Ethics

Gender-Based Abortions Spark Outrage in England

Gender symbols, SoulCurry / Shutterstock.com
Gender symbols, SoulCurry / Shutterstock.com

A group of Christian lawyers plans to sue two medical doctors who have raised a storm of controversy for arranging the abortion of female fetuses because the parents wanted boys.

Andrea Williams, CEO of the London-based Christian Concern, said her group would file suit against the doctors since the government declined to charge them.

In an Oct. 7 letter to the attorney general, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said the Abortion Act of 1967 “does not expressly prohibit gender specific abortions.”

Kicking the Outrage Habit in the Blogosphere

Women outraged looking at a computer screen, VanHart / Shutterstock.com
Women outraged looking at a computer screen, VanHart / Shutterstock.com

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,” wrote the psychologist William James.

I think that may be as true online as it is in real life. We tend to do things in a fairly regular pattern; log onto email first, check the news, browse social media, read blogs, get outraged.

Yes: outraged.

Some days I am amazed at how much potent vitriol gets spewed all over the Internet. (Other days I’m just used to it.)

One of the strangest of online habits may be when people repeatedly get upset with the same bloggers and websites, and exclaim their feelings in the comments section and on social media. It’s as if they are going into McDonald’s every day and complaining about all the fast food that’s in there.

The upside of websites you find horrible is that you don’t have to read them.

10 Decisions You Can Make to Change the World

Young boy trying to save the world, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com
Young boy trying to save the world, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com

After traveling the country this spring — while keeping an eye on Washington, D.C. — I am more convinced than ever that our personal decisions, choices, and commitments will change the world more than our politics. The message in the Epilogue to On God’s Side says this as well as I could do again. It’s short and very practical. Here it is:

The common good and the quality of our life together will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make. The “commons” — those places where we come together as neighbors and citizens to share public space — will never be better than the quality of human life, or the human flourishing, in our own lives and households.

Here are ten personal decisions you can make to help foster the common good.

The Preciousness of the Person

ETHICS ASKS the questions: What is right to do? How do we know? David P. Gushee puts the concept of the sacredness of human life at the center of his moral reasoning. A professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, Gushee has given us a work that is an important milestone on the road of constructive Christian ethics.

In this book Gushee has set himself a large and ambitious goal. He writes, “I am proposing that, rightly understood, a moral norm called the sacredness of life should be central to the moral vision and practice of followers of Christ.”

He seeks to ground this moral norm in scriptural authority and in the Christian tradition at its best. His survey of scripture and of Christian history is truly impressive, considering most of the major elements of the Christian theological and ethical traditions, including the current thinking of liberation theology. He demonstrates knowledge of the feminist critique of scripture, and he at least mentions eco-feminism. The bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.

Moreover, Gushee also considers such important Enlightenment thinkers as John Locke and Immanuel Kant. He devotes a chapter each to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and to the Nazi desecration of human life. There is much food for thought here.

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Hellfire from Above

ON THE AFTERNOON of Dec. 14, President Obama stood in the White House press room, tears in his eyes, and spoke for many Americans who had watched the terrifying events unfolding in Newtown, Conn.

“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. The majority of those who died today were children: beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” he said. “They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”

A little more than a month later, on Jan. 23, a pilotless aircraft owned and operated by the United States and controlled remotely by an individual on U.S. soil launched a targeted attack on the riders of two motorcycles in Yemen. The attack missed its target. It hit the house of Abdu Mohammed al-Jarrah instead, killing several people—including al-Jarrah’s two children.

There was no press conference for the al-Jarrah children.

It was President Obama himself, in fact, after his inauguration in 2009, who authorized an expansion of the U.S. drone program launched under George W. Bush. The “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” passed shortly after Sept. 11, gives the president broad authority to use force against those involved in the 9/11 attacks or those who harbor them. Drones have become President Obama’s weapon of choice.

The first reported drone strike against al Qaeda occurred in Yemen in 2002. U.S. covert drone strikes have killed more than 3,000 people since 2004, in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Of that number, nearly 1,000 were civilians—including an estimated 200 children. (The U.S. military has also used drones in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.)

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Bordering on the Truth

DURING CONGRESS’ current debate about immigration reform, the realities faced by immigrants and border communities are all too often misunderstood and misrepresented. What are the facts about border issues?

Myth #1: Border walls are effective for keeping out unauthorized border crossers.
Reality: History teaches us that walls don’t work when economic opportunity is on the other side—but walls that are higher and longer do cause more injuries and death when people are forced to go over, under, and around.

The most recent era of migration across the southern U.S. border was caused primarily by economic factors, as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) caused millions of Mexican farmers to lose their livelihoods. The current border strategy, enacted hand in hand with NAFTA, envisioned deterring economic refugees by intentionally funneling migration to dangerous desert areas. The danger and death happened; the deterrence didn’t. It was the U.S. economic downturn, much more than the wall, that has caused the current net-zero immigration rate.

Myth #2: The border is safer today because the Border Patrol has doubled in number in less than a decade.
Reality: Since 2005, 144 Customs and Border Protection employees have been arrested or indicted on corruption charges, including smuggling people or drugs. A federally funded analysis correlates the problem with the surge in agents and a weak internal disciplinary system. Excessive use of force by Border Patrol agents is of increasing concern. Last October, an agent at the border wall fired into the streets of Nogales, Mexico, killing 16-year-old Jose Elena Rodriguez, the second Mexican teenager killed by Border Patrol fire into the city in less than two years. The autopsy reported that Elena Rodriguez was shot at least seven times from behind.

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No Time for Arm-Chair Activists

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'Let Jesus Be Cursed!'

"NO ONE SPEAKING by the Spirit of God ever says, 'Let Jesus be cursed!'" insists Paul in his first letter to Corinth (12:3). Driving through Corinth not long ago, I found myself musing about the extraordinary spirituality that had grown up in the church he was trying to straighten out. Apparently, ecstatic worshippers caught up in charismatic excitement on the Lord's day were actually known to blurt out these shocking words: "Anathema, Jesus!" In a very brief period, the church there had come up with a mutation of the gospel in which only the cosmic, exalted savior, known through speaking in tongues and exciting miracles, mattered. The earthly person of Jesus of Nazareth had been a mere husk to be shucked off, they said. Only the Spirit-giving celestial Lord mattered. Jesus be damned! His teachings back in Galilee signified nothing; now they could concentrate on the prophecies that came hot and strong from heaven through the church's prophets—a belief that left plenty of room for all sorts of wild ethical "experiments," to put it mildly.

Well, no one actually utters "Let Jesus be cursed" out loud anymore, but, in a more subtle way, how prevalent is a pseudo-spirituality that relativizes the radical teaching of the reign of God! These readings bring us back under the authority of Jesus' witness in Galilee—and the reality that there is no Spirit, and no spirituality, except the one we receive as the driving energy to bring good news to the poor.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. His newest book is Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions, with Julia Gatta.

[ January 6 ]
Wiser Than We Think
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

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The Ground is Shifting

OURS IS AN age of interaction, mobility, and change. Unlike most of our grandparents, many of us have moved several times in our lifetimes and have seen our neighbors move in and out. We are more intensely aware, even in our own neighborhoods, that our kind of faith is not the only kind. We see how others have been shaped by very different histories than our own. It becomes clear to us that we, too, have been shaped—and continue to be shaped—by our own history.

Fuller Theological Seminary, where I teach, is in California. Every now and then we feel the ground shifting. The chandelier in our dining room swings or the bed on which we are lying begins to rock. The whole world may not be experiencing little earthquakes as we are, but people are surely experiencing change and variety in faiths and ideologies. This change and diversity can rock a person’s faith. We ask, How do we validate the truth of what we perceive and what we believe? In our time of pluralistic encounter with multiple ideologies and religions and with rapid social, economic, and political change, people search for what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called solid ground to stand on.

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Slow Down and Know That I Am God

IN SPRING 1986, a group of Italian activists led by Carlo Petrini launched a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s near the famous Spanish Steps in Rome. This protest marked the origin of the Slow Food movement, which has spread over the last 26 years to more than 150 countries.

Following this Slow Food effort came a host of other Slow movements—Slow Cities, Slow Parenting, Slow Money, and more—that collectively raise opposition to the speed and industrialization of Western culture. Slow movements are beginning to recover what we have lost in our relentless pursuit of efficiency. Many Christians have been challenged by these Slow movements to consider the ways in which our faith has begun to move too fast as we make sacrifices to the gods of efficiency.

This quest has sparked a renewed interest in the joys of sharing life together in local congregations and has intensified into a growing conversation—rather than a movement—called Slow Church. Slowness itself is not a cardinal virtue of Slow Church, but rather a means of resisting the present-day powers of speed in order to be faithful church communities.

The biblical vision of God’s mission in the world is God’s reconciliation of all creation (see, for example, Colossians 1:15-23 and Isaiah 65:17-25). But too often we narrow the scope of our faith and ignore the massive damage that incurs. Some Christians reduce the faith to four easy steps to stay out of hell, others to a set of techniques for growing a large church, and still others to a political ideology (of the Right or the Left). Christianity has also been reduced by some to a feel-good spirituality that has little or no bearing on the rest of our lives or in the public square.

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