As advertised in my last blog, the CBHD conference that concluded this past Saturday gave participants much to consider and much encouragement in being about the task of “doing” Christian bioethics. The combination of a highly relevant topic, excellent speakers, and an engaged audience made for a great conference, perhaps the best that I’ve attended over the past 4 years. For those CBHD staff and leadership reading this blog: Thank You for all of your hard work!
As I mentioned before, the topic of the conference was “The Scandal of Bioethics,” by which it was meant the diminished theological voice in public bioethical discourse. Several speakers affirmed the reality of a secularized public square that is increasingly hostile to a theologically grounded bioethics, yet, there was no room for defeatism. Rather, conference participants were encouraged to persevere and there was much positive discussion on the shape and content of a Christian bioethics.
As I reflected on “The Scandal” in preparation for my paper presentation, it occurred to me that there is really a scandal within “The Scandal.” Specifically, it is the facilitation of secular bioethics by those claiming the label of “Christian theologian.” In my paper, I focused on the introduction of the personhood distinction, a staple of secularist bioethics, by then-Episcopalian-theologian Joseph Fletcher in his 1954 book Morals and Medicine. I argued that what Fletcher really was doing was not Christian theology, but speculative philosophy. And so too many Christian ethicists today as they build their ethics around human personhood, social justice, or a presumed common morality, to name but a few cherished starting points.
It is one thing for an unbelieving culture to deny Christians entry to the public square, but quite another for Christians to excuse themselves, be it through separatism or accommodation. Christians must be willing to remain engaged, but with a bioethic that faithfully represents the moral truth that God has graciously revealed in Scripture. Such is our duty and privilege in the larger context of the wonderful Christian mission