Wednesday, June 3, 2009

An Evangelical Christian Ethic for Life (ECEL), I: Introduction

The problem discussed in the prior post is that evangelical Christianity has yet to develop a comprehensive ethical system which embodies all aspects of preservation and honor of life. In recent years, evangelicals have been very outspoken on some issues of biological ethics (for example, abortion and stem cell research) while failing to get adequately involved in addressing other areas (for example, capital punishment and justification for war).

My purpose in this series is to develop a coherent, comprehensive ethical system which is truly “pro-life”: that is, it distinguishes exactly what stances a Christian should have when dealing with ethical dilemmas in which a person’s life is at stake.

In beginning this investigation, I will use the following foundational assumptions:

• Open-mindedness: no position will be assumed already proved; all must start on equal footing.

• Scriptural foundation: no argument may contradict a command of Scripture, and all arguments should include any relevant Scriptural input as the highest authority

• Ancient authority: a high level of respect and authority will be given to authors from the first several centuries of Christian history, both for their interpretation of Scripture and interpretation of ethics

The Sacredness of Human Life
As our baseline, we must first establish the sacredness of life. Throughout Scripture, it becomes quickly clear that God places an exceptionally high value on the life of humankind. The Bible says that man is made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), and is the heir of God (Rom 8:17). It teaches that mankind is greater than all the animals (Gen 1:26), and that God felt mankind was valuable enough to send His own Son to die for them (John 3:16). He promises long and happy lives for those who follow His commandments (Deut 4:40, 5:16, 22:7; Exo 20:12), and eternal life to those who will be adopted into His family (John 1:12).

The importance of human life can also be inferred from the harshness with which God judges murderers: far more harshly than any other sinner. God curses and exiles Cain (Gen 4:11-12), and condemns David to a lifetime of battle and death (2 Sam 12:10). He requires exile for accidental murders (Ex 21:13, Num 35:11-32), execution of animals which cause the death of humans (Ex 21:28-32), and execution of men who commit murder (Ex 21:12) or conspire to do so (Ex 21:14).

Now of course, it is easy to simply say, “You shall not murder” (Ex 19:13). On its surface, it seems easy to understand how to value human life as God does. But there are many “gray” areas—ethical dilemmas with which we must deal.

Is capital punishment okay? Is it okay to kill in self-defense or in the military? Is abortion considered murder, or just a medical procedure? How do we apply the standard when a person wants to commit suicide or euthanasia?

Such discussions are not black-and-white, and this is why we need a consistent and comprehensive ethic for life: to understand how to navigate these morally-ambiguous situations, based upon ethics, logic, and the Scripture.

The Agenda
We will address each major issue in alphabetical order:

1. Introduction (this post)
2. Abortion
3. Capital Punishment
4. Cloning
5. Euthanasia
6. Stem Cell Research
7. War and Peace
8. Conclusion

I hope that it can be informative and interesting.