Archive for the ‘Christian practices’ Category

“Abortion” Article from the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

Given the recent renewed attention to abortion, this might be a significant moment to look for an approach that is different from the standard fare. My own views, expressed in two books and several articles, represent what is sometimes called the “consistent life ethic.” The following brief article focuses specifically on a way to look at abortion through the lens of Scripture. I am grateful to Baker Academic for permission to reprint this article online.

Abortion

From Joel B. Green, Jacqueline E. Lapsley, Rebekah Miles, and Allen Verhey, eds., Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2011, 35­–37. Used by permission. (http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com)

 

Induced abortion (as opposed to spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage) is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy through the destruction and/or removal of the embryo or fetus.

Because recent discussion of abortion, even in the church, has almost universally considered it a political issue addressed within the framework of rights, the first task of Christian ethics is to make the question a truly theological and ecclesial one (Bauerschmidt; Hauerwas), reframing it within the fundamental scriptural framework of covenant faithfulness, or discipleship. How should being a baptized community of faith, hope, and love in Christ shape the way Christians approach abortion?

Recent theological approaches to abortion are parallel to the three traditional theological perspectives on war, though they are major areas on a spectrum, not precisely fixed points. (1) The position that sometimes designates itself “pro-life” or “right-to-life” is similar to the pacifist position, arguing that abortion is (perhaps with rare exceptions) unethical. Unlike pacifism, however, this position sometimes depends on asserting the innocence of the embryo/fetus. (2) The “justifiable abortion” position, existing in various forms (e.g., Steffen), resembles the just-war tradition: abortion is tragic but justified in certain circumstances. The criteria can relate to the status of the fetus/embryo (e.g., deformity, nonviability, threat to the woman’s health) or to the situation of the pregnant woman (e.g. forced pregnancy; economic, emotional, or physical distress). Unlike just-war theory, the just-abortion argument usually recognizes the satisfaction of one criterion as sufficient rather than requiring the satisfaction of multiple criteria. (3) A third position—“pro-choice,” “procreative choice,” or “abortion rights” (e.g., Harrison)—is similar to the holy-war tradition in seeing the agent as sacred and capable of making a free, responsible decision without providing formal justification.

One cause of these various views is Scripture’s apparent silence on the issue. This can lead to certain erroneous or misguided claims: that abortion was unknown in antiquity; that Scripture should have no role in the abortion debate; that Jews and Christians cannot formulate a robust position on the issue; or that Scripture’s silence necessarily implies divine neutrality or approval, and that the faith community should follow suit.

The silence also leads people to look for texts to support their position. Abortion opponents often quote “choose life” (Deut. 30:19). They also appeal to texts about God’s creation and call in the womb (Ps. 139:13–14a; Isa. 44:1–2; Jer. 1:5) and about fetal activity (Luke 1:41, 44) to argue that Scripture considers the embryo/fetus to be God’s direct creation and indeed a human being. Those who disagree respond that, biblically, the embryo/fetus is akin to property that can be damaged (Exod. 21:22–23) and that human life does not begin until the first breath (Gen. 2:7). Each side accuses the other of prooftexting.

Some interpreters, recognizing the impasse created by appeals to such texts, have looked to broader scriptural themes for an implicit position on abortion or a framework for considering it. Abortion opponents have argued that scriptural themes such as creation as divine gift, the summons to welcome children, and the vision of shalom (part of a “consistent ethic of life”) validate their position. Supporters of abortion/choice have argued for the voluntary and relational character of covenants in the Bible and stressed divine grace and forgiveness for poor decisions. They have also appealed to stewardship of creation and to choice (“choose life”), the former accenting human responsibility, the latter human freedom and liberation.

Critics of stewardship as justification for abortion have argued, however, that biblical stewardship does not include the deliberate destruction of creation, especially of human, or even potentially human, life. And critics of human freedom as justification for abortion point out that scriptural freedom is not absolute, that what is chosen is crucial. Moreover, they contend, liberation in Scripture is freedom from false deities, ideologies, and values, and freedom for joyful, bonded, covenantal service to God and others.

One significant aspect of the discussion is the witness of early Judaism (e.g., Sibylline Oracles, Philo, Josephus) and early Christianity against abortion, despite its absence from the Scriptures that have come down to us. (Rabbinic literature would permit abortion to save the woman’s life.) Certain scriptural images and themes, including some noted above, shaped the symbolic world of Jews and then Christians; opposition to abortion, exposure, and infanticide became an ethical boundary marker for both groups in their pagan cultures. In explaining the biblical summons to love of neighbor, both Did. 2.2 and Barn. 19.5 (ca. 95–135) say, ““Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion.” Subsequent Christian writers echo the prohibition and treat the unborn as “the object of God’s care” (Athenagoras, Plea 35) (See Bonner; Gorman, Abortion.)

This historical witness demonstrates that Scripture can have a key role in the abortion debate even if exegesis alone, still less prooftexting, is insufficient. A hermeneutic is needed that recognizes the difficulty of the issue, expresses pastoral sensitivity, and preserves the basic requirements of covenant faithfulness. Recent work on metathemes in the Bible’s moral vision, individual and corporate baptismal identity, virtue ethics, narrative, and analogy may provide a way forward.

Richard Hays suggests that the NT’s central themes of cross, community, and new creation compel us to reframe abortion so that a problem pregnancy is not merely about an individual’s decision. Rather, it is an occasion for the church to act together in generous, Christlike, sacrificial love to embrace the pregnant woman and her child in utero with spiritual and tangible support. Believers constitute one body (1 Cor. 12)—indeed, a family—and are called to bear one another’s burdens (Rom. 12:5; Gal. 6:2). Such a view does not, however, eliminate personal responsibility, for the believer’s body is not his or her own but God’s, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19–20). It is the locus and means of self-giving love for God and others (Rom. 6; 12:1–2).

Related to the communal and familial images is the overarching biblical motif of care for the needy (e.g. Matt. 25), including the widow and the orphan (Ps. 82:3–4; Jas. 1:27). The call to protect and provide for the vulnerable may be applied, by analogy, to the situation of both the woman and the developing child. Thus a text that numerous ethicists (e.g., Bauerschmidt; O’Donovan; Hays) have seen as significant for the church’s response to abortion is the parable of the good Samaritan. The attempt to identify the status of the other (“Who is my neighbor?”) may imply that the inquirer desires to define certain others in such a way that they are incapable of placing a moral demand on the inquirer. Jesus transforms the question about the identity of the neighbor into a summons to actually be a neighbor. Analogously, the contemporary question of the personhood (“neighbor-hood”) of the embryo/fetus should perhaps be reconstituted first of all as a question about the meaning of being a neighbor to the other(s) in need, both those already born and those not yet born. Furthermore, the parable suggests that when the question of identity or status is transformed, the summons to “go and do likewise” requires Jesus’ disciples to be engaged in creative and potentially costly forms of community and ministry, and thus to recognize the neighbor by being a neighbor.

The result is an ethic of cruciform hospitality practiced by those baptized into the master story of Christ (Bauerschmidt; Hays; Stallsworth). Although this approach may not resolve every difficult case, it suggests that the relationship between Scripture and abortion is fundamentally about what kind of community of faith, hope, and love is needed for women and children, seen and unseen, to be welcomed into that community and into the world.

See also Adoption; Birth Control; Body; Children; Family Planning; Infanticide; Procreation; Sanctity of Human Life

 

Bauerschmidt, F.  “Being Baptized:  Bodies and Abortion.”  Pages 250–62 in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, ed. S. Hauerwas and S. Wells. Blackwell, 2004; Bonner, G. “Abortion and Early Christian Thought.” Pages 93–122 in Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life, ed. J. Channer. Paternoster, 1985; Channer, J., ed. Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life. Paternoster, 1985; Gorman, M. Abortion and the Early Church. Wipf and Stock, 1998; idem, “Scripture, History, and Authority in a Christian View of Abortion: A Response to Paul Simmons.” ChrBio 2 (1996): 83–96; Gorman, M., and A. Brooks. Holy Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Wipf & Stock, 2003; Harrison, B. Our Right to Choose: Toward a New Ethic of Abortion. Beacon Press, 1983; Hauerwas, S. “Abortion: Why the Arguments Fail.” Pages 295–318 in Abortion: A Reader, ed. L. Steffen. Pilgrim Press, 1996; Hays, R. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross and New Creation; A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, 444–61; John Paul II. The Gospel of Life. Random House, 1995; Johnston, G. Abortion from the Religious and Moral Perspective: An Annotated Bibliography. Prager, 2003; O’Donovan, O. “Again: Who Is a Person?” Pages 125–37 in Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life, ed. J. Channer. Paternoster, 1985; Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “Prayerfully Pro-Choice: Resources for Worship.” http://www.rcrc.org/pdf/Prayerfully.pdf; Schlossberg, T. and E. Achtemeier. Not My Own: Abortion and the Marks of the Church. Eerdmans, 1995; Simmons, P. “Biblical Authority and the Not-So Strange Silence of Scripture.” ChrBio 2 (1996): 66–82; Stallsworth, P., ed. The Church and Abortion. Abingdon, 1993; Steffen, L. Life/Choice: The Theory of Just Abortion. Wipf and Stock, 2000.

 

Michael J. Gorman

Romans 13 and Nonconformity: The Christian Community’s Obligation to Oppose Inhumane Laws and Practices

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

[This is the text of a Facebook post from June 14, 2018.]

Thanks to Attorney General Jeff Sessions (explicitly) and Sarah Sanders (implicitly), Romans 13 (actually, only 13:1-7—and this point is important; see below) is in the news. This part of Paul’s letter to Roman Christians is being cited as justification for calling those who take the Bible as a moral guide to support and follow all U.S. immigration laws, policies, and practices. This text is especially being cited in support of separating parents and children at the U.S. border.

It would take a lot of space to fully critique their argument. But here, in a nutshell (ten short points), is why what is happening at the border is not only instinctively morally repelling, but also a misreading of Romans 13:

1. Various aspects of the meaning of Romans 13:1-7 are debated, but its main original intent was to say to the Roman Christians, “Pay your taxes” (Romans 13:7). The text is not a call to blind obedience to all authorities and laws.

2. Whatever Romans 13:1-7 means, it can only mean what it means in light of its context. That is, it cannot be ripped from its context in the letter to the Romans. But this is what Sessions and Sanders have done.

3. Whatever Romans 13:1-7 means, it cannot be understood in a way that contradicts its context.

4. The immediate context of Romans 13:1-7 is the entirety of Romans 12 and 13. In Romans 12 and 13, Paul sets out basic guidelines for the Christian communities in Rome, and for us.

5. Those guidelines begin with a call for *nonconformity to this age,* a radical transformation of attitudes and practices that is appropriate to those who have benefited from God’s mercy in Christ. This spirit of nonconformity and transformation is the prerequisite for knowing and doing God’s will. And it is the fundamental framework for everything that follows. See Romans 12:1-2.

6. After a discussion of various gifts in the body of Christ, Paul calls on the Christian community to practice a radical, genuine form of love that corresponds to the love they have received from God in Christ. This includes hating what is evil and practicing the good; showing hospitality to strangers; loving enemies; weeping with those who weep; associating with the lowly; blessing persecutors; not repaying evil for evil; practicing peace toward all; not seeking vengeance for harm done; and overcoming evil with good. See Romans 12:9-21. The call to this lifestyle is what immediately precedes Romans 13:1-7.

7. Immediately after Romans 13:1-7 is “the rest of the story”: what Romans 13 says as a whole. Here we find another radical call to neighbor-love and a call to avoid the works of darkness by putting on Christ. See Romans 13:8-14.

8. This context for Romans 13:1-7 means that the Christian community must not follow any authority or law that calls them to violate these basic Christian principles. Rather than being a blanket call to obedience, Romans 13:1-7—when read in context—actually supports Christian opposition to many laws and practices.

9. Sessions and Sanders have missed the point of “Romans 13.” If the practices and laws they are defending manifest the opposite of the basic Christian ethic described in Romans 12-13, it is the duty of Christians to oppose those inhumane practices and laws that they are justifying, in part, by their misuse of Scripture.

10. Christians must also be prepared to try to offer humane alternatives to the practices and laws they oppose.

Ecclesia and Ethics Conference–May 18 and 25

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

If you are interested in the life of the church, the moral life, and theological scholarship in service of both, consider participating in the international online Webinar Ecclesia and Ethics, May 18 and 25. Go to ecclesiaethics.com. You can also see online interviews with some of the speakers, including yours truly and Tom Wright.

International Ecclesia (Church) and Ethics Conference/Webinar

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Announcing an international Ecclesia (Church) and Ethics Conference/Webinar with NT Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Shane Claiborne, yours truly, and others: May 18 and 25. Get more info now!

This unique conference costs only $10 in the form of a donation to a charity!

General  Information

Ecclesia and Ethics: An Eco-friendly and Economically-feasible Online Biblical Studies and Theology Conference is an academic and ecclesial conference taking place on Saturday May 18th and Saturday May 25th 2013 in real-time via the high-tech Webinar site http://www.gotomeeting.com. No software will need to be purchased by presenters or attendees, and Webinar access is provided entirely for free due to a generous Capod Innovation Grant through the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Participants and attendees will be able to sign on, present, and listen to or watch presentations from anywhere in the world with reliable internet and a computer. Registration for the conference consists of a $10/£7 (minimum) donation to one of our Recommended Charities. We invite participants to give according to their means above the $10/£7 to one or more of our charities if they feel led and are able.

Main papers will be presented by our Main Speakers: N.T. Wright, Michael Gorman, Dennis Hollinger, Shane Claiborne, Stanley Hauerwas, Brian Rosner, Mariam Kamell, and Nijay Gupta. Additionally, we will have five Multiple Paper sessions throughout the conference, via five Virtual Rooms which will feature papers from a total of 20-25 selected papers. Interested parties are invited to submit an abstract to ecclesiaethics@gmail.com for consideration from January 2013-March 2013.

All conference presenters (both Main Paper and Multiple Paper session presenters) will be allotted a 40 minute time slot with an additional 10 minutes designated for Q+A (50 minutes total). All presentations will be recorded as videos and available for viewing by registered conference attendees with a provided password through T&T Clark’s website. T&T Clark will also be publishing selected proceedings from the conference as a book.

Reprise: This is NOT Independence Sunday

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Reprinted (with minor changes) from 2009:

In some U.S. churches, at least some Methodist churches (and I suspect others), this Sunday’s bulletin will announce that it is Independence Sunday—perhaps along with something else (like the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost), or perhaps not.

But it is not Independence Sunday, because that liturgical day does not exist, or at least should not exist. “Independence Sunday” is an American invention, an example of American civil religion: the inappropriate Americanizing of Christianity and Christianizing (in some vague, superficial sense) of America.

The misnaming of the Sunday nearest July 4 is a theological mistake in at least three specific ways. First, it nationalizes a calendar (the liturgical or church calendar) and a day that belong to the entire Christian church. “The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost” or “The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time” or simply “The Lord’s Day, July 1, 2012? is theologically appropriate because each of these is inclusive, universal, catholic. But “Independence Sunday” is exclusive and parochial. When we come as Christians to worship God, even on the Fourth of July weekend, we come to celebrate our oneness with people from every nation, tribe, and race, and to recommit to a divine mission that includes all peoples. There may be appropriate ways for Christian individuals and churches to acknowledge their particularity as Americans or Iraquis or Koreans, but hijacking the Christian calendar and liturgy is not one of them.

Second, “Independence Sunday” robs not only the Christian church, but also, and far more importantly, the Lord of the church. It takes the focus of worship off the Triune God who liberated Israel in the Exodus and then came to rescue wayward humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, substituting—however subtly (or not!)—a national deity who is usually thought to have chosen America and poured special blessings on the American people as Americans. Sunday—every Sunday, no exceptions—is the Lord’s day, the day devoted to the adoration of Jesus as Lord and to communion with him. Centering on anything or anyone else negates the very reason for the gathering and transforms it into something else, something alien.

Third, the language of “Independence Sunday” misleads both Christians and non-Christians into thinking that one’s true identity and freedom are given to them by one’s nation state. It will not suffice to say something like “We celebrate our freedom as Americans but also, and more importantly, our freedom from sin because of Jesus.” Why is this insufficient? Because comparing the two trivializes the latter, the one that really matters. Why do these words not make “Independence Day” language in church appropriate? Because the use of “we” in “we celebrate” erroneously suggests that there is something as significant, or almost as significant, about the assembled group’s identity as Americans as there is about its identity as Christians.

The custom of singing songs and offering prayers about peace, justice and similar topics on the Sunday nearest July 4 may be a good thing—if they are appropriately interpreted by the pastor in non-nationalistic and non-militaristic ways. In my experience this is seldom done. (But at least it’s better than blatant nationalism.) A church can do this without either misnaming the Sunday or misfocusing the worship service.

Bible and Spirituality Symposium in England

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

I have just finished participating in a stimulating international symposium on the Bible and (Christian) spirituality at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, England. It was sponsored by the University’s Centre for the Bible and Spirituality and the British Bible Society. Participants and topics included (not the full list):

  • Stephen Barton (retired, Durham): Joy in Luke-Acts and Paul
  • Richard Briggs (Cranmer Hall, Durham): Daniel as spiritual reader of Scripture
  • Stephen Chapman (Duke): The Amalek texts and Christian spirituality
  • Ellen Davis (Duke): Literal Jerusalem in Christian spirituality
  • Pieter de Villiers (Free State, S. Africa): Love in Galatians
  • Andrew Lincoln (Gloucestershire): Colossians and spiritual formation
  • Gordon McConville (Gloucestershire): Spiritual formation through the Psalms
  • Walter Moberly (Durham): Job and spiritual wisdom
  • Lloyd Pietersen (Gloucestershire): Spirituality of persecution in 2 Tim and the Anabaptist martyrs
  • Sandra Schneiders (GTU Berkeley): Method in NT spirituality
  • and yours truly: The this-worldliness of NT spirituality

The conversation was wonderful, collegial, and promising. The papers will be published in a volume from Wipf and Stock, due out in about a year.

Good Friday and Passover Interview

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Our alum and WBAL reporter Tim Tooten interviewed me briefly on the occurrence of Good Friday and Passover on the same day.

Good Friday Reflections

Friday, April 6th, 2012

What makes Good Friday “good”? Or, what is the meaning of Good Friday?

The first thing to say is that it is good only in light of Easter. Given the reality of Easter, it is good because it reveals the depth of God’s love and communicates that love to us in order to liberate us from Sin and Death and to give us life in abundance and life eternal.

‘Volumes have been written on this, including some by yours truly. Here are just a few reflections summarizing some of what I have written elsewhere at greater length:

1. The main purpose of Jesus’ death was to create the people of the new covenant, who would be empowered by the Spirit of God to resemble Jesus himself: faithful to God and loving toward their neighbors and enemies.

2. The cross is not only the source but also the shape of our salvation.

3. The cross reveals the love, power, wisdom, and justice of God, and it does so, paradoxically but powerfully, in weakness.

4. The cross is not only the signature of the Risen One (so Kaesemann), but also of the Holy One of Israel; that is, the cross is a theophany.

5. The fact that Jesus died as the Jewish Messiah on a Roman cross means that his death contains within it a political theology and spirituality.

6. When the cross is used for anything that contradicts its character as divine love, power, wisdom, and justice displayed in weakness, it is being used blasphemously.

7. When I survey the wondrous cross, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

We are Part of the 1%

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

On this third day of Christmas and third month of “occupy,” for some strange reason I have been trying to think about why the occupy movement evoked in me both empathy and discomfort with the organizers. Among several reasons, one that has lingered beneath the surface, unarticulated, has just been articulated for me on FB by Lee Wyatt. Here it is:

Until the church in North America stands in the world community, acknowledging it lives among the 1% of the world, and honestly answers as to whether it has lived in the simplicity, and with the hospitality and generosity of Jesus Christ toward the 99% of the rest of the world, and acts in accord with the answer given, all our other disputes over doctrinal and ethical matters are secondary. To think or act otherwise is to engage in perverse mystification of reality and constitutes a failure to “occupy” the “new creation” that is our reality since the resurrection of Jesus.

Thoughts? Comments?

Reclaiming Advent

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

I know it’s a bit late for this year, but here’s the outline of my talk from a few weeks back, as there have been several requests. This talk was given by me (a Methodist) at an event sponsored by three Catholic churches. There were several people from other kinds of churches present. Unfortunately, there is no audio and no full text.

    “Reclaiming Advent: A Spiritual Season for a Secular Age”

? The Secularization of Advent
o Shopping season: consumption
o Christmas songs as a seductive marketing device
o Focus on the coming of a day/gifts, not a person; non-religious “advent” calendars

? The Season of Advent
o The word: “coming”
o The season: since late 5th c.; wreaths since about 9th c.
o The colors: purple, rose, blue, white, green

? The Sundays of Advent: hope, peace, joy, love
o Advent I = Hope/prophecy
o Advent II–IV = peace, joy, love or other themes (e.g. Prophets’, Bethlehem, Shepherds’, Angels’ candles)

o III (sometimes IV) is joy/rose (Gaudete Sunday = Rejoice Sunday)

o Lectionary Gospel readings
I Jesus’ second coming/coming of God’s kingdom in its fullness
II John the Baptist
III Jesus’ identity (JBapt in year C)
IV Jesus’ birth OR annunciation OR incarnation

? Some Things to Remember
o Christmas is not your birthday.
o Presence is more important than presents.

? The Spirituality of Advent
o Hope/watchfulness
o Preparation/repentance
o Faith
o Joy
o Love/service
o Welcoming Jesus
“Advent… helps us to understand the fullness of the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, we must understand that our whole life should be an “advent,” in vigilant expectation of Christ’s final coming… Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes.” (Pope John Paul II)

? Some Practices to Reclaim Advent
o Speak Christian: “Advent Blessings”; “Merry Christmas”

o Write Christian: Christmas cards / sharing your faith

o Sing Christian: learn new Advent hymns and Christmas carols, go caroling, listen to a concert of sacred music

o Take the Christian calendar to heart
? New year
? Advent calendars

o Participate in an Advent spiritual discipline/adventure
? Reading Scripture texts
? Family Advent wreath with readings and prayers
? Reading a book
? Contribute to and/or use a church-based Advent book of devotions/ meditations

o Simplify and renew gift-giving
? Cut back
? Make gifts
? Give gifts of time
? Give gifts that benefit others
• Catholic Relief Services “Joy to the World Alternative Christmas”
• Heifer International, World Vision, etc.
• Fair Trade shops: SERVV, Ten Thousand Villages (Baltimore), church fairs

o Practice acts of kindness and hospitality (Where is Jesus already present?)
? Buy gifts for those in need (“giving trees,” etc.)
? Volunteer somewhere

o Other ideas to share with one another

? Some Resources
o www.thechristiancalendar.com
o www.adventconspiracy.org: worship fully, spend less, give more, love all
o www.crs.org/act/advent: prepare prayerfully, shop responsibly, give generously
o www.worldvisiongifts.org
o www.heifer.org/catalog
o www.servv.org


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