Session 1

Report
A Strategy for Preaching
on Contemporary
Bioethical Issues
Philip Thompson
Professor of Bible, Harding University
Preacher, Rose Bud Church of Christ
A Moral Crisis
“It is a truism today that we are in a crisis of
morals. The crisis is not simply that people are
doing wrong things; that has been going on
since the Fall in Eden. The crisis is the loss of a
shared understanding of what is right. Worse, it
is a crisis of doubt as to whether there even is a
moral right or wrong at all.”
Lewis B. Smedes, Mere Morality, 1-2
The “Crisis” is Ongoing…
Mere Morality – written in 1983
What has happened since 1983?
The Church’s Dilemma

Jesus: “I am the way and truth and life. No one
comes to the Father except through me.” (John
14:6)
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How do we communicate a particularistic ethical
framework (Christian ethics) to a pluralistic,
relativistic world that does not accept Christian
assumptions and foundations?
Homosexuality and
Gay Marriage
Bioethics Question: Is there a “gay gene”?
2004
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Massachusetts
Gay Marriage
2008
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Connecticut
Gay Marriage
2009
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Iowa
Vermont
Note the “new way”
of reading
Biblical texts
Gay Marriage
2010
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New Hampshire
Gay Marriage
2011
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New York
Note the Christological,
theological argument
Gay Marriage
2012
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Washington
Maine
Note the heremeutical
argument
Gay Marriage
2013
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California
New Jersey
New Mexico
Delaware
Hawaii
Minnesota
Rhode Island
Maryland
Gay Marriage
2014
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Illinois
Gay Marriage
Gay Families
Gay Families
possible by:
IVF with surrogacy
Gay adoption
Elton John and
David Furnish with son by
surrogate mother
Beginning of Life
Abortion
Embryo at 8 Weeks
2014 marked the
41st Anniversary of
Roe v Wade
ART
Old-fashioned
procreation no
longer required!
Artificial insemination
Gamete donation
IVF
Surrogacy
Reproductive cloning
The Hope and
Hype of Stem
Cell Research
Cloning
“Dolly” – 1996
Ian Wilmut
Therapeutic versus Reproductive Cloning
Genetics
Human Genome Project
(2003)
IVF with PGD
Genetic Engineering
Will genetics be the
new eugenics?
End of Life
Physician-Assisted Suicide:
Legal in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Montana
Jack
Kevorkian
Will VAE be legalized?
Enhancement of Life
Enhancement of Life
Improving Human Performance
Enhancement Technologies: NBIC
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Nanotechnology
Bioengineering
Information technology
Cognitive sciences
Transhumanism: >H H+
Is the church prepared to answer the
questions contemporary people are asking?
Are church leaders prepared to provide
spiritual and moral guidance to members
wrestling with biomedical decisions?
My Experiences in Ministry
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Therapeutic, eugenic, and elective abortions
ART
IVF
 Surrogacy (commercial gestational)
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IVF with PGD
Cognitive enhancement (off label use of Ritalin)
End of Life
“Pulling the plug”
 “Are we obligated to do everything possible?
(Translation: must we be vitalists?)

“New and sometimes revolutionary and
controversial developments in the biomedical
sciences, reproductive technologies, medical genetics
and biotechnology in the Life Sciences have
occurred rapidly in recent times…
…Ministers in the active church ministry are
increasingly involved in providing spiritual and moral
guidance relating to this new knowledge and
technologies…
Magdalena C. deLange, “Dealing with Bioethical dilemmas: A Survey and Analysis
of Responses from ministers in the Reformed Churches in South Africa.”
Sources of Authority and Guidance
for Christian Moral Decision-Making
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The Bible
Prayer
Moral traditions of the church
Moral formation in community
Spiritually developed moral conscience and life
 Biblically informed moral vision and understanding
 Moral leadership: elders, preachers, teachers,
mentors, and Christian ethicists
 Specialists engaged in interdisciplinary dialogue
(CBHD as an example)

A Challenge in Addressing
Contemporary Bioethical Issues

Most contemporary bioethical issues are not
treated directly in Scripture.

What do you do when you can’t cite “book,
chapter, and verse” on a contemporary ethical
issue?
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“Book, chapter, and verse” = level of rules,
norms, action-guides
Use of Scripture when there’s no
“book, chapter, and verse”

What does the Bible say about…
 Embryonic
stem cell research?
 IVF?
 PGD?
 Cloning?
 Cybernetics?
 Physiological
 Abortion?
and cognitive enhancement?
Hermeneutical Challenges
Dennis Hollinger, Choosing the Good
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Scripture is “silent” on many issues.
Issues addressed in Scripture are not identical to
today’s issues.
Moving from the O.T. to the N.T.
Relationship between particularity of the text
and universality
Handling complex issues involving multiple
biblical principles
Proposals for the Use of Scripture in
(Bio)ethics

Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the N.T.

Charles Cosgrove, Appealing to Scripture in
Moral Debate
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Glenn Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom
Ethics
Moral Decision-Making at
Four Levels
Particular Judgments
Rules
Principles
Basic convictions (Worldview)
[Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics]
Definitions

Rule: a concrete action-guide; a law for living;
a commandment or guideline given by some
recognized authority

Principle: Broad moral guidelines more
foundational and universal than rules

Rules and principles express values that arise from
basic convictions and worldview.
Particular or Immediate Judgments
Particular Judgments
Two Characteristics at this level
•No immediate reasons are given for the moral judgment
•The moral judgment applies to one particular case
Rules, Norms, Action-Guides
Particular Judgments
Rules
Two characteristics at this level
•A rule applies not just to one immediate case, but to all similar cases
•A rule tells us directly what to do or not to do – an action guide
Principles
Particular Judgments
Rules
Principles
Two characteristics at this level
•A principle is more general than a rule; it does not tell us directly
and concretely what to do or not to do
•A principle supports rules – or criticizes them
Basic Convictions (Worldview)
Particular Judgments
Rules
Principles
Basic Convictions
(Worldview)
Two characteristics at this level
•Basic convictions form the ultimate basis for principles, rules, and
overall ethical reasoning
•Basic convictions arise out of one’s worldview
Worldview

“A worldview is that cohesive set of beliefs through
which people view the world and thus, consciously or
not, set their life-course.” (Glen H. Stassen and David P.
Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, pg. 62)

“A worldview is the way we put our world together. It
embodies our sense of God or transcendence, our
understandings of human nature, our beliefs about
what is wrong within the world and how to fix that
wrong, and our perceptions about where history is
headed.” (Dennis P. Hollinger, Choosing the Good, pg. 61)
Comparison Test Cases:
Adultery and Abortion
Adultery is first addressed at the rule level
Abortion is first addressed at the principle level
Ethical Decision-Making at
Four Levels
Particular Judgments
Rules – Adultery first
addressed
Principles – Abortion first
addressed
Basic convictions (Worldview)
[See: Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics]
Making Ethical Decisions
Scott Rae
Step #1: Gather the facts.
Step #2: Determine the ethical issues inherent in
the case.
Step #3: Determine the principles that have a
bearing on the case. (Where most sermons on
bioethical issues will derive.)
Making Ethical Decisions
(cont’d)
Step #4: List the alternatives.
Step #5: Compare the alternatives with the
principles.
Step #6: Consider the consequences.
Step #7: Make a decision.
The Sermon as “Bridge”
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From ancient text to contemporary audience
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Sermons ought to be biblical and relevant.
A Sermon on Adultery
A Sermon on Most Bioethical Issues
A Sermon on Abortion, ESCR, or IVF
Millau Viaduct – Tarn Valley, France
A Sermon on Cognitive and Physical
Enhancement
Sermons on Bioethical Issues
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Technical
Complex
Controversial
Viewed as “political”
Potentially divisive
Sermons on Bioethical Issues
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No “book, chapter, and verse” guidance
Need to preach at levels of principles and basic
convictions
Need to do theology (and some philosophy and
biomedical science too)
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Content: Most likely topical (rather than textual)
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Movement: inductive or deductive
You will thoroughly cover these
technical, complex, controversial
and potentially divisive topics in
24 minutes!
Perhaps Consider…
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Sermons in combination with Bible classes
Focus on a single principle relevant to the issue
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On euthanasia: “life and death are in God’s hands”
Address the bioethical issue as illustrative of a text
or principle
Elective abortion illustrating a text on autonomy
 ART and surrogacy illustrating the Abraham/Sarah
narrative
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Special events and resource speakers
(Bio)Ethics Seminar for Churches
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Ethics in a Brave New World
Moral Decisions when the Bible is Silent
Human Dignity and Personhood
Beginning of Life
End of Life
Enhancement of Life
Same-Sex Marriage

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