The Abolition of Twins

This week’s New York Times Magazine’s lead story, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy,” was about yet another tragedy of our culture of reproductive control. “For all its successes,” the article points out, “reproductive medicine has produced a paradox: in creating life where none seemed possible, doctors often generate more fetuses than they intend.” In this case, 45 year-old Jenny was pregnant with twins through the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF).  Sadly, controlling when and how she got pregnant provided license to abort one of the twins:

If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.

Aborting one twin over another is not rare in the U.S. As the article points out:

No agency tracks how many reductions occur in the United States, but those who offer the procedure report that demand for reduction to a singleton, while still fairly rare, is rising. Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, one of the largest providers of the procedure, reported that by 1997, 15 percent of reductions were to a singleton. Last year, by comparison, 61 of the center’s 101 reductions were to a singleton, and 38 of those pregnancies started as twins.

God makes every human being in his image, after his likeness. And he did give us authority to tend and care for the natural world (Genesis 1:26-27).  But when we ignore the sanctity of human life and usurp his authority, people often die.

C. S. Lewis understood the temptations of our power over the natural order, including human reproduction. In The Abolition of Man, he famously said:

What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.

Enough said!

Mark Hatfield at the Wednesday Night Service

I see that former-Senator Mark Hatfield has died, and one image repeatedly comes to mind—the one of his walking quietly into a Wednesday night service in downtown Chicago, unnoticed by most everyone.

But let me back up.

I first met Senator Hatfield when I was working under a National Endowment for the Humanities grant while a graduate student at Vanderbilt in the 1970s. We were taking profs from a dozen Nashville colleges into the community (to churches, civic clubs, libraries, etc.) to talk about ethics, and my boss, Vanderbilt philosophy prof John Lachs, had invited some fascinating guests to town for lectures. I got to chauffeur them around to the radio and TV stations for interviews. (It was quite a list, including Boston University president John Silber and Amherst College historian Henry Steele Commager.)

Senator Hatfield was one of these distinguished visitors, and I was especially pleased to meet him, an unashamed, articulate evangelical in the halls of power.  I didn’t agree with his pacifist orientation or his particular opposition to the Vietnam War, but good people differed over that. What I did admire was his willingness to testify freely and winsomely to his faith in Christ, and this while based in Oregon, far outside the Bible Belt. I think he was wrong to vote against military appropriations but right to vote for Clarence Thomas’s confirmation. It was always interesting to see where he would land on the issues, and, perhaps, most surprising was his prominent appearance on the platform at President Reagan’s inauguration, where he served as the Senate’s chairman for the ceremony.

I can’t remember what he said on that Nashville visit, but I do recall his humble, gracious spirit. A senator should expect a better ride than I could offer him, but I arrived in a big old Chevy pickup, our project’s vehicle for hauling displays, coffee urns, literature racks, projectors, etc. around town. After stowing his luggage under the tarp, I half expected him to roll his eyes or sit in pained silence over this “good ole boy” treatment, but he put me right at ease with his smile and easy conversation.

Then, about five years later, when a prof at Wheaton, I was invited to bring some Wednesday night talks at Fourth Presbyterian up by Water Tower Place in Chicago. Not long into my message, I saw Senator Hatfield slip into the meeting – and not get up and leave when he saw how lame the evening’s fare was.

Afterwards, I went down to say hello and see if he remembered our time in Nashville – and he did. I asked what brought him to Fourth Pres that night, and it was just that he wanted to go to church on Wednesday night. He was in town for something or other and found himself in a hotel nearby. He saw the church lights on and decided to join in whatever was going on there.

The writer of Hebrews urges his readers, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (10:25), and it’s clear that Senator Hatfield had internalized that message. But he didn’t just not neglect fellowship; he sought it out when neglecting to do so would have gone unnoticed. And his “ministry of presence” that night meant a lot to this old pickup driver from Tennessee.

Abstaining from… Common Sense

Grant proposals are due next week for a federal program that, at first glance, seems to support traditional marriage. But a closer look reveals that the program actually includes a blatant slap at biblical sexual morality.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced $75 million to be awarded to worthy applicants under the “Community-Centered Healthy Marriage and Relationship Grant” program. The funds were made available through a bill signed by President Obama in 2010. Here is a paragraph from the official Funding Opportunity Announcement:

Grants awarded under this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) will fund demonstration grants to support programs that offer a broad array of services designed to promote healthy marriage. Applicants are strongly encouraged to provide comprehensive services in addressing family needs, including both services designed to improve marriage and relationship skills as well as job and career advancement activities to promote economic stability and self-sufficiency as part of an overall strategy to promote healthy marriage.

The announcement goes on to explain that one of eight activities authorized to receive grant money is “education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship skills, and budgeting.”

It sounds great… until you reach the section on “Funding Restrictions,” where you read that “applicants must include a written statement that specifically includes… A commitment not to use funds for unauthorized activities, including, but not limited to, an Abstinence Education program.” In other words, programs that teach high schoolers abstain from sex outside marriage are disqualified from receiving grant money.

Such a restriction suggests that the state believes either that teaching abstinence is detrimental to marriage or that it is illegal for the government to sponsor such teaching. Either way, the logic is deeply flawed. Wouldn’t character qualities taught in abstinence education—like self-control and respect for others—help teenagers succeed in future marriages? Not only does the restriction fly in the face of biblical teaching, but it also defies a growing body of research that links teen sexual activity to future divorce. One study, for instance, found that females who have sex in their teens nearly double their risk of divorce later in life compared to their peers who wait for sex (see Anthony Paik, “Adolescent Sexuality and Risk of Marital Dissolution,” Journal of Marriage and Family 73 (2011): 472-485).

So why would government officials object to teaching in a healthy marriage promotion program that sex should be limited to marriage? As the prophet Jeremiah taught, the answer lies in the condition of their hearts: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This instance of “calling good evil” (Isaiah 5:20) evidences a sad cultural decay that only the transforming power of the gospel can remedy.

From the Overflow of the Heart … the Motorist Drives?

In the 1950 Walt Disney cartoon Motor Mania, Goofy stars as Mr. Walker, a model citizen who treats everyone with respect. But once in his car, he becomes Mr. Wheeler, “a power-obsessed ‘uncontrollable monster’ who races other cars at stop lights and views the road as his own personal property.” Then, as soon as he steps out on the pavement, he once again becomes mild-mannered Mr. Walker.

In his 2008 book Traffic, author Tom Vanderbilt argues that too many drivers undergo similar transformations, descending through coarse driving into “road rage,” which is more a moral problem than a psychological disorder. Indeed, Vanderbilt suggests an alternative expression, “traffic tantrums,” which captures the raw childishness of aggressive driving.

Of course, traffic problems are almost as old as wheeled conveyance. It grew so bad in Rome that Caesar declared a daytime ban on carts and chariots “except to transport construction materials for the temples of the gods or for the great public works or to take away demolition materials.” And with each advance in transportation over the centuries, new opportunities for rudeness emerged.

For instance, the automobile offered new anonymity and insularity. “Unlike the bar in Cheers, traffic is a place where no one knows your name.” From within the climate-controlled armor of a car, a motorist cuts off another driver because he will likely never see that driver again, or he speeds through a neighborhood where he does not live. Eye contact, normally a strong feature of social cooperation, becomes untenable at speeds over 20 mph and is often blocked by sunglasses or tinted windows. When it does occur, it is usually more intrusive or menacing than collegial.

Today secular experts are beginning to realize what Scripture suggested all along – in every area of life, including driving, the heart determines one’s behavior. Insurance companies realize that irresponsibility in other areas of life transfers to the road – “A man drives as he lives.” Thus, auto insurance premiums are tied to such factors as credit scores and grades in school.

Bad driving also reflects on the character of nations, as New York, host city to the United Nations, has discovered. Between 1997 and 2002, diplomats who got the most tickets tended to represent countries deemed corrupt by Transparency International. In contrast, the countries whose diplomats received no tickets included some of those judged to be least corrupt—Sweden, Norway, Japan, and Denmark.

And then there is India: Rohit Baluja, founder of the nation’s Institute of Road Traffic Education, says that there “are nearly 110 million traffic violations per day in Delhi.” He recalls that when he returned from a trip to Europe, “it felt as if everybody here [was] stealing your right-of-way, and that nobody [understood] there [was] something called a right-of-way”; it was “anarchy on the roads.” Of course, Delhi has special problems, not the least of which are the cows reclining in the middle of streets, teeming with “forty-eight modes of transport,” including “zigzagging green-and-yellow auto-rickshaws, speeding cabs, weaving bicyclists, [and] slow-moving oxen-drawn carts.” But, at base, there is a spiritual problem. As Baluja explains, they have become so undisciplined in their driving that they do not even notice it any more.

Vanderbilt warns of viewing traffic as a non-human abstraction rather than a group of people. The Christian must go even further, for driving behavior reflects one’s attitude toward God. Instead of cursing roadway inconveniences, believers should show love to their fellow drivers, putting down their cell phones, going easy on their horns, and making way for reasonable merges. Furthermore, God commands obedience to the civil authorities who have established traffic laws. In sum, unholy driving not only imperils life and limb; it can kill the believer’s witness and hinder his walk with the Lord.

The Tyranny of Fraudulent Manners

On December 1, 1955, a tired black seamstress named Rosa Parks defied what was regarded as a polite custom when she refused to surrender her seat to a white man. Under the “Jim Crow” system of racial discrimination, her Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver had the legal right to move her farther back in the bus to make room for this man, but Rosa refused, defying both authority and regional standards of decorum. She was arrested, but she went into custody knowing that social conventions and the laws they generated were accountable to higher principles rooted in God’s justice. And so began the successful, 381-day, Montgomery Bus Boycott, which launched the American Civil Rights Movement.

Those racist standards had been in place for half a century. When federal troops withdrew from the Reconstructed South in 1877 following the Civil War, the South experienced a degree of racial harmony as liberals, conservatives, and populists fended off the most extreme forms of racism in legal codes. But as political alliances began to deteriorate, office seekers turned to the rhetoric of white supremacy to garner votes from a Caucasian electorate. Blacks were relegated to the social ladder’s lowest rung, and laws requiring racial separation in education, public transportation, recreation facilities, hospitals, orphanages, prisons, and asylums kept them there. Even funeral homes, morgues, and cemeteries were plagued by racial bigotry.

With these laws came a set of unholy social norms, canons of “decency” and “good behavior.” Those who ignored them were deemed “uppity” and worse. Nevertheless, Rosa Parks and many others knew that some standards of conventional civility were morally pernicious, so they pressed until laws and customs changed. In Greensboro and Nashville, for instance, blacks defied rules allowing only whites at lunch counters. Black high-school students in Little Rock pressed for admission to white schools where they were not wanted, and black Freedom Riders entered “whites only” waiting rooms in bus terminals across the Deep South. Their defiance paid off when federal legislation banned discrimination in employment practices and public accommodations in addition to protecting voting rights for all Americans.

When segregationists asked why civil rights activists could not wait for customs and laws to change slowly, Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr. responded, “[W]hen your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs.’; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro… then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” He added bluntly, “I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.”

Developmental psychologists such as Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg have observed that children learn their morals, their sense of right and wrong, sequentially. In the beginning, they are concerned largely with avoiding punishment and getting rewards. In time, they shift their focus to the importance of orderliness, peace, and a favorable reputation – being counted “good” and “nice.” All of these have their place, but if one gets stuck at this level, he or she will automatically condemn anyone who creates a fuss or introduces irritants into society – or into the church, for that matter. Prophetic voices and “divisive” behavior are despised. But as people continue to grow in moral understanding, they realize that certain rules of etiquette and propriety can cover for evil and that they must be confronted for the sake of genuine decency.

Today, people of conscience who watch news footage from Rosa Parks’s day are shocked by the violence inflicted on those who sought simple, racial justice – the crack of billy clubs and the blast of fire hoses. But none should miss the quieter brutality of the “genteel” manners enabling the persecutors and ostracizing righteous “troublemakers.” Yes, it took courage for civil rights demonstrators to face down snarling, lunging police dogs, but they were also heroic for becoming social outcasts in a culture whose racial manners were tools of oppression.

-The BibleMesh Team

The Gospel Coalition Panel: How to Teach Children and Youth the Gospel Story

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At The Gospel Coalition national conference in Chicago, IL, BibleMesh conducted three panel discussions.  Above is the final of the three, entitled “How to Teach Children and Youth the Gospel Story,” which was held at 12:30pm on Thursday, April 14 in Chicago. Greg Thornbury of BibleMesh led the discussion, which featured panelists Russell Moore, David Helm, and Kimberly Thornbury.

The discussion ranged from particular obstacles that pop up in teaching our children the gospel, how to teach parents to understand the Bible in order to teach their children, and helpful resources. Below are some of the resources mentioned: