BIOETHICS: Conference leaders urge wisdom, justice, mercy




DALLAS?At a college committed to the Bible that informs a Christian worldview, Criswell College President Jerry Johnson told participants at an April 29-30 bioethics conference that it makes sense for the school to host such a meeting.

“We believed this kind of a conference would help us understand how the Christian worldview would inform medical life-and-death decisions,” he said, noting the joint sponsorship of several groups drawn from bioethical, religious, medical and academic disciplines.

Criswell College trustee board chairman Royce Laycock, emeritus professor of surgery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, set the tone of the meeting, praying for “better understanding of the issues we face each day” as participants seek to “line them up with a Christian worldview.” That approach, he said, would lead to decisions that please God and “avoid expediency of political correctness and disregard for sanctity of God-given human life.”

Conference leader Robert Orr of The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity explained that morally consistent people make different decisions on similar cases based on their own prioritization of principles and particular worldview. “We as believers have principles for guidance and sometimes that makes things easier and sometimes more difficult,” he said, trying to balance man’s free will with the need to be obedient to God.

“Are we to do justice, love mercy and walk arrogantly as a free moral agent?” he asked. “My Bible doesn’t say that. ‘Walk humbly with thy God’ makes all the difference in the world. Yes, we are free agents, but we are to walk humbly in the presence of our God,” he added.

“We’ve been so schooled in Western thought that that we think making ethical decisions is all about me,” stated Ben Mitchell, professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity International University. He told conference participants that such reasoning assumes “I make ethical decisions in my autonomous bubble and I don’t need influence from anyone else.”

Instead of only seeing the church as a worship community, Mitchell reminded the gathering of Christians that the church is a moral community. “Together, the community discerns the will of God.”

Mitchell spoke of the need to establish appropriate boundaries in making end-of-life decisions while recognizing the difficulty of such questions. “If we have the same God, the same Bible and the same moral values, we ought to be able to reach some kind of consensus,” he stated.

“The Holy Spirit is going to help us come to some consensus on these issues over time,” Mitchell said. “We need to have the conversation as the community of faith.”

He encouraged Christians to start bioethics centers, participate in journal clubs and attend local book discussions at stores like Barnes & Noble when reading about culture and ethics. “Participate as a citizen of two kingdoms.”

Mitchell agreed with Orr’s belief that knowledge is not the problem so much as a lack of wisdom. “We don’t know what to do with the knowledge we have sometimes.”

He described wisdom as knowledge that is harnessed to moral responsibility. “I want to develop a morally responsible knowledge base and not just go after knowledge for the blind sake of knowing something I hadn’t known before.”

He conceded, “That’s a hard sell for scientists. Scientists have committed themselves to increasing the knowledge and understanding of the world that is their laboratory and I appreciate that.”

When the map of the human genome structure was unveiled, Mitchell said it helped him know how fully and wonderfully human beings are made. “That doesn’t threaten God. But I do worry about the consequences of knowledge without wisdom.”

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