September/October, 1998 Volume XIII Number 2

Fly in the ointment

by Paul deParrie

I was not fortunate enough to go with Cathy Ramey to attend the conference on "new reproductive technologies" put on by the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. By all accounts (see story), it was a great event and the participants received a strongly biblical ethical framework upon which to base their decisions on these crucial issues.
But Cathy told me there was a fly - a fly in the ointment.
She supplied me with the tape of the presentation by Tom Elkins, M.D., a graduate of Baylor University, a Southern Baptist institution, during a time when the Southern Baptists were leading the charge up Roe v. Wade hill and Baylor held ethics conferences concluding that no sane person could be anything but "pro-choice."
Elkins is nothing if not pragmatic. Even though he said he was "uncomfortable" with the conclusions drawn at the Baylor "ethics" conference, he dutifully agreed with those conclusions in his written report so that he would not ruin his grades. Perhaps this was harbinger of his continuing and current ability to slip past moral issues. During the presentation, he repeated like a mantra that we live in a "real" world, not an "absurd" world - as though those were the only options.
(Don't get me wrong. I don't believe Elkins was an evil person - or even a non-Christian. He is emblematic, I think, of all too many Christians who tend to float with the current in this world rather than resist it.)
Elkins was not in favor of abortion on demand, but he spent his time chiding those who would give "ultimate protection" to an embryo - an example of an "absurd" world. Such a position "doesn't allow for care for women" he said after a long and incomprehensible journey into comparing the relative safety and conditions of West African women in rural areas with American city women. Somehow this comparison was meant to show why we in the "real world" should allow in vitro fertilization of American women, otherwise barren, even if it meant losing a few embryos here and there.
He claimed that "excessive" concern over the life of each and every embryo would result in having to prohibit everything from hysterectomies to IUDs (Heavens!) to allowing women to go jogging.
A lot of what Elkins said was jumbled. He probably should have taken the advise he joked about at the opening segment of his rambling dissertation - namely, prepare ahead for such a speech.
I thought the somewhat meandering talk was a true reflection of the inner workings of his mind. As such, I recommend his "preparation" be in the form of 1) repentance, and 2) a firm resolve to honor the absolutes of Scripture over his "reality."
In the arena of Scripture, Elkins posited a bizarre rendering (in every sense of the word) of the Exodus 22 passage about the two men struggling causing a premature birth of a woman's baby. He claimed that the fact that a mere fine was levied against the responsible party meant that God had a different standard of value and judgment for the unborn. The "eye for eye" justice was reserved for any injury to the woman, not the baby. It was a twist of the verses I have heard posited by cranky, pro-abort atheists on the Internet - but nowhere else.
Harold O.J. Brown, a world-class theologian, challenged Elkins' interpretation saying that he knew of no credible theologian - and he named a few - who had given that verse a similar spin. Brown pointed out the fact it was the potential injury to or death of the unborn that is referred to.
Elkins, perhaps unaware of Brown and the fact that he probably personally knows most of the major living experts in the field, blithely went on to say that "almost all" of the Hebrew scholars - naming none - he had spoken with agreed with his formulation.
Brown also cornered Elkins on his claim that both embryos and fetuses were the "process of life" whereas birth was life. The assertion was bald, but Elkins denied it when faced with having to explain it.
In the end, it was difficult to make sense of Elkins and his plea for the earth-bound "reality" test for moral decisions in light of the overwhelming majority of the Scripture-based ethics being touted by the rest of the speakers.
Was the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity just testing the participants? Were they just trying to provide contrast for the biblical world view? Were they trying to be "fair and balanced" in the presentation? Was it a mistake?
Cathy never figured it out - and neither can I, but it does illustrate to me that there is still plenty of pro-abortion sentiment in the American Church. There are plenty of pastors who are more than willing to counsel their customers - er, congregations - to live in a "real" world.

Fly in the ointment
The value of kids and kittens
Abortion mill beyond offensive
Both China and the US have defined the unborn as property