Now, Christians’ feelings toward the president range from euphoria to despair. Some love him; others fear him. Our responses often are expressed as reflections of our varying sets of convictions regarding the role of government. Some seek an activist body politic and others subscribe to laissez-faire governance. Some hope for curbs on social behavior and others spurn regulation.
Of course, none of us holds such convictions with consistency. We can wax eloquent on the need for government to stay out of the way of business and then plea for the government to forbid same-sex marriage. We can urge national leaders to legalize all forms of abortion and then, in the name of saving lives, demand withdrawal of troops from all theaters of war.
Such principled inconsistencies do not de-legitimize our convictions. They do expose their complexity.
Nevertheless, one statement by President Obama should have unleashed a united outcry of protest from all people of faith. It came in his speech announcing plans for the government to fund research on embryonic stem cell lines derived from fertility clinics’ discarded embryos.
Yes, here we find yet another topic on which Christians of good will disagree. Sure, most oppose the cloning of humans, as does the president. But some believe that all embryo-based stem cell research is inherently wrong, an act of murder; others believe that embryos, especially ones slated for the trash, can be used for research that holds out the hope of producing cures from life-threatening conditions.
Nevertheless, all of us should have protested one reckless comment made in that speech without apology. In presenting his rationale he said that this decision “is about letting scientists … do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” (italics added)
Now he did acknowledge a valid role for faith, but in the end he exalted science to a level that hearkens back to a time when the scientific method was being exalted as the great source of liberation and healing. It hasn’t worked out that way. Scientist have not shown a non-ideological impartiality. Their efforts have not always served the greater good.
Well, I’ll bite on the “I” word. I am an ideologue. Then again, you are, too, are you not? People of faith — we Christians in particular — believe in a reality greater than that which is visible, tangible, and measurable. We believe that all human actions should be guided by commitments to principles that exercise an authority that overrides utility.
Just as the president has declared the need for government to regulate Wall Street — knowing that business executives are too easily corrupted by the pursuit and accumulation of wealth — we Christians confess that all humans are easily corrupted, and that even our very best actions are tainted by self-interest. What’s more, we believe that the best hedge against corruption is to make ethical decisions in community, where voices of varying viewpoints can share the insights their fields of study and their varying ideologies offer. And we believe that we ought to be accountable to that larger community.
Why do so many private and public hospitals have medical ethics advisory boards that include medical professionals and faith leaders, ethicists, schoolteachers, and accountants? Those medical professionals recognize they live in a community that appropriately scrutinizes their work, and that they need those other voices to expose the blind spots their specialized activities often create. Some even admit that they also are ideologues, driven by their own intellectual curiosity, their convictions about or against religious faith, and their own personal self-interest.
In the name of civility, bipartisanship, and doing government in a different way, let us all encourage this new administration to keep all the voices at the table, including those not embarrassed to be called ideologues.