Friday, February 13, 2009

An Observation on our Culture and Compassion

I find it more than ironic all the hate that is directed at the mother of octuplets, Nadya Suleman. It really isn't ironic as in funny but sadly points to a deep seated hypocrisy and idolatry of selfishness.

The AP network news comments on the death threats that she has received.

Police Lt. John Romero said officers were meeting with Suleman's publicist Mike Furtney about the flood of angry phone calls and e-mail messages against Suleman, her children and Furtney.

"We are aware of the media accounts of the threats, and that they are being sent to the West Los Angeles detectives for appropriate action," Romero said.

Other voices have expressed extreme anger (AP story):

On the Internet, bloggers rained insults on Suleman, calling her an "idiot," criticizing her decision to have more children when she couldn't afford the ones she had, and suggesting she be sterilized.

"It's my opinion that a woman's right to reproduce should be limited to a number which the parents can pay for," Charles Murray wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Daily News. "Why should my wife and I, as taxpayers, pay child support for 14 Suleman kids?"

She was also berated on talk radio, where listeners accused her of manipulating the system and being an irresponsible mother.

"From the outside you can tell that this woman was playing the system," host Bryan Suits said on the "Kennedy and Suits" show on KFI-AM. "You're damn right the state should step in and seize the kids and adopt them out."

Before I get to my main point let me offer a few provisos. First I do not think that a single person should be getting IVF no matter how much they want a child but I will not defend that thesis here. Second, I do not think having six kids and going back for IVF is, to put it nicely, wise--especially when said person is a single mother. Third, politically, I am in favor of smaller government rather than having too much that is state controlled.

Now that I've laid my cards on the table let me make a few points. The hate directed at Nadya Suleman is both unwarranted and morally reprehensible. I will articulate this statement following 'two kingdoms' approach--following such theological traditions as say Augustine and Abraham Kuyper. I wish to think through the immoral responses to Ms. Suleman along such lines: 'the kingdom of man' and 'the kingdom of God'. Under the spheres of both 'secular' and 'spiritual' (to use things anachronistically) such responses to Ms. Suleman illustrated above are wrong.

"The Kingdom of Man"
What really needs to be evaluated is people's own reactions. First, just because you disagree with someone's actions does not mean that the state has the automatic right to interject itself. Part of living in a free country means that people can do stupid things. As long as it is not morally wrong or impinging on the rights of others the government should stay out of it. And so should all the angry vitriolic internet bloggers. Raise concerns, express your opinion, even mount Biblical and religious reasons as to why she should not have had children (as I would tend to stick to)--but at the end of the day she is responsible for her actions not you. You cannot police ever aspect of life through government action. Goverment is about checks and balances both internally (the three branches in America) and externally (government is established by the consent of the people). That means government cannot infringe upon certain rights. The role of government is not to supress people you disagree with--the response some want it to take--but to enforce law and illuminate injustice. The response of some amounts to nothing more than imposing injustices upon Ms. Suleman and her rights.

Second, taking care of the poor, orphans and widows is an important role of civil government I wonder how many people who express this hatred for Ms. Suleman favor larger welfare and social programs? How many want to see more healthy care, job sercurity and poverty relief from the government. To be blunt: how many voted for Barack Obama or other democrats? Now I tend to favor smaller government, and government should not create people who are dependent. However, we have a responsibility to take care of orphans, widows and the poor.

Now I am not in favor of people mooching off the government. I am also do not want to enable people to make bad decisions because they know they can get a free ride. Actions should have consequences, those who sow should be those who reap what they sow. However, if we are going to be a nation that takes care of the poor and seeks to get them thriving if we are going to be a nation that takes care of people to give them healthy opportunities for growth and establishment of themselves in independance--then we have to be a nation that takes care of the Nadya Sulemans no matter how much we think their actions were inappropriate. What does this say about our moral calibre and fiber when their is such hate?

I dare say there is more than a bit of hypocrisy going on here--even if one votes for more Republican principles in the political spectrum.
It should be appaling at how quickly lofty American ideals and 'rights' go out the window when we encounter such a situation as Nadya Suleman. Yes, Nadya should not get a free ride, all expense paid trip through life. Yes she should have to work for her future, but regardless of who she is, the American ideal is that she is equally afforded that right and privelege.

"The Kingdom of God"
Third, there is a Biblical mandate to take care of the orphans and widows. This, according to James, is true religion. This Biblical mandate applies to both the church and (at least in the Old Testament) to civil authorities. Taking care of orphans and widows extends into the unique circumstances of our day such as single mothers. There is a responsibility to the poor and downtrodden.

Tim Keller has a recent Themelios article entitled "The Gospel and the Poor". It should serve as more than a fair bit of warning to how a Christian should consider this event and the thousands of others like it across the country. He writes:
God gave Israel many laws of social responsibility that were to be carried out corporately. The covenant community was obligated to give to the poor member until his need was gone (Deut 15:8–10). Tithes went to the poor (Deut 14:28–29). The poor were not to be given simply a "handout," but tools, grain (Deut 15:12–15), and land (Lev 25) so that they could become productive and self-sufficient. Later, the prophets condemned Israel's insensitivity to the poor as covenant-breaking. They taught that materialism and ignoring the poor are sins as repugnant as idolatry and adultery (Amos 2:6–7). Mercy to the poor is an evidence of true heart-commitment to God (Isa l:10–17; 58:6–7; Amos 4:1–6; 5:21–24). The great accumulation of wealth, "adding of house to house and field to field till no space is left" (Isa 5:8–9), even though it is by legal means, may be sinful if the rich are proud and callous toward the poor (Isa 3:16–26; Amos 6:4–7). The seventy-year exile itself was a punishment for the unobserved Sabbath and jubilee years (2 Chron 36:20–21). In these years the well-to-do were to cancel debts, but the wealthy refused to do this.
He continues:
The church reflects the social righteousness of the old covenant community, but with the greater vigor and power of the new age. Christians too are called are to open their hand to the needy as far as there is need (1 John 3:16–17; cf. Deut 15:7–8). Within the church, wealth is to be shared very generously between rich and poor (2 Cor 8:13–15; cf. Lev 25). Following the prophets, the apostles teach that true faith will inevitably show itself through deeds of mercy (Jas 2:1–23). Materialism is still a grievous sin (Jas 5:1–6; 1 Tim 6:17–19).
What about when the need arises from personal failure? Arguably, Nadya Suleman's own decisions and actions have placed here in this mess. Is the Christian free then to let her flail and flounder in the stew of her own making? In his sermon "Christian Charity" Jonathan Edwards handles this objection:
If they come to want by a vicious idleness and prodigality; yet we are not thereby excused from all obligation to relieve them, unless they continue in those vices. If they continue not in those vices, the rules of the gospel direct us to forgive them; and if their fault be forgiven, then it will not remain to be a bar in teh way of our charitably relieving them. If we do otherwise, we shall act in a manner very contrary to the rule of loving one another as Christ hath loved us. Now Christ hath loved us, pitied us, and greatly laid out himself to relieve us from that want and misery which we brought on ourselves by our own folly and wickedness. (II.172)
Edwards continues to say that even if they continue in folly sometimes for the sake of the family we must extend ourselves. Having such a multitude of children may have been a folly of Nadya Suleman, (although once the eggs were fertilized it may have been equally wrong to let them be terminated), regardless of her actions there is a responsiblity to support and care for the poor and the needy.

It is our contention that such hate directed against Nadya Suleman is reprehensible and immoral. It is wrong from a civil standpoint as members of a society comprissed of people of all religions and all walks of life ('the city of man'). Whatismore, it is totally unbecoming of those portions of society which claim to be Christians ('the city of God'). There is a responsibility to Ms. Suleman whether we like it or not.

This responsibility should weigh first upon the church and the Christian individual transformed by the gospel. Such care is a mark of the redeemed.
The principle: a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the needy is the inevitable outcome of true faith. By deeds of service, God can judge true love of himself from lip-service (cf. Isa 1:10–17). Matt 25, in which Jesus identifies himself with the poor ("as you did it to the least of them, you did it to me") can be compared to Prov 14:31 and 19:17, in which we are told that to be gracious to the poor is to lend to God himself and to trample on the poor is to trample on God himself. This means that God on judgment day can tell what a person's heart attitude is to him by what the person's heart attitude is to the poor. If there is a hardness, indifference, or superiority, it betrays the self-righteousness of a heart that has not truly embraced the truth that he or she is a lost sinner saved only by free yet costly grace. (Tim Keller)
I am sure there is a fair share of "Christians" who are willing to cast Ms. Suleman to the throws of life and face them at her own expense to her own peril and the peril of those she is responsible for. It will not do to either (a) cast off help from her or (b) remove the responsibility from her (e.g. taking the kids).

The responsiblity of civil society is to assist and aid the poor, orphan and widow. The cause of poverty and need may be multi-faceted (personal inaction/action, systemic structures of oppression and injustice, circumstances, etc.) however the responsibility for action is not lessened or removed. Regardless of the cause such poverty is to be reduced and eliviated in a manner that causes people to take personal responsibility and move into independance. To truly respect Ms. Suleman is to offer her a hand up and not merely a handout.

All those who pour hate and contempt on Ms. Suleman and wish to deny her help and assistance not only break God's Law ('the kingdom of God') but the violate principles that are essential to a civil and function society ('the kingdom of man').

A Pastoral Postscript
As a church, we need to take seriously the Biblical mandates for the care of the poor, orphans and widows. In the twenty-first century, we need to consider what elements of our society this mandates extend to. The fruit of the gospel in the believer is to care for the poor and as a pastor I need to be deeple concerned about whether the church cultivates and bears such fruit. Furthermore, part of my call to preach the Word of God is to proclaim the gospel and expose, rebuke and root out the idolatry rampant in our hearts and the heart of our culture. We are building the culture of heaven, being transformed by the renewing of our minds. The events and response to Ms. Suleman indicate one such area of profound selfishness and idolatry.

Tim Keller's "The Gospel and the Poor". Themelios 33-3.
Jonathan Edwards, ""Christian Charity or The Duty of Charity of the Poor, Explained and Enforced" The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth) 2:163-73.

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