Churches of Christ, Integrity, and Identity

1 Comment

David Lipscomb (1831-1917) co-founded the Nash...

Image via Wikipedia

Although I am no longer a member of Churches of Christ, I have a deep love for my childhood church. The reason I left is that I could not agree with the Church of Christ’s central tenant of Restoration–the idea that they had “restored” the first century church. I did the honest thing and left–first, for the Disciple of Christ, which were theologically too liberal, and for the last seventeen years I have been a member of the Anglican Catholic Church.

The Churches of Christ separated from the Christian Churches beginning in the late nineteenth century over the issues of mechanical instruments of music in worship and the missionary society. The Christian Church accepted both; the Churches of Christ opposed them. Churches of Christ and the Christian Churches were recognized as separate churches in the 1906 U. S. religious census. Even after that date, there was quite a bit of fluidity, even over names–there are Disciples churches and Christian Churches that still have congregations called “Churches of Christ” today. As late as the 1920s, there was sporadic cooperation between the two churches. There was a third split, between the Disciples and the group later known as Christian Churches and Churches of Christ–de facto this occurred with the 1927 meeting of the North American Christian Convention in Memphis, and de jure after the 1968 centralized reorganization of the Disciples. The chief source of that dispute was the theological liberalism of the Disciples. The Disciples long ago renounced Restorationism. Both the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ and the noninstrumental Churches of Christ accept Restorationism, but differ on its application.

Here’s the problem I have: in a number of Churches of Christ, ministers and some elders openly oppose Restorationism. In Churches of Christ institutions, this is even more common. Now personally I agree with them, but what is bothersome is their attempt to “reform” Churches of Christ in a way that destroys their identity while remaining members of the Church. If these leaders had integrity, they would leave Churches of Christ for some other church. I am Anglican Catholic; if I ever disagreed with one of that church’s fundamental teachings (such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper),  I would leave the ACC. That is the honest thing to do. I remember Tom Holland at David Lipscomb University saying that it is hypocritical for a teacher there to oppose what the founders of the university wished the identity of the school to be–and I agree. I know many well=meaning revisionists in the Churches of Christ would disagree. However, I find it hypocritical to remain in a church and try to subvert its principle doctrines. Better to guide individual members who agree to a different church body or leave oneself.

The same problem exists in Catholicism–Roman Catholics who deny the essential theological and moral teachings of the church should leave instead of trying to subvert it from within. Thus Roman Catholic politicians openly support abortion and homosexuality, and Roman Catholic scholars deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. This, too, is hypocritical. If you don’t agree, leave. Otherwise, shut up and stop sneaking around to destroy an institution’s identity.

Academics and Closed-Mindedness

Leave a comment

Acadèmia (iii)

Image by Jose Téllez via Flickr

There is a thin line between open-mindedness and giving up reason, but closed-mindedness is always a threat to reason. College and university education should be the ideal place where open-minded but rational professors help students to think. This implies that professors love truth above professional success, fame, and other temptations. There are many professors who do place truth above finite goods–thank God for their presence in the academy. From my experience, other professors are locked into their world views and refuse to think outside the box, placing acceptance by their colleagues above seeking the truth.

One area in which such narrowness is found is politics. The vast majority of humanities professors are liberal Democrats; some are Marxists. Although some of these professors are “true liberals,” allowing students to express contrary opinions, others are intolerant of difference. Those who oppose liberals position on entitlement programs, for example, are labeled as “racist” by these professors, who obviously have no idea what the term “racist” really means. The situation is worse concerning moral issues: opposition to abortion can get a student labeled as a “pro-life nutcase.” Opposing practicing homosexuality automatically gets a student labeled as a bigot, and the student may be punished. Some faculty members have been fired for even bringing up arguments opposing homosexuality, although one such case was overturned by a court and the professor was rehired. Professors who count themselves as “trendy” are really the most conformist people of all. They are more predictable than religious Fundamentalists, and emotionally they have the same mindset.

Speaking of religion, there is a bias among many academics against traditional religious beliefs. Academics may have no problem with a watered-down liberal Protestantism or liberal Roman Catholicism, but may detest traditional Christian beliefs and morality. And even though Muslims hold traditional moral values, the academic left is not as critical of them because they are non-Christians. Religion is considered to be a crutch, an opiate (to use Karl Marx’s term), an excuse for persecuting the poor,  a denial of reality, and an enemy to society in general. What religious expression there is is relegated to the private realm–woe be to the faculty member who mentions his Christianity in class, and the same often applies to students, especially to traditional Evangelicals and to traditional Roman Catholics.

Some professors are guilty of other kinds of prejudice. Psi phenomena, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis are well-documented to the point that parapsychologists mainly do process studies to show how psi works rather than proving that psi exists. Yet many professors dismiss a student or colleague who accepts the reality of psi as a “new-aged nut.” “I don’t know what happened to him, but somewhere along the line he went nuts.” Such conclusions are reached without an open and honest examination of the evidence for and against psi phenomena. The sciences have been the most closed-minded disciplines concerning psi. And although there was a period in the 1970s in which the humanities were more open to psi, today the situation has reverted to the same kinds of prejudice found in the sciences. Papers that accept the existence of psi  are usually only accepted by psi journals and at psi conferences, although recently there have been a few exceptions among psychology journals. Opinions contrary to the establishment are silenced by lack of publication, a death-knell to any instructor seeking tenure.

A third area in which there is closed-mindedness in academia is medical ethics. It is more and more difficult to find an article in a mainstream bioethics journal from a traditional moral perspective. One major exception is the UK-based Journal of Medical Ethics which has published articles from many different points of view, including morally conservative ones. Looking over issues of the Hastings Center Report, the premier bioethics journal in the United States, the articles in the 1070s reflected far more balance between traditionalists and nontraditionalists in ethics than the articles today. There was a greater role for theological ethicists, such as the late Paul Ramsey, to have their say. On the issue of health care allocation, The New England Journal of Medicine has served more as an apologetics journal for Mr. Obama’s health care program rather than a journal that presents a balanced point of view. From the point of view of the university professor, it is easier to get articles published in mainstream journals if one is in favor of abortion rights, embryonic stem cell research, physician assisted suicide, and even, as Jonathan Hardwig, in favor of a “duty to die,” including a duty to commit suicide if one’s illness is financially and emotionally harming one’s family. Would a pro-life professor have any chance to become department head at a major state university? I doubt it. Traditionalists are forced to take jobs at the few Roman Catholic institutions that affirm traditional morality or at an Evangelical Protestant school, and even the latter are moving to the left on moral issues. I am not opposed to a moral liberal, a religious liberal, and/or a political liberal being in academia. But there are other positions out there that need to be heard so that students have a more balanced perspective. Maybe one day the legacy of the 1960s closed-minded radicals who ruined much of academia may change–the sooner the better.

For Profit Medicine: An Oxymoron

2 Comments

Universal health care

Image via Wikipedia

As a traditional conservative I oppose for profit medicine. The classical liberal who calls himself a “conservative,” would probably label the previous sentence as an oxymoron. However, conservatives are not all of one stripe. The ethics of medicine must stem from the nature of medicine itself as an inherently moral enterprise. A patient, sick or injured, in need of help, comes to a health care practitioner. The practitioner, whether he be a physician, a D.O., a physician assistant, or a nurse practitioner, has the moral responsibility to use his skills and knowledge for the good of the patient. The profit motive should not enter into the patient-practitioner relationship–if it does, it becomes inherently corrupting.

For-profit hospitals are a monstrosity. When part of the responsibility of the physician is to the shareholders, business decisions often end up trumping medical decisions. This can lead to suboptimal patient care in order to bring more profit to the corporation, especially in a capitation system in which the practice keeps money left over that is not spent on patient care. . Even in “non profit hospitals,” business decisions affect medical care, and business people “run the show.” Hospital administrators are paid enormous salaries (500,000+ per annum in some cases) along with expensive benefits. I know of a case in which a CEO received a huge bonus even though the hospital had been in the red the previous year. Does this sound familiar? Remember the Wall Street bankers.

The American system of medicine, then, is run as a business rather than as a practice. It is no longer a true profession. Physicians are distrusted. Lawsuits are common and sometimes result in big judgments against a physician.

In reading UK newspaper articles about accidents or shootings, I have found (informally) that paramedics and physicians in the UK are more aggressive in starting trauma codes than their American counterparts. This is, of course, anecdotal–it would be interesting if a large-scale study could be done to compare the numbers in both systems. American physicians used to work up to two hours on a patient in a medical code (that did happen with my mother, who lived with no neurological sequelae). Now, three shocks interrupted by CPR, and often that’s it. Twenty minutes, perhaps thirty, and in rare cases, over an hour–but shorter periods are becoming more and more the norm. Doctors will say this is due to the low success rate–still, twenty minutes even in witnessed arrest in which the patient has no DNR is a short time to say, “He’s dead Jim,” given the utter finality of death. Money may play a bigger role in these decisions than medicine. The UK lacks the profit motive in medicine outside the private health facilities there, so the incentive is to keep trying in a code rather than stop in order to save money (I am indebted to my friend Megan for this insight).

Is it possible for a traditional conservative to endorse a non-for profit single payer system of health care for the United States? It has already happened: Paul Craig Roberts, whose conservative credentials are stronger than most self-styled “conservatives,” has endorsed that system. Affordability in the age of massive deficits is the problem, but if the system is run correctly more money might be saved in the long run due to decreasing health care costs–and if tort law is revised so as to protect physicians from frivolous suits, this could help even more. I am not quite ready to endorse such a system, but the more greed I encounter in the present privatized system the more I am tempted to endorse a nationalized system of health care.  It would at least take out the profit motive that is corrupting current medicine and taking it away from its proper ends.

One Year Later in a Journey of Grief

3 Comments

Natchez Trace Trail

Image via Wikipedia

Last May my best friend died after a six-year battle with breast cancer. Karen showed great courage in facing her disease and lived life to the fullest, remaining asymptomatic over most of the course of her disease. I visited her in Hospice a couple of weeks before she died, and tomorrow I return to the city where she lived to meet with some of her beloved friends to reminiscence. The deep sense of loss remains palpable, an ache in my heart, and it remains difficult to face the fact that she is gone, at least this side of eternity. I believe in the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection,” but emotionally that promise often seems too good to be true when facing the finality of a loved one’s death. I long for a “visitation” from her, as may loved ones of the dead have experienced, but then I feel guilty, remembering Jesus‘ words that “an evil and corrupt generation seeks after a sign.” I wonder if I received a visitation, such as a few days ago when I was at a stream near the Natchez Trace in Tennessee, and two butterflies kept landing on me–Karen loved butterflies (which are also a traditional symbol of the resurrection), and her boyfriend released some after her funeral. But then I doubt since butterflies like to drink the sweat off people. Rage at God taking her away all too soon fights it out with guilt at my own lack of faith, and fear that that lack will separate me from God–and from her. Soon my journey in grief will be a literal journey, and I pray that God will grant all of us who visit places of fond memory that we will rejoice in those memories while realizing the extent of loss, realizing that grief for a loved one only eases but never ultimately comes to an end. If God be so gracious that we sense her presence with us, thanks be to Him; if not, we should still thankful for her life and the promise that this life is not all there is.

I marvel at those individuals who believe in God but deny life after death. St. Paul said in I Corinthians 15 that “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” This is not egotistical; it is an acknowledgement of the value of others, a value that can only be truly sensed by love. I have hope in Christ. I have doubts. “Lord, I believe; pardon Thou my unbelief!” When the veil is parted and reality in its fullness is finally revealed, may those of us who knew and cherished Karen embrace her and speak with her once more. For those reading who mourn loved ones, I pray that you discover the hope beyond all hope, that “this body of death” will “rise in newness of life” in a world where love never dies, and neither do those we love.

The Possibility of Punishment after Death

3 Comments

Dante and Virgil in Hell

Image via Wikipedia

Joseph Mengele lives a comfortable life in Argentina, even though he tortured Jews in the most hideous ways in his medical “experiments.” He dies quickly in a swimming accident. Controversial jury decisions put people back on the streets who may be murdering psychopaths. A spiteful person full of hatred tells lies that ruin the reputation of a good person, who leaves town and dies a pauper. The spiteful person gets rich and is admired by others in his community. The good suffer, the evil prosper, and so often there is no justice. How can the scales of justice be tipped in favor of justice in a world that fails so much to be just?

The Christian doctrine of punishment after death offers one answer. This is not to deny that other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have a doctrine of suffering for sins after death in a bad reincarnated state based on their aggregated good or bad karma–but this is not the Christian doctrine of punishment. I also deny the gruesome literal pictures of hell pushed on people in conservative Protestant and in some Roman Catholic Churches and schools in the past. The notion of a person suffering in a literal fire for eternity does count against the goodness of God. But C. S. Lewis‘ notion that hell is people who choose against God and refuse to come to God because they desire to do their own will rather than God’s. God just lets them be and withdraws His presence. An evil person in hell could theoretically leave at any time, but some people are so desperately wicked that they will tell God to leave them alone rather than live under God’s terms in heaven. But such a life inevitably leads to misery and a personality that gets more fragmented over time. Eventually only shards of a person remain. Living apart from God is the worst punishment of all–and given a twisted enough will this can last forever. Thus, the Christian Church has affirmed the possibility of eternal punishment as well as the possibility that hell may be empty with only Purgatory existing. I hope the latter view is correct; but the former view makes more sense of human freedom and makes more sense of psychopathy and sociopathy. Some individuals are permanently twisted–and if they are such good manipulators, with the help of a manipulative lawyer, that they “beat the system” on earth, they will not be able to beat the justice of God. In the end their existence will be miserable–they will have no one else to manipulate or hurt and will live only with their immense egos eating away at their souls. Finally their egos will eat their identity, never wholly destroying it, but making a person as near to nothingness as possible. Perhaps there will be a kernel of goodness (beyond the metaphysical good of existing) that leads all these individuals to repent and turn away from the self to God. Perhaps John Hick is correct in his universalism. If a bad person is temporarily punished to the point of seeing the error of his ways and repenting, that is a good thing. We don’t know, and hope beyond hope that the worst people will repent while finding comfort that they will receive justice after this life is over, justice that they can only avoid by repentance, faith, and love so that they are open to the grace of God. I trust that God knows better than any of us what is in a person’s heart, and He will ensure that the injustices of this life are remedied in the Eschaton.