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Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

SLED embodied

Posted by Chris on March 4, 2009

This is part of my Roe-tradictions series.  Read the intro.

SLED is an acronym popularized by a pro-life apologist named Scott Klusendorf. It stands for Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency.  He asserts that these are the only differences between a newborn baby and a fetus and argues therefore that both should have equal moral status.

The following news from 2/7/09 in Florida brings focus to the Environment argument.

Doctor loses license in live birth abortion case

A doctor’s license was revoked Friday in the case of a teenager who planned to have an abortion but instead gave birth to a baby she says was killed when clinic staffers put it into a plastic bag and threw it in the trash.

According to Florida law, “A fetus born alive cannot be put to death even if its mother intended to have an abortion.”

If you’ve read my ethics introduction you can see how fun this is for me. First, I detect in myself an intellectually jovial attitude. I want to stop and make sure we acknowledge the tragedy of what happen and not dehumanize and make an example of it. I grieve that this woman went to have an abortion and rejoice that a miracle saved her from going through with such an act. Unfortunately, for all involved, this miracle was unexpected and people panicked. I do not think that the nurses there would ever plan to murder a child nor do I make the claim that abortion clinics in general favor this kind of action. However, justice needs to be done and I hope that Dr. Renelique not only is not granted an appeal for his Dr license but also that people are prosecuted because murder demands justice.

That being said, this touches on several of my ethics principles. First, motives. The Florida Law talks about intentions. They don’t matter once the fetus is born.  Since abortion is legal in this country for any reason and at any time (a combination of Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood), intentions cannot matter before the fetus is born.  

This doesn’t bother me because I’d argue that, since motives matter, the intention to abort a child is wrong in the first place. So, Florida is saying that a fetus (a non-alive thing) that somehow becomes alive must stay alive. Moments before, if it dies, okay. Moments after, if it comes out, save it. This baby was in need of serious medical help. They didn’t burn it with chemicals, or stab it, as they would’ve done in the womb—so it was not an act of commission, but omission that they wish to prosecute.

So the Florida law must mean that the medical professionals are obligated to do everything to keep alive a child born alive, even the product of a botched abortion if the fetus is barely hanging on. Literally, seconds or minutes between the abortion attempt and the delivery and the legality changes! This leads into another of my principles, human rights contradictions. The issue of time there is one of them.

To come back to SLED, what the Florida Law is likely responding to is an environmental change.  We turn a blind eye to what happens in the womb, which is considered a right to privacy issue because it is the women’s body (and under current law and public opinion, justifiably so). But we are also people that are moved by imagery, and the thought and idea of a delivered baby being abandoned makes us all cringe on the inside. Girls at proms abandon babies in the bathroom and become national news. Moms drown their kids in a lake and blame a black car thief and the story is national news for months. We are sensitive to this.

All I’m saying is, to be consistent, we should be concerned about both. In this specific situation, either this doctor and his office should be excused for disposing of the live baby or they should be criminals for what they were attempting to do in aborting the kid.

*The response of the philosopher is the most consistent from a pro-abortion rights perspective. They might say that we can commit infanticide until the age of 2 or so, when the baby obtains moral consciousness. For more info, read Peter Singer, a philosopher and animal rights activist that has led this intellectual movement.

**For a more biased account of this tragedy, read this article at Town Hall. It has a much funnier and crass way of saying what I said: In abortion doctrine, when a “tumor of the womb” passes through the birth canal into the open air, it suddenly becomes a living child. This Miracle of Transpostvagination is a great mystery…

***The day after I posted this a friend sent me a link to another CNN news story. In an effort to be as intellectually honest as possible and to consider all angles, I’d like to link to and quote it.  This article gives more of a defense of the abortion clinic, including the following information from an unnamed “expert”: ” ‘the standard of care for a premature infant delivered at less than 23 weeks is not to attempt resuscitation,’ so even if the baby had been born at a hospital, no measures would have been undertaken to save it, according to the affidavit.”


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A new word I bring the masses: “Roe-tradictions”

Posted by Chris on March 4, 2009

Please see my introduction to my ethics post.  There I explain my main ethical principles I use to help me discern between black, white, grey, right, wrong, freedom, obligation, etc… I don’t have a philosophy spelled out but I list 5 principles that are kind of like 5 prisms through which I view an ethical quandary.

Within ethics, I am particularly interested in human (legal) rights (to make a distinction between that and “doing” social justice, in which of course I am strongly in favor) and bioethics.  And if you can combine the two of them at the same time– well you will have my attention.

Over the past few years, I have kept track of some news articles related to pro-life issues that either show anectodal proof of exceptions to common sense (persistent vegetative state people who wake up or extreme premie babies that survive abortion attempts) or provide some of these human rights/legal contradictions that I discussed under point 2 in my ethics introduction.

A recent incident in Florida inspired me to find those articles again and meditate on the different issues and motives at play and expose some of the contradictions inherent in American abortion rights discourses.  I will write about it in my next post.

I am going to start compiling and commenting on them in a “Legal and human rights contradictions surrounding pro-life issues in America” ethics series. Or, American abortion rights contradictions for semi-short.  In a word? “Roe-tradictions.”

Posted in ethics, Roe-tradictions | 1 Comment »

Introduction to my ethics

Posted by Chris on March 4, 2009

I have a lot of interest in ethics. I’ve got my own brand of ethics I guess you could say, and rather than try and explain it on a theoretical level, it would be easier to just do application. I have some favorite principles that I’ll briefly list and discuss.

1) Human rights discourses and contradictions. One of my favorite classes in college was Anthropology of Human Rights. Among other things, we looked at lists and beliefs in human rights and how they were often mutually exclusive. For example (I wrote my research paper on this) the United Nations supports full abortion rights yet comes down strongly against female feticide, aka targeted abortion of female fetuses. The UN, in its various human rights discourses, contradicts itself.

2) If at all possible, be libertarian. I prefer less laws, not more laws. I am (this is a generality) for legislating morality when it directly harms the object receiving the action (drunk driving, murder) but okay with allowing things, even if I think they’re immoral, if it only has an indirect effect (adultery, the argument for the legalization of drugs).

3) I’m a Christian. This impacts my moral beliefs. It impacts my goals of ethics and when and which exceptions I make to the above rules. Also, it adds a factor foreign to secular ethics’ discussions: the value of God’s character and sovereignty. Therefore an act can be unethical merely because it harms God, even if (for the sake of argument) it harms no one else.

I only expect or care to discuss the character of God and the significance to ethics with other Christians who affirm the same thing. I do not expect others with different preconditions to care about this line of reasoning, in fact, they should not be persuaded in this manner.

However, believers and non should understand that my Christian faith is the back drop for the final two principles, motives and conscience.

4) Motives matter. Ex a) if someone is drowning and you try to save them and they die, good. If someone is drowning and you don’t want to risk your own life and do nothing, bad. Same outcome, different motives, different ethical conclusion.

5) Conscience. We should follow it. This should be the final word, but it’s not because we are imperfect, sinful people. Many people have followed their convictions into doing very bad things. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So it’s not infallible, but in situations in which the right thing to do is not clear, it is a guide. Furthermore, it can be the determining factor of what is and is not ethical. If your conscience says go ahead, you should, and if it says to stop, stop.

Finally, the application is to find consistency. That’s the goal. It’s very impractical to have to think through every single ethical quandary. So you want to find principles and then apply them consistently. An example would be the Hippocratic Oath’s “Do no harm.” That lets you know (if you decide Do No Harm is a principle you assert) that murder is wrong, defending yourself with a weapon is wrong, etc…

I often argue my point by finding inconsistencies in another event or person’s position or circumstance.

Posted in about me, ethics, human rights | 2 Comments »

Naive and generous

Posted by Chris on July 25, 2008

If I had to choose between being naive and generous, or discerning and stingy, I would take the former every time.

As much as I don’t want to be an enabler, it is preferable to paternalism in our personal relationships and patterns of generosity.

There are so many things we can give. The cry of the discerning and stingy, who “has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him” (1 Jn 3:17), is often a cover for an unwillingness to think outside the box or take the time needed to meet needs in a way besides giving spare change. The verse continues: “How can the love of God be in him?” The equivalent of deciding whether or not to give spare change to a drunk would have been God deciding whether or not to send good weather to sinful people in agrarian Israel. Jesus said that God “sends rain on the evil and the good”; in the same way, we should sow into those who are deserving and undeserving, those who will use the money wisely and those who will be wasteful.

Thankfully, God acts outside the realm not only of the deist imagination, or the sphere of the meteorologist, but in a way that penetrates into our deeper needs. He came to earth, sacrificing a good ol’ time in Heaven. Think about that when as we discern that “being somewhere” precludes us from being generous. When His people failed to meet the accepted standards of right and wrong, He came and offered the reward of the righteous to anyone who would accept, without them first having to reform their lives and “prove how serious they are.” Think about that when we listen to hear certain words to confirm someone’s intentions to really improve their life. And He did this in the context of seeing us fail again and again, accepting our charity and His promise of blessing, only to turn our backs and again run to a curse and death. Think about that when you get tired of seeing the same faces on the same corners.

The cry of the naive and generous is not a complaint. It is genuine tears, shed in empathy for those in need, or in a desire to themselves grow in compassion that they can love others unconditionally.

Posted in about me, christianity, ethics, homeless/needy persons | Leave a Comment »

Retirement benefits for ex-presidents

Posted by Chris on May 1, 2008

I always read the Tuesday Morning Quarterback article at, which is about much more than sports, by Gregg Easterbrook.
One of his items of interest is politics and one of his favorite rants about the retirement benefits and salaries federal politicians receive. This particular passage is very informative and persuasive from his
2008 Draft Review

Stop subsidizing rich former presidents: Last year, TMQ complained that although former chief executives George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton are wealthy, both continue to take large amounts of presidential retirement benefits and other sweetheart payments — money forcibly removed from the pockets of taxpayers who are struggling to get by. Reader Zach Stanley of Boston points out this Politico story indicating the situation is worse than my 2007 item suggested. Clinton, whose recently released tax forms show he has made more than $10 million per year since leaving office, nevertheless has already claimed $8 million in retirement benefits (and he’s not retired), plus $3.2 million for office overhead, plus $420,000 for his phone bill. The later figure is difficult to take seriously; even if you yakked 24/7 on a satellite line to Tajikistan, it’s hard to believe you could ring up $420,000 in telephone charges. Is some of this money really going to staffers for Clinton’s speechmaking business? In public the very wealthy Clinton wags his finger about how the rich are shafting the average guy. He himself is shafting the average guy by claiming lavish tax subsidies.

All this is doubly vexing because the payments are made under the Former Presidents Act of 1958. That bill was enacted when news broke that former president Harry Truman was living on little more than his Army pension: As a matter of principle, Truman refused to give paid speeches, make endorsements or serve on corporate boards, because he believed such actions demeaned the dignity of the presidency. Phrases like “the dignity of the presidency” and “as a matter of principle” don’t seem to have much meaning anymore in politics. But the whole point of the Former Presidents Act was to enable previous White House occupants to live comfortably without having to sell their names. Now Clinton is selling his name like mad, while George H. W. Bush, who was born into wealth, demands subsidies too. Thank goodness the dignified Truman did not live to see this selfish spectacle of ex-presidential money-grubbing.

I guess in a way, I’m glad that many politicians generally take pay cuts- it is public service, after all. And there are probably many not-well-known representatives for whom their congressional salary is the highest of their career– I kind of like that too– they are “normal folk.”

No former federal politician should be destitute on the street (no one in America period, actually). I’m glad we had some funds available to help out Mr. Truman. I don’t expect former presidents to go “back to work” per se. But these other politicians?

After his failed vice-president run, John Edwards came to UNC and ran/created the Center for Work, Poverty, & Opportunity. I went to several of their events, he came and spoke to one of my classes. In other words, he was doing real work. I don’t call this “back to work”– it was a short-term thing, gathering information, and certainly gaining political capital. My point, though, is that I never saw anyone tripping all over themselves to get his attention. After another 2-4 years of this kind of “because I’m John Edwards” work, if he doesn’t get back in politics, should do more conventional work. (it sounds like I’m picking on him– this is just the best example I can think of. I expect he will do something political, like work at a thinktank, or lobby, maybe run for office).

He was a lawyer before, and apparently a pretty good one. Why not go and work for a legal aid firm? Better yet, use his fame and seek out class-action lawsuits. Some of them would probably make me glad, some would make me mad, but that’s his decision. Another thing he should love: representing low-income working families who are in a dispute with their health insurance company about coverage of a certain treatment. He could work for a think tank 3 days a week and bank that and do pro bono stick-it-to-the-man legal stuff on the side.

If Mr. Edwards reads this blog (Ha ha), remember me? I met you at the free tax assistance site in 2006 that was being done by an undergraduate group. C’mon man, we took our picture together, it was your idea, truthfully! (except that it was my idea). I’m not telling you how to run your life sir, just angling for a job in your posse… (you need a fiscal conservative to play devil’s advocate).

Posted in about me, Culture, ethics, links of the day | 5 Comments »

PBS Frontline: Iraq

Posted by Chris on April 13, 2008

I just watched a couple of PBS Frontline reports/documentary on the Iraq War including “Bush’s War” which I perceive is getting a lot of publicity in the blogosphere. “Bad Voodoo” follows a National Guard unit in Iraq.

I tend to always give more weight to the last thing I saw or the last argument I heard, so I’m trying not to do that here; but I must say, the combination of an investigative report into the origins and execution of the War and the anecdotal experience of Guardsmen has led me to be more decisively for the end of the war (as in, sooner rather than later, whether or not we “get the job done”). I felt a range of emotions watching these videos but what I most remember is feeling terrified and sad as I watched videos shot by the Guardsmen. If I’m feeling that way, I can’t imagine the cumulative toll it has on them.

It was a reminder of the neo-conservative agenda which I had forgotten about over the past couple of years. I really wonder what the Bush presidency could have looked like had there been a different combination of Vice President, Secr. of Defense, Secr of State, Envoys to Iraq, etc… There may have even been an Iraq War but it would have gone differently.

The video quality is really good. Bush’s War is quite long but divided into 10 min or so chunks.
Bush’s War
Bad Voodoo

Posted in ethics, globalization, links of the day | Leave a Comment »

more birth control discussion

Posted by Chris on April 6, 2008

This post is intended as a response to comments to my last post and to other posts BH made at his blog, Lawn Gospel. We are having a discussion on Christians and birth control… based on certain presuppositions, such as the Sovereignty of God. If you don’t share the presupposition, I would not expect you to agree with the angle of our discussion. I would have different things to say in a discussion on birth control that was grounded in a different context– in other words, I fully acknowledge the complexity of this debate (or lackthereof).

BH, I will try and address your comments which were somewhat spread out.
First, I need to repeat that

    I am not calling birth control and medicine equivalent

, or pregnancy and disease equivalent (see my comment on the previous post). So when you answered my question, “How do you make the distinction between birth control and medicine comparison as far as what is morally acceptable on the basis of God’s sovereign will?”, you only echoed what I agree with.
Your comment about leprosy (on my post) tried to address my real question, but I don’t quite understand your answer.

The distinction (as I mentioned more at depth in my response post) is leprosy is a disease, and pregnancy clearly and biblically is not. The fact that we moral creatures can affirm that suffering and death is “evil”, actually places an onus on us to do what we can to overcome that evil with good.

Again– I stated leprosy is a disease. In your post on birth control and genetic disease, you say:

…To flee from such suffering is not the picture that we are given in Christ. I don’t believe we should wish suffering on our children, but knowing that suffering will come, we should never forget that it eventually “produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…”

Is there an onus to do what we can to overcome suffering in that statement?

I am not getting a clear vision of what you actually think about suffering, nor do I understand your answer to my question (I think you’ve answered a different question).

Biblical support for medicinal healing
You commented on this at my original post. I laughed at your mention of the SBC & 1 Tim 5:23, I almost mentioned that myself before as an example for me! If someone has a stomach problem now, would you tell them to drink wine or water? What is more likely to give you a stomach problem, wine or water? That advice is completely contextual– water was dirty then and unhealthy– wine was good by comparison.
“Luke the beloved physician”… beloved and a physician he was. But he wasn’t combating infectious disease. I’m not saying there’s no Biblical support for medicinal healing– I’m saying that medicine offered no help in the areas of disease that ravaged people– it was considered to be within God’s hands. A little stomach problem also lies outside of that, in that, Timothy was not in any danger of losing his life.

Moral Ambiguity
You are right, although in my defense, I am not comparing eating meat to conception, rather just establishing that moral ambiguity is okay– just because it’s there doesn’t mean we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere in deciding what is permissible. That is only one part of a potential objection to saying that birth control is in some cases a conscience issue.

Now, to address what you said in your post (“Ensuing Dialogue…”)

Motives & suffering

In a philosophical sense, I do grant that some couples may have “good” motives for using birth control… Simply put, these “what if’s” do not address the question of “ever”. You can not answer the question, “Is it ever moral to use birth control?”, by merely arguing for the goodness of motives. If it is never right to blaspheme the name of God (i.e. deny the Faith), then even if I must do so to save my life or the live of someone else, I can not do it

Very good points.

Then, later

But again, let me highlight the problem in your argument. You are attempting to prove the morality of something by judging its motives. In a very real sense, you are arguing that “the ends justifies the means,” while still leaving the means, the ends, and the motive in a state of moral ambiguity.

Now I think you’ve gone too far. You are right about what I’m arguing– the ends sometimes justify the means. In fact, I’d say that it’s quite common and point to biblical precedent in some cases (Hebrew midwives, Rahab- both deceive/lie). We do it all the time– much of the time, we’re wrong, but sometimes we’re right. The sinfulness of anger lies completely in the context of the object and source of anger (evil and love– good anger. someone wrongs us and pride– bad anger.) “Acts of righteousness” in Matthew 6- before men, to be seen by them– immoral. Visiting the imprisoned in Matthew 25– what you do to men you have done to Jesus. In fact, the idea that motives make moral leads me to condemn myself even more, as I see that even in my “good acts”, sin remains in my motives, unbeknownst to someone who benefits from the act.

If there was ever a real threat posed to children, it is being born into a fallen world — and yet every parent from Adam and Eve to our parents have taken that ‘risk’ and given birth to us. There is a threat of death hanging above all of mankind’s head, but that does not give us the right to circumvent the “wages of sin” – apart from a faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Excellent point. That is certainly the greatest threat and you’re right, it does point back to the argument of motives.

You ended your post much more strongly than I will. “I agree.”?! Not exactly a persuasive comeback on my part. You won’t see me critiquing anything you say in your defense, because I agree with your position– only I expand it and include underneath the umbrella of conscience.

I feel like I had a different question for you earlier in the week, but working insane hours (what other people apparently call “normal”) this week has burned my brain. I will close with a quote from Mohler’s blog on marriage. He says that the church has recognized three purposes for marriage, the first being children. He goes on to say

The denial of a procreative orientation for marriage–every marriage genuinely open to the gift of children–is a denial of the biblical vision of marriage itself.

I don’t know what he personally meant by “open to the gift of children.” To me, as a single guy only thinking about this in the abstract up to this point, that openness can be expressed while also following some sort of “plan.” I assume you would leave less room for interpretation in a similar statement?

Posted in christianity, ethics | Leave a Comment »

2202 words on birth control and the Christian

Posted by Chris on March 29, 2008

The following is a response to a fellow blogger in a back-and-forth conversation we have had about the moral rights of the Christian as it pertains to birth control methods. He often blogs on the topic at his Lawn Gospel blog, but I came across the blog recently and am addressing his posts and comments on three different posts. If you want to understand exactly what I’m responding to, read each of the posts and comments. (1, 2, 3)

It is important to understand that our positions are very close on this issue, when you compare us to the rest of the world, or even American Christian culture. So while it may sound like I’m trying to present some opposing viewpoint, that’s really not the case. Instead, we have been discussing very precise points of disagreement. What we agree on is the presumptuousness in the attitudes of Christian couples when it comes to birth control, and the need for more honest, biblical, questioning of the ethics of the whole business.

The response starts now.


I’m going to bring three posts’ comments under one head here. First, I enjoyed your response about the relationship between the church and pro-life ministry. Second, I will respond to your question about the moral use of birth control by a Christian couple. Third, I will respond to your reasoning about the Biblical context of birth control. Actually, 2 and 3 will be one response, and I am going to use a parallel between health/medical issues and birth control. This parallel is not intended as one of moral equivalence but rather literal treatment of each in the Bible vs. the current cultural assumptions about each one.

I cannot, with scripture, refute your assertion that we have no right to separate sex from procreation (an act from its natural consequences found in the Bible). That argument must come from a “culturally fashioned assumption.” Instead, I will attempt to build up a nearly as tight defense for a biblical argument against most uses of medicine today. By doing so, I will challenge your assumption that the cultural assumptions are “unfounded.”

Do you have the right to separate leprosy from suffering and death (an act from its natural consequences found in the Bible)?? Unless a prophet or Jesus intervened, the person faced separation and death. Thus, it was, at a minimum, God’s providential will that a person with leprosy suffer and die unless He intervened supernaturally. Similarly, unless the Lord willed that a woman be barren, she usually had “a lot” of kids.

In each case, I can think of one method outside of God’s intervention, which one could pursue. Birth control was present in abortion or infanticide. An ill person could pursue a pagan solution- visiting a healer or following an ungodly superstition—hardly what we would consider medical treatment, in the context of Western bio-medical thought.

In the last few centuries, we have obliterated all the old conventions of how to solve “problems” in the world—including, but not limited to, the treatment of disease and birth control that does not require killing. I will ask you to suspend your culturally-conditioned assumptions for the moment (i.e., you are not allowed to point to distinctions within medicine, such as we shouldn’t remove a feeding tube but we should have open-heart surgery). These choices were not available at the time the Bible was written. In the same way that you are using the phrase “biblical context” in a very strict sense, so will I. The biblical context of medicine is limited solely to what was available and what people did. “Is any one of you sick? He should call the ELDERS of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14) “When anyone has an infectious skin disease, he must be brought to the PRIEST.” (Lev 13:9) The only doctor whose diagnosis the Bible demands be sought is the Great Physician. There were doctors but I don’t know much about what they did. Hippocrates was ethical, but, in comparison to modern medicine, it seems that that was about his only contribution.

You said: “But I think we must first go back further and question our “right” to separate sex from procreation, our “right” to medically/chemical close the womb, and our “right” to wield power over the creation of the Imago Dei in the procreative process.” My point is that we do not accept medical advances based on our “right” to violate God’s sovereignty in the area of disease. There are other acceptable grounds, but they fall outside of the only acceptable means for fighting disease for God’s people in the scriptures.

In the arena of birth control, we are also presented with new means. Just as with medicine, that doesn’t mean we can just accept these new means without critical evaluation of two things: the methods and our motives. But I believe it does mean that the role of Biblical thought is not in the historical precedent of scripture, but in utilizing a biblical thought process for evaluating the new choices. Sex without procreation, aside from the intervention of the Lord, does not occur in scripture except for abortion and infanticide. Disease without death, aside from healing from the Lord’s anointed, has no clear precedent in scripture, and can only be pursued through fruitless pagan superstitions.

I recognize that one is much more of a moral issue than the other, but I draw the comparison as a way of saying that sex without procreation is not an idea we must accept exclusive of the realities of our culture and the new assumptions to which these realities have led. Just as the choices for resisting disease are no longer limited to fruitless superstitions, the choices for separating sex from procreation are no longer limited to the unethical ending of a life.

Briefly, I will answer some obvious weaknesses of this reasoning and its consequences, and try to maintain the parallel with medicine. 1: The abuses of widely available birth control– I acknowledge this, but more and more we are seeing the abuses being accepted under the umbrella of biomedicine thought. 2: The overall negative social consequences of the “contraception culture”– The same response as before (and indeed, here, the two issues begin to converge). 3: The potential of birth control to end human life- This only applies to certain forms of birth control and should be treated separately. 4: The danger of moral ambiguity– if we judge the morality of decisions based on the motives, “everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial.” This frustrates me too. But it’s a necessary part of the already/not yet struggle of the Christian pilgrim. We don’t have all the information that God has.

The usage of the following passage is probably somewhat out of its specific context but I think within the context of Pauline thought:

“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts” (1 Cor 4:4-5)

Paul repeatedly judges the sinful actions of believers in his letters. But I think he willingly condemns easily identifiable sins like stealing, sexual immorality, and laziness but only recommends conscience on the ambiguous issues. When it comes to eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul commands Christians not to be present at a feast to pagan gods—obvious idolatry—“you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too.” (1 Cor 10:21). But Paul concedes that eating meat sacrificed to idols (according to my study bible, this was most of the meat sold in the market at Corinth) was not only a matter of conscience but also culturally conditioned (do not be afraid to accept the invitation to a meal, or conversely, do not offend the weak brother).

So my argument comes down to saying that if using birth control can be an immoral participation in an ungodly tradition, but can also be a matter of conscience. And now, I will finally answer your question you posed to me: “when is it moral for a Christian couple to use birth control?”

1-A: it is not moral when it is an attempt to circumnavigate God’s sovereignty. Not in the strict/literal sense, but in the sense of motives such as: more kids will mean we can’t have the lifestyle we prefer; a dislike of children; choosing career advancement over family because of a love for personal gain; and the most common would be what you identify as the your biggest frustration: people passively ignoring the issue.

1-B: it is moral to make decisions for which a one subsequent action is some form of birth control (Driscoll makes this point); more kids will mean we cannot have the vocation God calls us to (a female professional athlete for instance—haha, I just thought of that); a love for abandoned children who need adoption; choosing to pursue overseas missions.

2-A: it is not moral to abandon childbearing because of fear of social or governmental repercussions. Many people will publicly insult us because of our large family. The government will fine us (a reality in China at one point, and a distinct possibility in the US if some get their way).

2-B: it is moral to take some measure to limit family sizes because of real threats. (This is dangerous, because, Moses may have never been born if you take this to its logical conclusion—but I will appeal to God’s sovereignty over the continuum of history and His grand plan of redemption to call that an impossibility). So a Christian family in China 20 years ago, when your second girl might be forcibly taken from you and killed, could make a moral decision to use birth control.

3- some more specific instances, and, a personal example, of the moral use of birth control. I believe Driscoll uses this one: a sick parent. What if a parent is terminally ill and should die within 2-3 years? Should they continue to pursue a course of action that would naturally lead to more children? I’m not saying it’s wrong if they do—only that they could make a moral decision to use birth control. Or what about a dad in the Marines going to Iraq? Might they deny each other for that time?
(an aside—I think you took liberties with that passage—I believe Paul’s point is about the sexual relationship between parents without any bearing on procreation)

A personal example: genetic disease. There is a history of genetic disease in my family. My parents took a course of action that both separated sex from procreation and ensured that I would not inherit disease (turns out, there would have been a 50% chance I had it). Huntington’s Disease is terrible, in fact there was a recent profile in the Washington Post of a couple who dealt with it for a much longer period than my family did in the case of my dad (an excellent and moving article- the caretaker husband is a model of Christian devotion in marriage). If, through “birth control” techniques, we can erase Huntington’s Disease, I’ll be thankful.

Does this mean my parents made a moral decision? No. It just means that it’s possible. Not all the alternatives are morally equivalent. The motives for any action, including this one, will always be tainted somewhat by sin.

I mention this last because I don’t want to use it unfairly to induce guilt against one who would disagree. I also am able to remove the personal nature—I have no problem considering whether or not the method of my conception was perfectly in line with God’s moral will (puts me in pretty good company). And what’s the point of what-if’ing about my own nonexistence?

Rather than justify more liberty for Christians considering what to do, I would join you in challenging presumptions. However, I will accept certain cultural assumption. I hope that a combination of my theoretical view and personal life experience will give me credibility to state my case and get people to listen. Similarly, I hope the same for you, with the addition of your credentials as a minister of the gospel.

BH, I ask the following of you (or anyone) if you choose to respond. I know that my logic is not perfect. I may not always have the correct word usage either– my apologies, I am neither a wordsmith nor naturally-adept at being concise. I have no doubt you could point out flaws. If there is something that is so blatant that it renders my point irrelevant, by all means use in your response. Otherwise, I’d like to know: what is your reaction to the specific examples I gave of justifiable birth control use? Do you give any credence to the idea that birth control choices can stem around primary factors other than separating sex from procreation? And how do you make the distinction between birth control and medicine comparison as far as what is morally acceptable on the basis of God’s sovereign will?

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