Saturday, July 23, 2005

Hair-Splitting Bigotry or Loving Discernment?

Some of you may have heard of a recent controversy involving a Bethany Christian Services office in Mississippi, regarding their decision to not allow Roman Catholics to adopt children through their services. They reversed that decision recently, and Jim Ketchum of the Port Huron Times-Herald has an article on the subject that reflects the common undiscerning ecumenical spirit of our age.

In the article, Ketchum misleadingly writes:

Part of Bethany's Statement of Faith said adoption applicants must believe in the Christian Church and Scripture. OK so far.

It also said Jesus "takes away the sins of the world," and he is "our only hope to forgiveness of sin and of reconciliation with God and with one another."

And, since the agency takes money for a license plate that says "Choose Life," you'd assume they'd take an anti-abortion stance.

Hmmm ... now let's see. Roman Catholicism is anti-abortion, it believes in Jesus as the savior of the world and the reconciler with God and one another.

So what's the problem? I get the feeling the problem is that Roman Catholics are, well, Roman Catholics and the folks who run Bethany, for reasons known only to themselves, seemed not to like Catholics.

But if you go to Bethany Christian Services' statement of faith, you see something significantly different from what Jim Ketchum describes. The statement reads:

"I believe that in all matters of faith and life, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the final authority. The Scriptures point us with full reliability to Jesus, God’s Son. The Scriptures tell us that we receive forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus Christ, and that God provides salvation by grace alone for those who repent and believe."

However anybody may want to interpret these words in a less natural sense, it can't reasonably be denied that the more natural reading and the original intent is to convey sola scriptura, Biblical inerrancy, and sola fide. And while some Catholics do believe in Biblical inerrancy, Roman Catholicism rejects sola scriptura and sola fide, and its position on Biblical inerrancy has been unclear in recent times. Many of the Roman Catholic Church's leading scholars reject the concept, and recent statements on the subject put out by the hierarchy are ambiguous.

When a child is adopted into a Roman Catholic family, what difference will there be? The system of authority will be much different. Their view of Mary will be unhistorical and highly unhealthy. The child probably will be taught and encouraged to pray to the dead every day of his life. He'll be taught to venerate images in a Roman Catholic context. He'll be taught justification through works, the doctrines associated with mass, Purgatory, etc. The child will be surrounded by many liberal and moderate clergymen who either explicitly deny or unreasonably reinterpret traditional doctrines, and there will be little or no discipline of these leaders. This child will be part of a denomination that has major self-disciplining problems, allows a wide variety of corruption among its leaders and scholars, and frequently participates in undiscerning ecumenical events like the 1986 gathering in Assisi. Will these things have a significant effect on this child's life? Yes, a highly significant effect.

An Associated Press story carried by the Boston Globe reports:

"Sandy and Robert Steadman, who learned of Bethany's decision in a July 8 letter, said their priest told them that the faith statement did not conflict with Catholic teaching."

The only way that priest could say such a thing was by interpreting either Bethany's statement of faith or Roman Catholic teaching in an unnatural sense.

Whatever changes Bethany Christian Services decided to make and whatever legal issues were involved, the fact remains that the original decision by their Mississippi office made doctrinal, moral, and practical sense. But the response of Jim Ketchum probably reflects how most people would respond, and it tells us something about what has to be given up in order to achieve these ecumenical objectives. The more honest, careful, discerning, and loving approach is to acknowledge that the differences between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are of major significance.

WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi quotes one of the Catholic women who was turned away by Bethany:

"'We shouldn't split hairs over something so special and sweet as adopting a baby,' said Sandy Stedman. Sandy and her husband were turned away by the Jackson chapter, because, as Catholics, they conflict with the group's statement of faith."

Issues similar to what led to Paul's anathema in Galatians, issues that have a major influence on how people live their lives and for which martyrs shed their blood, are now considered matters of "splitting hairs".

A Clarion-Ledger editorial on this controversy reads:

"Such blatant religious bigotry, especially from an organization that has 'Christian' in its name, is shocking in these days and times....Now, apparently, the state is collecting money to benefit a private adoption agency that discriminates in its adoption policies based on religion....There are many children who need homes. For dedicated, capable couples to be denied that opportunity because of their faith — a faith that teaches the very principles of love and family commitment — is outrageous."

Presumably, that would include faiths such as Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism.