Anglican Commentary on 'hot-button' issues

For some reason I get emails on occasion from the Anglican Church in North America, and even more occasionally I actually read them.  One such email linked me to a couple of recent articles on "hot-button" issues that - as a Methodist pastor and as a patriotic citizen - I am also very concerned about so I thought I'd share them with anyone who cares to think through these issues a little more.

The first is about doctor-assisted suicide being mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada.  The full article is HERE. I thought the commentary was very interesting, here is a quote:

Like previous legal decisions that have undercut the Judeo-Christian moral foundation of our society, this decision favours the few who have politically powerful advocates and whose stories have been given high profile in the media; but it ignores the harm that may come to the many who are politically weak, physically vulnerable, and have few if any advocates.
In anticipation of this decision, Father Raymond de Souza wrote in the National Post, “that to embrace euthanasia and suicide as constitutional rights involved three revolutions in jurisprudence: 
i) abandoning the legal principle that every life is always a good to be protected, 
ii) embracing the idea that suicide is a social good, and 
iii) removing the particular obligation of the law to protect the weak and vulnerable.”
Citing the experience of Belgium where euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized in 2002 and where the safeguards have rapidly eroded and the categories of those eligible have grown to the point that even children can now be euthanized, Father de Souza, expects that soon “we will hear positive reviews from the telegenic advocates of expanding the number of suicides and people euthanized in Canada. They will have compelling stories to tell.  We will not hear from those who have no advocates — the isolated elderly, alone with no one to speak for them, judged to be burdensome to our health system. The disabled who will now wonder if their doctors are coming with counsels of death do not have fashionable advocates. The truly weak and vulnerable, the exploited and abandoned, do not hold press conferences. The Charter becomes a tool of the powerful against the weak, much like medicine will increasingly become in the age of euthanasia and suicide.” 
The piece goes on to suggest how Christians can pray and act given this situation.  Those of us in the US can make sure that our state and federal legislators hear our concerns as well.  As a United Methodist pastor, I am sworn to uphold the teachings of the United Methodist Church as expressed in our Book of Discipline; I've said before that if I could not in good conscience do so, I would not be a pastor in this particular denomination.  Certainly this is a difficult issue requiring careful distinctions, and that is reflected in our church's current statement on this issue, which makes a distinction between allowing death to take its course naturally on the one hand, and actively killing a person on the other:
There is no moral or religious obligations to use [medical technologies] when they impose undue burdens or only extend the process of dying.  Dying persons and their families are free to discontinue treatments when they cease to be of benefit to the patient...Even when one accepts the inevitability of death, the Church and society must continue to provide faithful care, including relief of pain, companionship, support, and spiritual nurture for the dying person in the hard work of preparing for death... We reject euthanasia and any pressure upon the dying to end their lives.  God has continued love and purposes for all persons, regardless of health.  We affirm laws and policies that protect the rights and dignity of the dying. (Para. 161.B, page. 109).
People sometimes appeal to our compassion in these cases - which is understandable because suffering can be so horrible - saying things like "You would put a terminally ill animal out of its misery, why not extend the same compassion to a human being?"  This seems a strong argument at first glance.  Yet there are many things we do with animals that we consider immoral to do to a human being, precisely because the dignity of a human life is of a completely different order: for example we lock animals in cages or keep them in zoos against their will, we force oxen to pull plows and horses to carry heavy burdens.  None of this we would do to people.  Our law assumes - as the Bible explicitly teaches in Genesis 1:27 - that human beings have a kind of sacred worth and dignity that sets us apart from the animals.  This truth is is the source of the legal principle, mentioned above, that every human life is a good to be protected.

The Second article is also about the possibility of (un-elected) Supreme Court Judges pushing a new legal standard on a nation without going through the messy process of democratic debate and decision-making; but this story relates to the United States.  In late April the Justices will hear arguments about forcing same-sex "marriage" on all 50 states, rather than allowing the states to decide this issue through our own democratic processes (it is my understanding that allowing states to regulate legal marriage has always been the legal tradition in this country - based on the 10th Amendment - and is the reason that age of consent has sometimes varied from state to state).  Again, here is a substantial quote from the Anglican Church's commentary (which you can read in full HERE):

The Alabama Supreme Court expressed the nature of marriage clearly in a recent ruling: “[M]arriage has always been between members of the opposite sex. The obvious reason for this immutable characteristic is nature. Men and women complement each other biologically and socially. Perhaps even more obvious, the sexual union between men and women (often) produces children. Marriage demonstrably channels the results of sex between members of the opposite sex – procreation – in a socially advantageous manner. It creates the family, the institution that is almost universally acknowledged to be the building block of society at large because it provides the optimum environment for defining the responsibilities of parents and for raising children to become productive members of society.”
Government has a strong interest in protecting children but very little interest in marriage under the romantic redefinition. The Alabama Supreme Court said, “In short, government has an obvious interest in offspring and the consequences that flow from the creation of each new generation, which is only naturally possible in the opposite-sex relationship, which is the primary reason marriage between men and women is sanctioned by State law.”
It would be hard to overstate the significance of what may come from the U.S. Supreme Court. “The only way one can establish the unconstitutionality of man–woman marriage laws is to adopt a view of marriage that sees it as an essentially genderless, adult-centric institution and then declare that the Constitution requires that the states (re)define marriage in such a way. In other words, one needs to establish that the vision of marriage our law has long applied is wrong and that the Constitution requires a different vision. There is, however, no basis in the Constitution for reaching that conclusion” (Memo to Supreme Court: State Marriage Laws Are Constitutional, by Gene Schaerr and Ryan T. Anderson).
Second, if we lose marriage, we lose religious freedom, as well. If the U.S. Supreme Court redefines marriage and, especially, if it declares that “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are protected classes, then religious freedom protections will crumble.
If the Court rules that sexual orientation and gender identity are constitutionally protected (the legal term is “suspect class,” meaning that any laws negatively impacting persons in those categories are “suspect” and subject to the highest level of judicial scrutiny), then those who hold traditional views of marriage will be treated as equivalent to racists and vulnerable to legal sanctions.
If the Court issues an extreme “suspect class” ruling, we can expect attacks on every liberty and benefit which biblically faithful churches and believers now have under law, including tax exempt status, foster care and adoption rights, and school accreditation.
And we would see many more cases like that of Navy Chaplain Wesley Modder. This week, Chaplain Modder was relieved of his duties by his commanding officer for expressing traditional biblical views about marriage and sexual conduct. In fact, as a military chaplain, Chaplain Modder is required to uphold the doctrines required by the denomination that endorsed him (in his case, the Assemblies of God). Yet he has been disciplined for doing precisely what the Department of Defense requires! For more, see the Liberty Institute’s response to the action taken against Chaplain Modder.
All of this and more is at stake before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Once again the teaching of the United Methodist Church is substantially the same as that advocated by this Anglican Commentary, as the Book of Discipline currently states:

We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. (Para. 161.M, page 115).

I realize that these are indeed hot-button issues precisely because people of good-will disagree upon these issues, or disagree on certain aspects of them, and I respect everyone's right to think through these issues and make up their own minds.
However, I also am quite certain that (as with other political issues) many people do not really have well-informed or well thought-out opinions on these matters, but throw together a few ideas and slogans that they've picked up from TV or the internet or from a bumper-sticker without actually thinking carefully through the implications and the consequences of such ideas.  That is why I wanted to share these thoughtful comments from and Anglican author in light of the teaching of my own denomination of Christ's Holy Church.
I welcome any discussion and even disagreement from anyone who actually reads the articles (simple intellectual honesty demands that we should read and understand an article before presuming to engage or disagree with it) in the comments section below, provided that such discussion includes well-reasoned argument, not simply an exercise in name-calling, as is (sadly) so common on the internet today, especially when these sorts of issues are raised.

-Pax Vobiscum - Peace be with you all!

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Blogger Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

You may also like this NYT op-Ed which explains why supporters of traditional marriage are NOT analogous to supporters of Jim Crow laws in the past:


9:01 AM, April 10, 2015  

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