What people with Down syndrome are worth

It appears women will soon have a better test to determine if their unborn babies have Down syndrome.

This story about the new test speaks of the $6 billion market that the test will create as women who can “afford to be choosy” pay for the testing.

The story does not mention the likely outcome of those tests.

Jean Vanier, Stanley Hauerwas, and Amos Yong have taught me to see such stories in a different light than I might have at one time in my life. The popularity of such tests reveal to us that we live in a society that declares people with Down syndrome of no worth. We would, if we could, prevent them from being born.

How does the church witness to God’s love for all his creations in the face of a secular discourse that decrees it is more merciful to eliminate people rather than care for them?

Do not ignore sexual abuse in church

My father is a psychologist. He told me once that any church that has children in it and is not looking for signs of sexual abuse is asking from trouble.

I thought of this after I learned of Bob Jones University firing an investigator it had brought in to investigate sex abuse on its campus.

The story led me to this blog by Boz Tchividjian, a former child abuse prosecutor who writes about sexual abuse in the church and investigates it. Here is the message he delivers at the end of one of his recent blog posts:

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from this ruling has nothing to do with who is or who is not an “actual supervisor”. It has everything to do with the urgent need for the Church (Yes, I mean both Catholic and Protestant) to expend itself in placing the value and safety of children above all else, including institutional reputation.

If we fail to embrace this fundamental Gospel lesson, not only will there be more prosecutions (as there should be), but the beautiful lives of those made in the image of God will continue to be devastated and discarded. Jesus demands that we learn this lesson and begin living it out.

The United Methodist Church has formal policies and programs in place that are meant to protect children. Reading Tchividjian’s blog reminds me that these are not merely bureaucratic rules, but the living gospel.

Delmar’s baptism and Phil Robertson’s repentance

One of my favorite scenes in O Brother, Where Art Thou? is Delmar’s baptism:

Delmar comes up out of the water and declares his sins washed away to the point that neither God nor man has any claim on him any longer.

I thought of the scene while reading one of the less newsworthy parts of the GQ interview with Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.

During Phil’s darkest days, in the early 1970s, he had to flee the state of Arkansas after he badly beat up a bar owner and the guy’s wife. Kay Robertson persuaded the bar owner not to press charges in exchange for most of the Robertsons’ life savings. (“A hefty price,” he notes in his memoir.) I ask Phil if he ever repented for that, as he wants America to repent—if he ever tracked down the bar owner and his wife to apologize for the assault. He shakes his head.

“I didn’t dredge anything back up. I just put it behind me.”

As far as Phil is concerned, he was literally born again. Old Phil—the guy with the booze and the pills—died a long time ago, and New Phil sees no need to apologize for him: “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job.

Robertson may not follow in the church of Delmar, but it sounds quite similar to me.

And that got me thinking. Is this correct? Doesn’t repentance require an effort to make right the damage we have caused others?

For some folks that could be an impossible task, of course. We cause so many hurts and wounds that we cannot even count them all, much less repair each injury. But there is still something here that sounds wrong to me. Even if we hold to a strong reading of Paul’s words that we die to the old self and rise as a new self, it seems to me that repentance toward God does not mean we have truly repented of the harm we have caused other humans. It feels to me, rather, that using our baptism as a way to absolve ourselves of wrongs we have done to other people is trading on God’s grace in ways God did not intend.

This is a complicated, pastoral question that probably does not lend itself to absolute rules. But I wonder how others understand it. To what extent does repentance require seeking to undo or heal the damage we have done to other people?

It is official: Feel free to ignore the Social Principles

For a few years now I’ve been trying to get a handle on the status of the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. The introduction of the Principles says they are not law, but the Judicial Council has ruled in the past that an Annual Conference could not pass a resolution that voided them.

In a ruling Saturday, though, the Judicial Council — with a strong dissent — agreed with a United Methodist bishop that it was not a violation of the Book of Discipline to treat a section of the Social Principles as if they do not exist. The opinion of the council makes that valid point that United Methodists at all levels of the church do, in fact, act as if parts of the Social Principles do not exist.

There are many facets of the Social Principles that individual United Methodists and their various organizations choose to ignore, and there is no unanimity among United Methodists about the merits of the denomination’s Social Principles on health care, gun control, and other matters. But to ignore those statements in the Social Principles, while doing so might theologically imperil or weaken the church, is not an illegal action under Church law.

As I understand it, the Book of Discipline is being reviewed by a committee charged with making recommendations for revisions that will make the book more relevant to a global church. Perhaps one of those recommendations should be to move the Social Principles into the Book of Resolutions. The Social Principles appear to be neither doctrine nor law of the UMC. Maybe it is time to move them out of our book of doctrine and law.

All bets are off?

United Methodist Reporter Executive Editor filed his reflections on the next steps for the UMC after the wedding Saturday in Alabama. One quote will not sum up his piece, but here was a paragraph that grabbed me:

At this point the future of these and other issues lies in the hands of the Western College of Bishops — a college that has supported Talbert’s call to “biblical obedience.” If they carry through on the statement adopted at the 2012 Western Jurisdictional Conference and ignore the Discipline’s proscriptions on same-sex marriages when a complaint is made against Talbert then all bets are off for the future of a United Methodist Church.

For some reason this movie clip comes to mind as I read this. Not the war imagery, but the sense of being called to radical choice and unavoidable division.

I wonder how we change the tune to something more like this: