shown a very clear problem within the evangelical church. We have an idolatry of the family. I'm not here to say that families are bad. Heck, I'm probably guilty of the idolatry as well. I think the nuclear family is a crucial element for organizing society and the physical inability of a couple to have a child does not seem fair or right. It is this belief, contrary to God's word about barren women and childless couples, that has gotten the evangelical church into trouble over the debate on abortion. We have made an idol of the "perfect family" rather than stand for the principle that life begins at conception.

Let me lay out the problem. Evangelical churches have long supported (either explicitly or implicitly) families getting IVF treatment to help them have a child. Yet the IVF treatment often means 10-20 eggs are fertilized and when the couple becomes pregnant, the remainder are put on ice. As slacktivist points out
[Evangelical Pro-lifers] believe that human personhood begins at conception. Thus, a just-fertilized ovum is a full human being, with a soul. It should have the right to life, and to have all of the other legal rights of any other citizen. This belief is largely founded on:

* Their theological belief in the existence of a soul, and

* The fact that a unique human DNA is created at conception.

To some pro-life supporters, creating 24 human beings, and then murdering 21 of them in order to produce one newborn is much too high a price to pay. It is mass murder. One would expect that pro-life groups would actively picket and demonstrate at IVF clinics. However, we have never seen an account in the media of this actually happening.(emphasis mine)

Therein lies the problem. Since the evangelical church has been silent on IVF treatment and accompanying destruction of embryos, we are weakened on the ability to speak against the recent stem-cell bill because it, at least, offers some advantages over just flushing embryos down the drain (and thus is being packaged as pro-life).

Once stem-cell research is accepted, the outlaw abortion movement is dead.

How is that? Once we say this small group of cells isn't a person, then the location of those cells doesn't matter. The difference between that group of cells being on ice, in a petri dish or a womb won't matter anymore than me being in separate locations changes me into a dog.

The question then becomes when does personhood start?

Some will appeal to Biblical texts and say that Adam doesn't receive life until God breathes into him. Thus we aren't person until our cells differentiate into different organs or we develop lungs. This is allows for a reinterpretation of the oft-quoted Psalm 139 verse "You knit me together in my mother's womb" because advocates can argue two threads does not a sweater make. We only know a sweater is a sweater when it has its parts, enough to differentiate it from a rug, a sock, blanket, scarf, etc. Others will say brain activity, viability, first trimester, etc. The main point is that the debate about legality (and morality) is lost.

I was never convinced that outlawing abortion would make it stop anymore than outlawing murder stops it from happening. The shame comes not that the world is sinful, but that because evangelical Christians had a plank in our own eye about IVF treatment, we won't be able to stand strong with our Catholic brothers and sisters in pointing out the immorality of abortion.