This is my church newsletter column for April, 2005. Our church newsletter is available online via our Yahoo Group. To subscribe, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
WORLDVIEWS MATTER IN REAL-LIFE ISSUES
by Glenn Layne
Part of Christian maturity in thinking is understanding what the Christian worldview is, and applying that worldview consistently when it comes to the issues that we are called upon to make judgments on daily—in our personal lives, as well as in the public arena.
Currently, Terry Sciavo lays in a Florida skilled nursing facility. Due to an injury sustained a number of years ago; she is in a state of extreme mental and physical incapacity. Her husband says he recalls her stating that she would not want to live in this state, although there is no other witness to such statements. Mr. Sciavo has gone to court to have her feeding tube removed. In essence, he is seeking that she be starved to death, with the sanction of the state of Florida.
On the other hand, Terry’s parents say that want her to live and to have a shot, no matter how long a shot, at recovery.
The courts have bounced around on the Sciavo case, but seem (at the time of this writing) to be inclined to allow the feeding tube to be removed. This is despite repeated attempts to intervene from the Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, and the state legislature. (This is an example of the Judicial Aristocracy problem we face as a nation, but that one will wait to another time.)
What we need to do as Christians is grapple with cases like that of Terry Sciavo in a “worldview-ish” way. Rather than react emotionally to either the plight of Terry, or her husband, or her parents, let’s apply the grid of the Christian worldview to the case.
A few of the key elements of the Christian are especially relevant. First, the nature of human beings in the Christian worldview is that we are not animals (even though we have bodies, are born, die, and engage in sexual activities, as animals do). We may be physical beings, but we are firstly spiritual beings.
But more than that: we bear God’s image. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The Bible makes repeated reference to the fact that human beings are more than animals. Murder is specifically banned on that ground (Genesis 9:6).
This affirmation is rejected by most other worldviews, especially naturalism (the worldview behind the mood we call “secular humanism”). That worldview views human beings as simply the cleverest animal that has evolved on planet earth. Extra-ordinary efforts to maintain the life of woman like Terry Sciavo make no sense to the naturalist.
Another element of worldview to check with is the nature of morality. Part of the Christian worldview is that God has chosen to make Himself known, and that His character is the foundation of morals and ethics. Further, the Christian worldview says that human existence is not ended by death; eternity may be with God or eternally separated from Him, based on our response to the work of Christ.
So what can we conclude about the Sciavo case based on this quick look at the Christian worldview, in our attempt to “think Christianly”?
1. Whoever has the legal right to act as Terry’s advocate has the moral duty to stand for her right not to be killed by starvation, based on her human dignity as more than an animal—as a human being created in the image of God.
2. A separate but related issue is the matter of public advocacy. Facing the reality that at least certain elements of public policy favors the state-sanctioned killing of chronically ill and mentally incapacitated patients (especial via judicial activism), what is the proper stance of God’s people? Do we demand that the greater society conform to Christian values, or do we surrender to the “lowest common denominator” of the society, and simply teach our own the way we should go?
That second item is the one that has divided believing Christians over the generations. Essentially, we have taken two different paths: one might be described as the Redeem and Reform path; the other the Retreat and Reform path.
The Redeem approach takes on the society and engages it with a view toward changing it in a God-honoring way. Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Abraham Kuyper in the past and James Dobson or Jerry Falwell would fit the mold in the present.
The Retreat approach says that society at large is beyond redemption. Authentic Christian community standing apart from the greater society is the best we can hope for. The Monastics, Anabaptists, Menno Simmons (founder of the Mennonites) represent this view in the past. To a certain extent, Ron Sider (author of the classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger), Richard Mouw and John Howard Yoder (author of The Politics of Jesus) would represent this view today.
Anyone who knows me would probably say that I am more in the Redeem and Reform Camp, and they’d be right. At the same time, I have great respect for people like Sider (who’ve I’ve met and had a great conversation with) and John Yoder.
What I think Sider and Yoder underestimate is the power of democratic institutions. We are blessed to live in a democracy, where we all are supposed to have a say. While we live in a fallen world (another element of the Christian worldview), there is enough in society that’s redeemable to see a “substantial recovery” (as Francis Schaeffer said) of righteousness in society. It was this truth that impelled the abolitionists a hundred years ago.