The pun in “@crosspurposes” reflects two foundational Christian truths. Jesus defined His ministry and Christian discipleship by the bloody cross which was used to kill Him (Matthew 16:21-25). Therefore, the way of the cross, which is a way of shame, suffering service, and death, is totally at odds with the usual way of the world, a way that seeks pleasure and glory.
Yesterday, two news items reflected these kinds of cross purposes in stark lines. My morning began with the sad news that Dr. Margaret Karner had died. Maggie Karner had given service through her life to LCMS Life Ministries, working in world relief and human care and advocating for pro-life policies. Maggie was suffering from brain cancer. So, a year ago, when the American entertainment-news media began to glorify the decision of Brittany Maynard, also suffering from brain cancer, to kill herself, Maggie wrote a beautiful, pleading testimonial for the grace and dignity of a life lived even amidst suffering.
Yesterday evening, I saw something much different, a video which nastily misrepresents Christian beliefs and claims for the sanctity of life. The video doesn’t come across as bitterly malicious, though. It’s highly edited, of course. It’s polished and the speaker appears to take the high road of reason. I thought, “What would Maggie say?”
I thought about what Maggie would say because of the grace which she brought to these discussions. An easy, natural tendency when someone is knowingly lying about you is to get angry. But, see, it’s precisely what’s at stake in the arguments Maggie made that affected the way Maggie offered those arguments. One of the central arguments in American culture today is about whether a human life, when in a stage without full faculties or when burdened with great pain or disability, is dignified. If you believe in the dignity of the unborn, the aged, the suffering, the demented, then you believe even opponents in debates should be treated with dignity. Maggie Karner believed in that dignity and lived her life accordingly.
Bill Nye advocates against that dignity, and it’s not surprising to find his style of argumentation follows suit. Bill Nye, once known as “the science guy,” has recently moved from entertainment/education about science to working for progressive political action. His new shtick relies heavily on his older work, trying to give the sheen of science to questions outside Nye’s expertise.
In Nye’s video on abortion, for example, there is no scientific evidence given. Rather, Nye uses a type of argument scientists often look down upon when used by religious figures, the argument from authority. Nye tries to use his authority as “science guy” to say that opponents of abortion do not know the science about embryology. But not only does Nye misrepresent his opponents’ position, he also misrepresents established embryology.
Nye claims that religions teach that every time a man and a woman have sex, a baby results. I am aware of no religion that teaches this. Certainly Christians do not teach this. What Nye is practicing is called a straw man argument. This is when you misrepresent your opponent’s teaching to make it look easier to reject.
The one scientific-sounding argument Nye makes refers to the fact that many eggs are fertilized without successfully implanting in the uterine wall. Sometimes mothers are never even aware that this happened. Nye declares that the failure to implant means they were never human. This is yet another logical fallacy, circular reasoning which begs the question.
The issue he raises, however, is effective in raising doubts for some about the humanity of fertilized eggs. Ironically, it’s usually bothersome for people because of theological reasons. If each fertilized egg is considered a human being of equal dignity to all other human beings, then why do so many of these children fail to thrive? In other words, why does God allow so many of these to die without living the life we know?
This is not something the Scriptures give a definite answer to. However, the Scriptures do describe God’s commitment to write the story of each human being, even from their time in the womb (Psalm 139). We also know God is better able than us to put the human life on earth into the context of eternal human life with God. A child “lost” to us after only days of life is not lost to God, not kept from future bliss. The tearful service parents give to the children they do not get to hold in their arms but do bring into life is valued and cherished by the Father of all.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,” Jesus taught (Matthew 18:5), taking the Golden Rule and making it for us into effective worship. When a mother receives an initially unwanted or soon-to-be-grieved child, she serves as Mary once did. When in a debate, we give dignity to opponents and treat their arguments with respect, this, too, is worship.
Bill Nye has been an admirable entertainer for many years. It’s a shame his recent work undercuts his scientific educator’s legacy.
It’s no wonder, on the other hand, that Maggie Karner's life ended with the same grace, dignity, and faith that she advocated for throughout her life. It’s the same teachings of Jesus which inspire Christian charity, inspire Christian advocacy, inspire Christian living. Christians fail all the time to live up to Christ’s teachings; no doubt our sister Maggie repented for her share in her time. But we can still celebrate, give thanks, and share the life we saw in Maggie, the life given through the cross.