Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pills: To Push or Withhold?

"Pope Benedict XVI said Monday that pharmacists have a right to use conscientious objection to avoid dispensing emergency contraception or euthanasia drugs _ and told them they should also inform patients of the ethical implications of using such drugs."


This is a controversy which has been going on for several years. On the one hand, the Vatican and conservative group would like to make it illegal for pharmacists to distribute drugs that they consider to be morally objectionable. On the other hand, many liberal groups are pushing to make it illegal for pharmacists not to fill prescriptions for such drugs.

Having recently read Luther's Eight Sermons at Wittenberg, I find that Luther's handling of the reform of worship there to shed interesting light on the struggle to control pharmacists. In 1521 and 1522, a group of reformers under the leadership of Andreas Karlstadt decided to impose Luther's ideas by force. At the time Luther was in hiding and did not play a part in this, but when he found out about it, he went to Wittenberg and said the following to the reformers:

"In both [things which are necessary, and things which are a matter of choice], love must deal with our neighbor in the same manner as God has dealt with us; it must walk the straight road, straying neither to the left nor to the right. In the things which are “musts” and are matters of necessity, such as believing in Christ, love nevertheless never uses force or undue constraint. Thus the mass [as practiced at this time] is an evil thing, and God is displeased with it, because it is performed as if it were a sacrifice and work of merit. Therefore it must be abolished. Here there can be no question or doubt, any more than you should ask whether you should worship God. Here we are entirely agreed: the private masses must be abolished. As I have said in my writings, I wish they would be abolished everywhere and only the ordinary evangelical mass be retained. Yet Christian love should not employ harshness here nor force the matter. However, it should be preached and taught with tongue and pen that to hold mass in such a manner [as it is now] is sinful, and yet no one should be dragged away from it by the hair; for it should be left to God, and his Word should be allowed to work alone, without our work or interference. Why? Because it is not in my power or hand to fashion the hearts of men as the potter molds the clay and fashion them at my pleasure [Ecclus. 33:13]. I can get no farther than their ears; their hearts I cannot reach. And since I cannot pour faith into their hearts, I cannot, nor should I, force any one to have faith. That is God’s work alone, who causes faith to live in the heart."

For Luther, the pastoral issue of including and loving all people (even those who hold views diametrically opposed to yours) trumps all. Reforms must be made, but never should a person be forced to act in a certain way.

I see a couple of implications as to how these ideas apply to the discussion of pharmacists filling prescriptions, regardless of whether or not to do so is immoral. First, those pharmacists who feel it is wrong to distribute certain drugs should not be required to do so. Second, those people who have been prescribed medication and wish to taken, should in no way be prevented from receiving their medication.

How would this work? Earlier this month in Illinois, a compromised was settled in which pharmacists can step aside and have someone else in their pharmacy fill an objectionable prescription, so long as there is always a way for a patient to receive medication.

It looks like both the Pope and the State of Illinois are taking a tip from Luther.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Muslims, Christians, and the Messiah

This past week, 138 Muslim leaders from around the world sent an open letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Rev. Mark S. Hanson, 24 other specific Christian leaders, and "Leaders of Christian Churches, everywhere…." The letter is entitled A Common Word between Us and You and calls for peace, justice and understanding between Christians and Muslims. The letter points to the primacy of the commandments to love God and your neighbor in both religions as the basis for such a goal:
Whilst Islam and Christianity are obviously different religions—and whilst
there is no minimising some of their formal differences—it is clear that
the Two Greatest Commandments are an area of common ground and a link
between the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament (pp. 13).

After citations and commentary on the the Qur’an [AalImran 3:64; Al-Mumtahinah, 60:8; Aal-‘Imran, 3:113-115; Al-Nisa’, 4:171] and Gospels [Matthew 12:30;Mark 9:40; Luke 9:50], the letter states:

We therefore invite Christians to consider Muslims not against and thus with
them, in accordance with Jesus Christ’s words here (pp.15).

While I applaud these Muslim leaders and give thanks to God for their invitation of peace and fellowship, what I found most interesting about the letter was its discussion of Jesus as the Messiah:

Muslims recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, not in the same way Christians
do (but Christians themselves anyway have never all agreed with each other
on Jesus Christ’s nature), but in the following way: …. the Messiah Jesus son of
Mary is a Messenger of God and His Word which he cast unto Mary and a Spirit
from Him.... (Al-Nisa’, 4:171) (pp. 15).

It is certainly true that Christians have always disagreed on the nature of Jesus. If Muslims agree that Jesus is Christ ("Messiah" is "Christ" in Greek), and that he is the Word of God, are they (from a Lutheran perspective) any less Christian than Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Marcus Borg, or any other non-Trinitarian Christian? Should I even be asking how "Christian" someone or some religion is?

A Common Word between Us and You can be found at:


Bishop Hanson's reply can be found at:


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Communion for Whom?

Who should communion be open to?

Should communion be restricted to:
1) Baptized and Confirmed Christians
2) Baptized Christians who have taken a first communion class
3) Baptized Christians
4) Anyone who believes the words "Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins."

In Living Tradition class led by Dr. Michael Aune on October 9, 2007, the issue of communion came up as it was briefly discussed on the last page of a reading written by Dr. Jane Strohl. This past Sunday, many members of this class had visited St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco where communion is open to everyone, baptized or unbaptized.

There appears to be some variation in communion practices throughout the ELCA. In some congregations, I have heard that crackers are mixed with grape juice and given to babies. Their point of view seems to be that communion is like baptism in that it is given to us by the grace of God, not out of any virtue or attribute of our own such as having attained a certain age. I would venture to say that in most, if not all Lutheran churches, a minimum of baptism is required for communion. Most seem to have a class beforehand, and some require members to be confirmed before celebrating communion.

As presented in class, some of these traditions go back to early Christian history where baptism and communion served as rites of passage for a group undergoing enormous persecutions.
They also likely go back to the heritage Lutherans share with the Roman Catholic Church.

When I first encountered the idea of babies receiving communion several years ago, I was shocked, but upon more thought have decided it is not so strange, though Luther might have objected in his day.

Luther writes on this sacrament in The Small Catechism that, "It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given unto us Christians to eat and to drink, as it was instituted by Christ himself." The Last Supper is described by Luther:

"Our Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you: this do, in the remembrance of me.

"After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of you: this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you, for the remission of sins: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me."
Responding to the question about what makes us worthy to receive it, Luther responds:
Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a good external discipline; but he is truly worthy and well prepared, who believes these words: "Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins." But he who does not believe these words, or who doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words: "FOR YOU," require truly believing hearts.
Do babies believe that the body and blood are given for them? I tend to think that babies believe that almost anything is given for them.

A traditional reason given for priests not being allowed to marry is that in the early orthodox traditions, the original disciples were all male. The disciples were all likely baptized, but it's unclear whether any females were at the last supper. Splitting with this tradition of male-only disciples, communion has been opened up to both males and females. We now believe in a priesthood of all believers.

What belief is required for this communion and how do we know that we truly believe? In Luke 18:15-17, Jesus says that our belief is to be like a child's. I think there's no more trusting belief in the goodness of Christ's gift of communion than that of a child's. Furthermore, perhaps baptism is not required either. Christ said to a confessing criminal hanging with him on the cross, "I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me." (Luke 23:40-43)

From my point of view, we do better to err on the side of generosity with Christ's love than to be stingy with Christ's love and forgiveness. I am reminded of the Parable of the Gold Coins in Luke 19:11-27, particularly verses 20-22. When asked what had been done with the coin given to him, the last servant says, "Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it hidden in a handkerchief. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take what is not yours and reap what you did not plant." In the parable, the master replies, "You bad servant! I will use your own words to condemn you! You know that I am a hard man, taking what is not mine and reaping what I have not planted."

Is it better for us to protect Jesus so that he is not profaned, or is it better for us to be overly generous with the love he has given us to share? Who should we open our communion to?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Evangelizing Lutherans?

Today in Dr. Aune's class, "Living Tradition," we talked about what Luther's The Bondage of the Will means for evangelizing. The concern raised was, "If we are to trust solely in God's mercy for salvation--a salvation in which human action plays no part--what then is the role of evangelism?"

This becomes a particularly difficult issue as many Lutherans perceive their Church to be shrinking, and wish to change that trend. However, as my classmate Jeremiah pointed out, if the Lutheran Church in and of itself is not necessary for salvation, should we care that it is getting smaller?

The ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod has responded to these questions in a bold manner. This September the synod launched a pilot program for a massive ELCA advertising campaign, placing ads on billboards, in newspapers, and on the sides of buses. The ads are simple. Some are statistical figures about how Lutherans provide humanitarian assistance. Some are simply the tools of service in the shape of the cross.
Through these ads, the ELCA seems to be saying that the Lutheran Church matters because it provides humanitarian aid.

More information about the ad campaign can be found at:

Whether or not you agree with these ads, or with advertising in general, I thought of a couple more ads that might send different messages.