In modern society, eugenics lingers in the absence of ethical reflection

If there is one common theme that ties all of humanity together, from the earliest Neanderthals to modern (or post-modern) times, it is humanity’s desire to control its own destiny.   Consider that the earliest story of sin from Genesis consisted of two individuals, Adam and Eve, who ate from the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil.”

Knowledge and self-determination have always played a part in our human story, but not always for the best.  One of the darkest events that came about in American history (and world history, for that matter) was the study and implementation of eugenics.

Eugenics was the scientific process whereby humans sought to manipulate fertility and genetics in order to weed out “undesirable” traits or people.  The earliest studies in eugenics, for instance, assumed that if those who were impoverished or mentally challenged could get sterilized, then eventually, after so many generations, these two groups would die out and cease to exist.

In fact, several states in the Union—the first being Indiana—passed a series of sterility laws that forced the doctrine of eugenics upon certain people groups from “lower” classes.  In other places, politicians and scientists applied eugenics to immigration and population laws.

The consequences of this immoral practice reached its apex in Nazi Germany, when scientists sought to rid the nation of Jews, minorities, and the ill.  Holocaust ensued.

The basis for eugenics was simple: The goal was to advance evolution and manipulate “natural selection” by limiting the ability of the “weakest” in society to procreate.   With a tip of our hat to Darwin, we humans wanted to control who would reproduce and, in the meantime, help evolution find a more efficient way forward.

We moved from “natural” to “unnatural” selection.  It comes down to control.

Eugenics and the search for control are still around in many forms today, most clearly in bioengineering and abortion policy.  Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was an outspoken advocate for eugenics; and the results from the Human Genome Project can insure that if you want a baby with blue eyes instead of brown in the near future, there may be a way for you to manipulate your fetus’ genes to produce a so-called “designer baby.”

What is most troubling is that eugenics has set the stage for genetic infiltration of a different type:  A pregnant woman can test the genetics of a fetus in order to see if there is a chance that the fetus has a disability.  If there is a high degree of probability that the baby will be born with a “defect,” then the mother can choose to get an abortion.

I have heard more than one story in which a doctor told a mother that her child will be born with a defect, only to find out that the child was born healthy.   Control has its limits, does it not?

The continuing practice of eugenics has been masked behind the political, philosophical movement that argues on behalf of humanity’s self-determination.   Having a right to self-determination, however, does not mean we can control every aspect of our biological future with little attention to ethical consequences.

Humanity’s constant power-struggle against God to control humanity’s future puts us on a very dangerous path indeed.

Our biggest failures, upsets, and frustrations result from situations in which we feel utterly powerless and out-of-control; but the Bible reminds us that we are not our own—we are God’s children, temples of the Holy Spirit, saints purchased at a price.   If left unchecked, the side-effects of eugenics in our current bio-marketplace will not bode well for God’s creation.

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Ministers are professionals that should take ethics seriously

As a minister, I know that gaining a congregation’s trust is one of the single most important tasks in developing a sustainable and healthy ministry.  It usually takes years to gain a church’s trust, and the hard work that it takes often requires experimentation and risk.

When it comes to trust, however, ministers face an uphill battle.  Numerous sexual, financial, and abuse-related scandals have eroded ministerial integrity.  A recent Gallup Poll shows that only half of the American population trusts clergy “high” or “very high.”

That means that one out of every two people in the United States does not trust their local church or minister.  According to pollsters, this is the lowest that clergy have scored over the last thirty years.

My feeling is that this lack of trust is not so much a misunderstanding on the part of the general population as it is a failure among clergy to uphold ministerial ethics.

Sure, pastors are like everyone else and play down their formality in order to connect with congregations, but pastors still stand apart in most communities.  Ministry does require a degree of professional ethics.

Ministerial ethics is founded upon certain bedrock principles.  One of those principles is trustworthiness.   People entrust their pastors to be spiritual caregivers.  Because people grant pastors this kind of power, it behooves pastors to not abuse or manipulate their position of authority.

To avoid abuse, pastors implement another principle of ethics, which is confidentiality.  As the people place greater trust in their pastor, the pastor has a greater responsibility to keep his or her interactions with individuals in the congregation confidential.

Where else is a person going to turn as they struggle with sin, despair, and doubt?   An obvious answer to me is, “pastor;” but if a pastor cannot keep secrets and help individuals work through their issues with God, then trust is imperiled indeed.

Valuing professional ethics also means establishing boundaries.  Ministry is an autonomous profession because most pastors keep their own schedules.  Boundaries impart the self-discipline needed to be punctual, to be intentional about sermon preparation, and to be attentive to pastoral care.

Setting boundaries also safeguards against sexual impropriety.  I once read that as many as 40% of pastors have had a situation in which some sexual indiscretion had occurred, be it related to pornography or inappropriate advances towards another person.

Ministers have a responsibility to care for themselves and their families so as to not burn out in ministry and fall into temptations beyond the point of self-control.   An exhausted minister is a vulnerable minister.

Professionalism is not a one-sided affair; churches also have a responsibility to treat their staff with utmost professionalism.  One way of determining whether your church is professional is by asking questions concerning human resources issues:  Does the church have a written and clear job description for each staff position?  Are there written policies pertaining to things like discipline, compensation, internet usage, and codes of conduct?  Does the church have a system in place to critique and evaluate staff that is free from unrealistic expectations?

When we visit a doctor’s office, we expect our physician to act according to his or her profession because the doctor is trained to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses.  So too with ministers.  Ministers are professionals trained in spiritual stewardship.  They—and the churches for whom they work—should act as such.

Christ the King Sunday is Worth Celebrating

As one who loves liturgy, I am excited that tomorrow is Christ the King Sunday.  It is a time to celebrate God’s reign, the incarnation and lordship of Jesus.  It is so holy, I can’t help but to sing: “All hail the power of Jesus’ name…bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all!”

One of the texts for Christ the King Sunday is Revelation 1:4-8, in which John, the exiled author, envisioned “the ruler of the kings of the earth.”  This expresses the simple, eternal truth that God is God and humanity is not.  There is only one ruler of all the earth; humans are mere characters in the larger drama of God’s unfolding history.  The irony is that in this history the powerful are made weak and the weak are made strong.

Consider the Exodus story.  Murderous and cowardly Moses told the mighty Pharaoh to let God’s people—those powerless slave people—go.  Predictably, Pharaoh asked which god Moses represented, for Pharaoh’s universe was one in which many gods existed.  Even Pharaoh was a god!  Moses simply spoke the truth: Pharaoh was not in charge; he was a no-god.

In the gospels, a peasant from Nazareth confronted the most powerful empire in his day.  By parable and miracle, Jesus humbled both the Jewish and Roman aristocracy by reminding them that, in spite of all of their authority, God was still in charge.  Jesus’ treasonous kingdom message was what ultimately got him killed, but Jesus’ resurrection only proved that God was God and Rome was not.

Our nation has a predisposition towards liberty.  When King George III fastened his grip on thirteen colonies so long ago, a band of brave patriots cried, “Give me liberty or give me death.” We are still skeptical of kings and kingdoms, and we do not like lords telling us what to do.

We have been without a king for so long, we forget what it’s like to have one.   A lord is antithetical to liberty, so trying to celebrate Christ the King Sunday is like trying to speak a foreign language—we call Christ lord but we can’t remember precisely what that means.

We fail to understand that when we call Christ King, it means that he is lord over every aspect of who we are and what we do.  In Christ Jesus we gain true liberty because he frees us from our lust for power and our endless selfish wants.

Calling Christ Lord also gives us a divine responsibility.  In Revelation John wrote that Jesus “made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father.”  We are royal priests who have a unique role and who are attentive to the will of the King.  Priests also remind those who try to usurp the King that they are not in charge.  It takes courage to speak truth to power, even if it rubs against popular politics.

We are also heralds who declare that Jesus will reclaim all of creation for himself one day.  This season two movies, “2012” and “The Road,” will address end-of-the-world themes.  Myth and popcorn can make people have the false sense that an apocalypse is something of mere fiction; Revelation shocks us with the reality that there will be an end and that Christ will usher in a new heaven and earth.

Christ the King Sunday is an important day, a time to stop trying to do things our way instead of God’s way.  “Come, Thou Almighty King, help us Thy name to sing, help us to praise:  Father, all glorious, o’er all victorious, come and reign over us, Ancient of Days!”