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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

20 September 2008

Privacy Rights and Christian Faith

I’m a student writing a report on privacy rights — specifically, rights for pregnant women. After stumbling onto your site, I’m interested to know your point of view on the issue.

Q 1: As a religious person, what is your understanding of privacy rights?

Mother and ChildA 1: It’s difficult for me to separate my understanding of most issues according being a “religious person” — specifically a “Christian person” — compared to being an “American person,” a “man person,” or any other “person” inhabiting my body. We don’t blend into a smooth mix. Almost every aspect of nature and nurture, of the sacred and the secular, interlock and interact to such a degree that isolating any one of these people is difficult.

Even focusing on my beliefs yields complicated, almost contradictory thoughts. For example, Christianity highly values individual lives. The first people were made in the “image of God. (Genesis 1:27)” In Genesis 9:5-6, the Lord emphasized the value of being created in His image by instituting a life-ending practice. He by established the death penalty for anyone who arbitrarily ended another’s life: “From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

Similarly, much of the Old Testament protects the lives and activities of the individual. While they sometimes seem harsh, the penalties for crimes and sins reflect restraint in comparison with Israel’s neighbors. The punishment usually fit the crime and the arbitrary chopping off of body parts — a sad staple of some justice systems — wasn’t allowed. Positive proof, including testimony by multiple witnesses, further safeguarded individuals from wrongful forfeiture of property or life while prohibitions on gossip and gave further protection. Christianity kept and expanded this understanding of individual worth, especially that of the believer. The New Testament equates our value “not with ... silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18-19)”

Yet while telling individuals how valuable we are in God’s eyes, Scripture also urges each person to surrender individuality for the benefit of others. In Philippians 2:1-11, Paul shows how the most unique Individual in history gave up His “rights” and encourages us to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look ... also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The same Gospel of forgiveness that frees the individual also empowers the individual to willingly protect and support others above himself. Martin Luther said it this way: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. (Luther’s Works 31:344)” Again Saint Paul: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. (1 Corinthians 9:19)” Holding this dichotomy between individual rights and the good of others in mind, we continue to your other questions while remembering that although many American rights grew out of Christianity, some, particularly that of privacy, don’t fit completely and comfortably into a Christian world view.

Specific to abortion, we often hear pro-choice advocates speak of “the woman’s womb.” However, we mustn’t forget that the placenta belongs not to mother but to the child. Even in the uterus, the baby has already staked out its own “turf“! Should it not have the “right” to keep what it owns?

Q 2: Don’t views on abortion depend upon religious views? But then wouldn’t separation of church and state require that you not try to make others live by your religion?

A 2: Certainly my opposition to abortion is at least partially a product of my religious upbringing and beliefs. However, I was also an avid student of science and the humanities and would like to think that my intellectual and philosophical observations would lead to similar conclusions. After all if observing humanity teaches that life (including mine) is a good thing and if science teaches that human life begins when the first human cell’s life begins, I could still muster strong support for pro-life thinking.

As for the “separation of church and state,” the Constitution and U.S. laws originally weighted this division strongly in favor of church. In other words, state and individual rights received protection from federally imposed religion. At the time they formed our nation, several of the colonies had state churches and in Massachusetts this “imposition” lasted well into the 1800s. Also, most religious people, regardless of any particulars, are not 50-50 citizens in the sacred and secular realms. For me, my heavenly citizenship outweighs my American citizenship (see Ephesians 2:19 and Philippians 3:20).

Q 3: Does the woman have an ethical obligation toward the fetus? Explain.

Unborn ChildA 3: Ethics derived from faith in Christ and the high value that God puts on human life seem to demand such a conclusion. The mental gymnastics needed to set an arbitrary gestation period before a “potential” person becomes an actual person make my head ache and my heart heavy. And if Christ died for every person, doesn’t His sacrifice assign full value to each person, regardless of womb status, age, sex, ethnicity or any other difference?

Q 4: Should pregnant woman who drink or use drugs be prosecuted for child abuse?

A 4: Here, I think that allowance for accidental and careless use needs to be made. However, continuing and callous disregard for another’s life should, I believe, be addressed. Whether intervention until birth or extended punishment, I won’t presume to suggest. Still, I’m certain that a child should be sheltered from any abuse — wither within or without the womb.

Q 5: Should a minor have the right to have an abortion without parental consent?

A 5: If “minors” are people whose decision-making skills and life experiences demand that we guide, protect, and assist them until they reach a certain stage of development, then I say no. Minors cannot get tattoos or piercings without parental consent and these are definitely less invasive and physically and psychologically damaging than is a clinical abortion. As a Christian, I further believe that the youth should honor father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and that parents should carefully “train up a child in the way he should go. (Proverbs 22:6)” Both of these, I think, cover parental consent for medical procedures, including abortion.

Q 6: Who decides whose primary right weighs more? The mother’s or the unborn’s?

A 6: Since I believe that it is their child, not only hers and it is a child, not a potential human being, each case of true “medical necessity” should be carefully weighed by families — specifically, by mother and father. I think that they would do well to consider what their churches teach and what they themselves believe. Ask, “How ‘dangerous’ (not uncomfortable or unwanted) is the pregnancy to the mother versus how dangerous is an abortion to the child?” In abortion, the child faces certain death. So ask, “How ‘certain’ is the death of the mother if no abortion takes place?”

If death or extreme disability are medically certain, husband and wife must consider not only her worth as an individual versus the unborn child’s value. They also need to clearly recognize her but value to others, especially to her husband and other children. A mother might sacrifice herself rather than end the life of her unborn child. Would she do the same if it also had a horrible impact on the lives of her already-born children?

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Newspaper column #553


Blogger O'pinion said...

The questioner seems to subscribe to the twisted notion that the First Amendment offers freedom FROM religion. It was only intended to protect us from a Federal government that would establish a state religion or hinder our worship. Never mind the erroneous interpretations of the courts.

It's so clear and simple...

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

29 September, 2008 08:52  

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