Bioethics & the Healing of Our Bodies
I am at the 25th Anniversary Conference of the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, at Trinity International University, Deerfield, Illinois. Executive Director of the center, Paige Comstock Cunningham, writes a regular column for Salvo called Biohazards. She introduced our friend and past board member David Dockery, President of Trinity, to give the opening welcome and invocation last night.
Paige also informed us of the death yesterday of a Fellow Emeritus of the Center, H. Tristam Engelhardt, Jr. I was shocked; I had not seen him in some time. He was key in Touchstone's one and only sponsored conference on bioethics: "Health Care in a Secular Age: The Conscience of Doctors and Nurses at Risk." This was a three-way conversation, sponsored by Houston Baptist University, John Paul II Forum, University of St. Thomas, Orthodox Clergy Association of Southeast Texas, and Touchstone, April 29-30, 2011.
Engelhardt was also editor of Christian Bioethics,
a non-ecumenical, interdenominational journal, exploring the content-full commitments of the Christian faiths with respect to the meaning of human life, sexuality, suffering, illness, and death within the context of medicine and health care. Christian Bioethics seeks not to gloss over the differences between the Christian faiths, but rather to underscore the content-full moral commitments that separate and give substance. It is interdenominational in involving editors and inviting contributions from different perspectives.
The journal will seek to be fresh, novel, critical, and controversial by taking the content of Christianity seriously, while frankly assessing how different Christian faiths and different policies authentically realize that content with respect to bioethical issues.
Engelhardt, a convert to the Orthodox faith, was often "fresh, novel, critical and controversial," not to mention provocative, in the service of what he believed to be the key to Christian bioethics: Christology and the Christian experience of salvation in Christ, especially as put forth in the ancient Church. (At least that is my take.) He was a friendly and combative Texan, likable and outspoken, humorous and serious—a character not interested in being a character but in advancing in his field of medicine the one Truth that enlightens all human endeavors: Jesus Christ.
His style of ecumenism may explain why, with some surprise and appreciation, we witnessed Engelhardt at a conference at Notre Dame, where we hosted a Touchstone table, aggressively herding people over to our table, telling them "You've got to read Touchstone!" To express Touchstone's "interdenominational" character another way, it's "non-ecumenical" also—in the sense that Touchstone, as one of our editors once said, is "for Christians who hate ecumenism." Such ecumenism puts unity above truth.
And Christ is that truth. The world has received a luminous revelation in Jesus of Nazareth that cannot be ignored without consequences. His words have gone out into all the earth. He who obeys them builds on rock. He who does not to obey doesn't get to just walk away: he, too, is building whether he knows it or not—but on sand. We build every day, on rock, or sand.
Bioethics without Christ is sand-based. Look at where we've gone: from conscientious concerns about artificially extending the life of someone dying to now giving permission to kill someone who doesn't feel like living. Not to mention carving up a young body because of confusion about "gender." Or genetic engineering and human cloning.
Bioethics is essentially about treatment of the human body, which is made to be a temple of the Spirit. Christ—who healed the blind, the deaf, the lame-came to raise the body up at the last day. His will be the final Word in bioethics, a Word that was the Christian hope of the late Dr. Engelhardt. Memory eternal!
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.