Lost in the Fog of ‘Rights’

Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources


To the frustration of the Clearly Caring editor I did not write this article on deadline – partially because I am particularly busy at the moment. Despite all the things on my mind, I do find the Terri Schiavo case is probably most prevalent.

Publication deadlines dictate that these articles be written weeks before this issue arrives in your hands. Our writings for Clearly Caring are generally not overly time-sensitive. The Terri Schiavo story, though, was time-sensitive in nature. Almost daily her plight changed before the courts, in the Florida legislature, in the halls of Congress, in the White House, and most importantly, in the cathedral of public opinion.

The story of feeding or not feeding Terri was news – BIG news. Media outlets covered the story day and night. Interviews with parents, siblings, spouses, friends, doctors, nurses, therapists, ethicists, and neighbors hit every television channel that covers the news. There were call-in surveys, on-line surveys, and door-to-door surveys to measure the public’s take on this drama. Sermons were delivered, Bible classes presented, denominational articles were written, and clergy debated this saga in conferences.

No matter what the forum the issue pivots on the single word, “right.” Did Terri’s estranged husband have the “right” to make a decision for her? Did her parents have the “right” to make her decisions? Did the legislature have the “right” to intervene? Did the Governor or President have the “right” to challenge the courts? Perhaps most fundamentally, did Terri have the “right” to decide for herself that enough is enough and her life should come to an end?

As with most controversies, this one has had its share of passion and tears. Anger and sorrow on both sides were accented by dramatic accusations and emotional demonstrations. The media fed the fire. Pundits covered parallel stories of others in a condition similar to Terri’s in which life and death decisions were made and outcomes were either predictable or surprising.

The result is a fog – a fog that has been around for a long time. I must admit, however, that I have observed its thickening within the Christian community with increasing agitation. I sat up late last night to find out what the federal judge might rule in Schiavo’s case. I arose early this morning to discover he ruled that the parents had no “right” to intervene and, as the media put it, Terri’s “right to die” was to be protected.

In my middle-age years I have become accustomed to the secular world touting rights as if they are the holy grail of human existence. This is not surprising in our country which has venerated more highly than God’s Word the phrasing of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But enough is enough. It is time to blow away the fog and state the truth, no matter how politically incorrect or unpopular it may be.

Christians really have little business arguing “rights.” What gets lost in the rhetoric for Christians is what it means to be a Christian. We are reminded in the Bible that we are not our own but were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19,20). When weighing our own worthiness the Bible reminds us that we are all like the “living dead” because of sin in our lives (Ephesians 2:1). Most revealing, however, is the reality of our ignorance about such maters. We mistake blessings of the world with the notion that all is well (Luke 12:16-21; Revelation 3:17). We erroneously think an acceptance by the majority or simply winning an argument means we have the right answers (Proverbs 16:25).

What is lost in the fog of debate over rights is the opinion of God. However harsh this may sound, the “rightness” of what happened with Terri Schiavo was not to be determined in the courts, legislature, White House, arena of public opinion, or even in the thoughts and actions of her husband or parents. The standard of “rightness” is found in God’s Word.

Those who do not like this reality accuse Christians of “bibliotry” – the worship of a book. In typical bully-fashion they try to portray such a position as stupid, naive, primitive, out-of-date, and not in touch with today’s values. They are right in one out of five of those judgments. Following the Bible is increasingly an activity out of touch with today’s values. That, however, does not make the Bible wrong.

Jesus made it clear the value of God’s Word by calling it the “truth” and the “truth that sets you free” (John 8:31-32). It is not merely the words of men but the inspired words of God (2 Timothy 3:16). What is wrong in God’s eyes is wrong before men, even if men call it right. What is right in God’s eyes is right before men, even if men call it wrong.

Society is called pluralistic in that it melds many cultures and religions. Though difficult, it doesn’t change right and wrong. We don’t compromise on rightness just because others don’t like it.

Those who object to this line of thought do not debate the merits of a solid and unchangeable standard for right and wrong. Rather, they seek to bully another with scare rhetoric. “You ‘force’ your views on others” – or so they say. Pay no attention to the fact that their generic religion of humanism (the religion of “self”) is being forced on all of us.

Some Christians, however, allow themselves to be sidetracked by issues like Terri Schiavo’s condition. They argue that technology is the enemy. “If we didn’t have all of this technology we wouldn’t be wrestling with these issues.” What a foolish argument! When are we going to get around to facing the reality that it isn’t the wires and tubes that are the enemy. We love those things when they help us. It is the sinfulness of man that brings upon himself all of his problems. Technology, like everything else, can be used as a blessing or a curse. Its rightness is in the attitude that recognizes first that God is the Author and Terminator of life (Deuteronomy 31:39; Psalm 31:15).

Yes, I believe Terri at some point in her life perhaps said, “I wouldn’t want to live like that.” If she didn’t say it, I imagine she thought it. I think it! I don’t think anyone would like to be in a debilitated condition in which life is sustained by a feeding tube. But not liking it is far different from taking action to terminate life.

I get letters and e-mails from people who argue ferociously for the right to pull the plug. Most of those are written in ignorance of all the known medical facts. But especially, they reflect an ignorance of the spiritual dimensions of the debate. This is not a debate about fighting to maintain dead bodies. This is a debate about terminating disabled bodies. More than that, this is a debate about assuming for ourselves the domain of God over life and death.

Christians need to think seriously about what it means to call themselves followers of Christ. If you take that calling seriously you need to measure the heart of your values. Is it really rooted in the illusion of rights in a world that does not last? Are your values subject to the changing whims of a sinful generation that has chosen to kill its unborn, terminate its elderly and disabled, remove God from the public arena, and portray God and His people as some perverted aberration of the human race in the media? Are values rooted in the unchanging Word of God (1 Peter 1:24-25)

I propose that Christians do three things:

  • 1) Denounce the godless obsession with “rights.” Accept life, happiness, and pleasure as blessings in life to be nurtured and cared for but not demanded or assumed as ours to control.
  • 2) Fight the hellbent disposition of our world to oppose God and lean toward the idol of “self.”
  • 3) Keep ourselves in check, through the use of God’s Word, that we do not fall victim to the values of this sinful world.

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