By John Pierce
This week our younger daughter had an ethics class assignment. The topic of discussion was euthanasia.
The teacher instructed the students to interview two persons on the subject: a medical professional and someone with theological training. Our daughter liked what first appeared to be a shortcut provided by having both resources within her home.
A second part of the assignment related to how religious groups hold positions on euthanasia or mercy killing. Students were to tell how their own faith traditions or denominational groups come down on this moral question — or, really, growing series of questions.
It was another one of those times when it’s harder to be a Baptist — or at least to explain Baptists who are still rooted in their history.
I expounded (in more words than needed or wanted for the assignment) that Christians in general hold to an ethic that life belongs to God alone — and that there is strong biblical evidence of suffering being an important aspect of spirituality.
Then I added the simple word that every note-taking student dreads: “BUT…”
My continuation unfolded something like this: Advancements in medical technology that can extend life have complicated the issue. Therefore, good, thoughtful Christian people have disagreements regarding assisted suicide.
(I enumerated more of those complications than would be helpful for a one-evening, one high school class assignment.)
Then I added my own concern (though not asked for after the interview) about such serious and personal decisions being made apart from the actual, individual experiences that many families must face.
Kindly, she redirected me to the matter at hand: the position held by her own faith tradition/denomination.
That would be an easier answer were we not Baptists — at least our kind of Baptists, I explained.
For example, I noted, the Roman Catholic Church has a clear position: it strongly opposes physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.
I thought of turning to an in-depth 2013 PewResearch Project on religious groups’ views on end-of-life issues. But it was time to pull the plug on my lecture — or at least sharpen its focus to the point of helping get a simple assignment completed.
My daughter helped by asking (again): “But what about Baptists?”
Before I could answer she added that “We’re not Southern Baptists” — and that she wanted to know specially about the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship with which our church affiliates.
I gave as concise of an answer as possible considering the subject. I began by noting that Baptists (traditionally, though not in practice among all Baptist groups) are not hierarchal. That is, church law/doctrine is not decided from above (by popes, bishops, councils, presidents or anyone else) and then imposed on congregations or individuals.
It’s a unique position for Baptists, and a few others, that brings both benefits and liabilities. But we traditional Baptists like it.
I suggested she make that point in her own words in her paper — and then note how Southern Baptists (even though our congregation is not part of that denominational group) have addressed the subject.
I pointed her to two resolutions (1992 and 1996) in which messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention expressed their opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
SBC resolutions, I explained, record the majority opinion of the persons voting at that time and place — but are not imposed (at least in theory) on congregations or individual. It’s that Baptist autonomy thing.
Because fundamentalist leaders of the SBC over the past few decades often try to impose their doctrinal and ethical positions on all others, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship chose a different approach.
CBF “does not issue ‘official’ positions on … social issues — out of respect for congregational and individual autonomy…”
It’s not that Fellowship Baptists don’t think such issues are important, I said. It’s that they think the rightful place for reaching final conclusions about such issues is within congregations or individuals.
“SO,” I said in finally reaching the answer to her question, “our kind of Baptists will discuss and debate the subject but leave the final decisions up to individual churches and Christians.” THE END
I’m sure she wishes the teacher had simply asked her to interview a medical professional on the subject.