The Dark Side of Surrogacy

The Associated Press released a story yesterday highlighting the dark side of surrogacy. A Thai woman who served as a surrogate for an Australian couple is still caring for the 7-month-old boy to whom she gave birth after the biological parents did not take custody of him because he was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart condition.

For the uninitiated in the world of assisted reproductive technologies, surrogacy is the practice of using a third-party gestational carrier in order to have a baby. In simpler terms, a couple signs a contract with a woman to carry and give birth to their baby for a fee. At birth, the baby is handed over to the parents who initiated the contract. The details can vary on who the biological parents are and what (if any) role the surrogate could have in the life of the child. But the essence of the practice is that a woman gives birth to a child who is not hers biologically.

The surrogate mother, Pattaramon Chanbua, was promised approximately $9,300 to be a surrogate. During her seventh month of pregnancy, doctors and the surrogacy agency informed her that one of the twins she was carrying had Down syndrome. They suggested she have an abortion. Pattaramon refused to have an abortion and is now caring from the boy after the biological parents took his twin sister back to Australia.

What makes this situation more complicated is the fact that paying a surrogate is illegal in Australia, and it is also illegal to pay a surrogate living in another country in some states of Australia. By contrast, Thailand has few regulations regarding surrogacy and is a popular destination for those seeking an international surrogacy contract.

What should we think about this situation and surrogacy in general?

First, we need to recognize the callous nature of actions taken by the biological parents. They have apparently abandoned their child in another country due to medical hardships that he faces. They do not recognize the value of all life. Genesis 1:26–27 clearly states that we have been created in the image of God. Even though sin has brought disease and pain into the world, we are still image bearers, even those who face serious medical hardships.

Second, we need to recognize that technology is not ethically neutral. Just because someone can employ a surrogate to give birth to a child does not mean that it should happen. Surrogacy is often described as an industry because it represents a service to be bought and sold. There are moral implications that come with participating in this industry. For the Christian, the moral problems with surrogacy raise major red flags about the value of human life, using other humans as a means to an end, and potentially allowing another person to make life-and-death choices for your child with little or no input.

Third, we need to understand that surrogacy amounts to the commodification of people. Buying and selling the womb of a woman for the sake of having a child reduces both the surrogate and the child to a commodity. The surrogate’s womb has been purchased to provide a service. The child is the “product” of that service. Money is at the center of the surrogacy agreement. Certainly there are times when surrogates may provide their services free of charge, but it is still a commodity to be negotiated for. Little thought is usually given to the price the surrogate pays to give up a child immediately after giving birth. The child may not be her biological offspring, but she has devoted the last nine months of her life to caring for the child in her womb.

We need to think twice before promoting this reproductive technology. The costs are high for all involved, and the children are the ones who potentially suffer the most.

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Rod McGuirk, “Australia May Intervene in Surrogate Baby Case,” Associated Press, August 4, 2014.

On Choosing Books: Reading from the Other Side

stack_of_booksIt’s that time of year again when I have to submit book requests to our campus bookstore for the upcoming semester (technically, it is past time, but the bookstore is always gracious to those of us who miss the initial deadline). For many of my classes, I have developed a standard list of books that I revisit every couple of years to see if there are any better ones. However, each of the last few semesters, I have taught at least one class that is new to my teaching repertoire. This fall it will be Selected Issues in Life and Death—basically a class dealing with various cultural issues of life and death, such as abortion, euthanasia, and human genetic engineering.

When selecting books for this class, I have decided to do something a little different. I have chosen a significant text edited by someone with whom I ardently disagree on these issues. My goal is to have students interact with and engage the best thinkers on the other side of the debate.

I generally survey fellow ethics colleagues at other seminaries before choosing books for new classes just to see if I am missing a key text. While interacting with my PhD mentor on my selection of texts for this class, I mentioned the book I planned to use from the other side of the debate and told him the names of some of the contributors. His response was priceless. He said, “I really like the names you’ve listed for your purposes. [Author X] is scary. Thus a good read.”

For most of my academic career, I have heard Dr. Paige Patterson (president of my seminary) say that students need to know the arguments of the best thinkers who disagree with our positions. My approach to this in the past has been to bring in their works and read/present selections to the students in class. This is the first time I have made a concerted effort to ask my students to buy and read something so diametrically opposed to a Christian perspective on an ethical issue.

By the end of this class, my students will understand the arguments of those who want to promote abortion at any cost, euthanize the weak and poor, and produce designer babies. With appropriate guidance from their professor, I hope they will also be able to critique and combat those arguments.

Far too often Christians find themselves wrapped in their bubble of Christian books and Christian arguments hearing tales of what people on the outside believe. I want my students to read firsthand what people outside our Christian bubble think. That is the only way we can truly know how to engage the culture.

The task will not be easy, but it should be a fun ride. As one of my former professors used to say, “Strap on your helmets, boys, we’re going to war.”

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For those of you wanting to know, the book I chose is Bioethics: An Anthology edited by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer. Singer is famous for believing that humans have no right to life until at least 6–12 months in age (but possibly as late as 3 years). At the same time, he believes we could control the population by euthanizing all the elderly and infirm. And his is not the most extreme view in the book.

Hobby Lobby Wins Religious Freedom Victory

Supreme_Court_US_2010*Co-authored with Trey Dimsdale

In the highly anticipated decision of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court issued a victory to closely held for-profit corporations on the issue of religious liberty. While the decision was not as sweeping as some may have wanted—or as Justice Ginsburg claimed in her dissent—the Court’s decision upheld the idea that Americans need not check their right to religious liberty at the door when they enter the business world.

At issue for the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel, and the Hahn family, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, was the fact that the government compelled them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs by providing abortifacient birth control drugs and devices to their employees as part of their employer-provided healthcare plans. The Greens and Hahns specifically believe that life begins at conception and any measure that extinguishes the life of a human embryo is a violation of that belief. As such, the Health and Human Services birth control mandate would cause them to violate their consciences.

One of the key issues before the Court was whether or not for-profit corporations fit the legal definition of a person for the sake of exercising religious liberty. In the summary of their decision, the majority of the Court noted, “Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”

In a further explanation of this protection, the Court noted the Third Circuit’s argument that for-profit corporations “do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.” In response to this conclusion, the Court stated, “All of this is true—but quite beside the point. Corporations, ‘separate and apart from’ the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all.”

In making these statements, the Supreme Court tied the actions of closely held for-profit corporations directly to the actions and beliefs of their owners. Specifically, the Hahns and Greens can exercise their belief that life begins at conception through excluding certain types of birth control from their insurance plans.

The heart of this decision is in the Court’s determination that a corporation is a “person” under the meaning of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA establishes a very specific test which federal courts must apply in cases that deal with government action that infringes on a person’s free exercise of religion. HHS argued, and at least one appellate court agreed, that corporations are not “persons” capable of exercising religion. In that case, the RFRA would not apply to the issue before the Court. The Supreme Court, however, held that (in at least the case of closely held corporations), corporations areentitled to the protections offered by RFRA. The fact that corporations are not capable of participating in religious activities is irrelevant. In short, the Supreme Court recognizes that Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties are legitimate vehicles for the exercise and expression of their owners’ religious convictions.

This is a clear victory for business owners who believe that life begins at conception and that the HHS mandate violates such a belief. In keeping with the First Amendment and RFRA, owners of closely held corporations can exclude abortifacient birth control measures from their healthcare plans.

A second issue presented in the Court’s decision is that the government cannot determine certain religious beliefs are invalid because they do not like them. The Court argues, “Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question [i.e., that providing these birth control measures enables the commission of an immoral act], HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.” Thus, HHS claimed it had the right to determine if the Greens and Hahns held a valid religious belief. The Court clearly held that is not the job of the government. The majority went on to say, “Similarly, in these cases, the Hahns and Greens and their companies sincerely believe that providing the insurance coverage demanded by the HHS regulations lies on the forbidden side of the line, and it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial. Instead, our ‘narrow function . . . in this context is to determine’ whether the line drawn reflects ‘an honest conviction,’ . . . and there is no dispute that it does.”

If the government had its way, the Court argued that it could have excluded religious owners from the business world. According to the government’s argument, no insurance coverage mandate would have violated the RFRA, including third-trimester abortions and assisted suicide. The Court responded, “The owners of many closely held corporations could not in good conscience provide such coverage, and thus the HHS would effectively exclude these people from full participation in the economic life of the Nation.” Thankfully, the Court disagreed.

What does this mean for Christian business owners? Specifically related to the HHS mandate, owners of closely held corporations cannot be compelled to provide abortion-inducing drugs and devices as part of their healthcare plans. The Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is only applicable to closely held corporations. These are businesses which are organized under state law as corporations but are owned by a small number of individual shareholders. The companies involved in this case are all closely held, family-owned businesses. This is different from publicly held corporations that may have any number of shareholders who have invested money in the business.

Many people in our churches are likely to be part of such businesses. While they may not always have the number of employees that require mandatory health insurance coverage, there is potential that their businesses could grow to that point just as Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties.

This case could also foreshadow how the Court may decide other related cases, such as the cases involving the Little Sisters of the Poor and religious educational institutions. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions could extend similar religious freedom protections and exemptions to other types of organizations that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby does not.

We can rejoice in today’s victory for the Greens and Hahns, but there is still much work to be done in protecting religious liberty for people of faith in the marketplace.

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Trey Dimsdale, J.D., serves as Research Fellow in Law and Public Policy for the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also one of my Ph.D. students in ethics.

Book Review: God and the Gay Christian

*The following book review will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Southwestern Journal of Theology. Published here with permission of the editor.

God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. By Matthew Vines. New York: Convergent, 2014. 213 pages. Hardcover, $22.99.

Same-sex marriage, gay rights, and alternative sexual lifestyles seem to dominate the public consciousness today. From professional sports players coming out as gay to judges overturning marriage laws to allow same-sex marriage, the conversation regarding homosexuality is constantly around us. In most of these instances, the conversation pits Christianity against a secular worldview hoping to affirm homosexual identity. However, a highly anticipated book recently changed the focus of the conversation from “Christians against the world” to an in-house discussion among self-proclaimed evangelicals. In God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines attempts to reform the historic teaching of Christianity on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Vines proposes that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships” (3). In order to support his thesis, the author sets out to debunk the traditional interpretation of the six main biblical passages that have been used to condemn homosexuality. In addition, he seeks to show that celibacy for the person struggling with homosexual desires is a damaging state that undermines their expression of the image of God. Finally, he desires to show that committed, monogamous same-sex relationships are on par with traditional heterosexual marriage and should be supported by the church.

In order to make his argument, Vines works from a few key assumptions. First, he assumes that suffering is inherently evil. In his opening chapter, Vines draws on Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:15–20 regarding a tree and its fruit. He compares any pain or suffering brought to homosexuals through the condemnation of their sexual activities to be bad fruit brought forth by a bad tree. By contrast, he considers the affirmation of homosexual activity to be good fruit produced by a good tree.

Vines’ second assumption is that Scripture and its authors know nothing of sexual orientation. As a result, none of the traditional interpretations of Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10 are valid for contemporary discussions of sexuality. He believes that modern understandings of sexuality as immutable and unchosen dismiss any interpretation that condemns homosexual behavior for any reason other than gross excess.

The author also assumes that biological difference and role complementarity have nothing to do with marriage and sexuality. Vines believes that Scripture does not speak of biological difference as valid for sexual expression. He also holds that any discussion of role complementarity is grounded in a cultural hierarchy that understands women to be less than fully valuable. As a result, he builds a vision of sexual expression and marriage on commitment and covenant-keeping.

Using these assumptions, Vines builds his case that Christian teachings need to be modified in order to support same-sex relationships. In modifying these teachings, Vines embarks on a dangerous hermeneutical path that leaves some questions unanswered and creates some problems that he does not foresee.

First, Vines elevates his personal experience above Scripture as a source of authority. This is not a critique of which he is unaware. In fact, he says he was confronted by a church member early on with this exact critique (13). Even though he claims not to do so, he in fact affirms this very thing. He states, “I had a second reason for losing confidence in the belief that same-sex relationships are sinful: it no longer made sense to me” (12). His own experience of trying to affirm his lifestyle with the text of Scripture led him on a journey to reinterpret the Bible in light of his own experience. We see this throughout the book from his basic desire to have same-sex relationships no longer be called a sin to his condemnation of expecting celibacy from Christians who struggle with same-sex desires. His personal experience and desires do not fit that biblical expectation, so he believes it must be wrong.

Second, Vines fails to defend his position that committed, monogamous same-sex relationships are equal to marriage. The biggest failure in his argument is that he does not explain why such relationships have to be monogamous. He dismisses the idea of the potentiality for procreation as a key aspect of marriage (137–141); thus, he can no longer claim any natural extension of parenting as a reason to limit marriage to only two people. He considers the key element of marriage to be covenant-keeping, yet he fails to provide an argument why this would limit marriage to two people. As a result, he assumes marriage is monogamous but provides no real reason for such a limitation. His choice of monogamy is arbitrary in light of his definition of marriage.

Finally, Vines neglects to realize that his claims regarding homosexuality open the door for misunderstanding the Christ-Church relationship. While discussing the text of Ephesians 5 and its implications for marriage, Vines argues that the authority and submission structure in the text is built on ancient patriarchy. He notes the connection to slaves and masters in Ephesians 6 as evidence that we can no longer justify role complementarity since we do not affirm the institution of slavery. However, there are two serious failings of his argumentation. First, he ignores the fact that parents and children are also mentioned in Ephesians 6. The authority of parents over children, and the subsequent submission of children to parents, would also have to be overturned by Vines’ argumentation; however, he does not even mention those verses. In addition, Vines’ argumentation requires elevating the church to be equal with Christ. In doing so, one steps into the realm of heresy since Scripture states that the church is in submission to Christ. Vines’ cultural hermeneutic fails to protect against this logical conclusion to his own argument.

While this book has been highly touted by a number of pastors and theologians, the arguments fall short of making a biblical case. Instead, Vines sets out to make Scripture align with his own desires rather than conforming himself to the truth of Scripture (Romans 12:2).

Can a Christian Be Gay?: The New Question in Evangelicalism

There is a new book making waves in evangelicalism with its release today. God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines sets out to change 2,000 years of church history (and thousands more of Jewish history) regarding Scriptural teaching on homosexuality.

The promotional material for the book claims that it provides a way to interpret key biblical texts related to homosexuality that “honors those who are different and the authority of Scripture.” The unique feature of this book is that Vines claims to hold that Scripture is authoritative on this issue. He writes, “Like most theologically conservative Christians, I hold what is often called a ‘high view’ of the Bible. That means I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life. While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is ‘useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NRSV)” (p. 2).

Vines first reached popularity when the video of his teaching in a church went viral. From that point forward, he has been the “go-to man” for affirming homosexuality within the text of Scripture.

As others have noted, Vines has not actually presented any new arguments for interpreting Scripture in support of homosexuality. Most of his arguments come from well-established books on this issue by John Boswell, Robin Scroggs, and others. The difference, however, is that he claims to believe the inspiration and authority of Scripture—unlike previous authors.

In contrast to what Vines claims, this book has the potential to do great damage to people’s faith in the authority and veracity of Scripture. Vines applies a cultural hermeneutic to the text of the Bible, interpreting God’s Word through the lens of the gay rights movement. In addition, he elevates personal experience—specifically his own story—to a place of authority over the text. If Scripture and experience come into tension, he believes that experience must win out.

I have interacted with Vines’ work before in a series of articles that can be found here. While I believe that Vines is wrong on the interpretation of Scripture, we cannot simply ignore his work. He stands to be a major voice for people who want to remove the tension between Scripture and homosexuality.

At the end of the day, however, I am always drawn back to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. He writes, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

I deal with the terms “effeminate” and “homosexuals” in other articles, but I want to note what Paul says at the end of this passage. After listing a number of sins that are condemned in Scripture, he states, “Such were some of you. . . .” We see here that members of the church in Corinth were former fornicators, former idolaters, former adulterers, former homosexuals, etc. The reason they are no longer these things is that they were washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” These are no longer the behaviors of people who claim to be Christians. This is not where they find their identity anymore. The power of Christ can overcome these sins—including homosexuality.

Below are resources from me responding to Matthew Vines’ views on homosexuality and the Bible.

Is Being Alone a Sin?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 1

Are Homosexual Relationships “Unnatural”?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 2

Does the Denial of Same-Sex Marriage Inflict Undue Pain?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 3

What Did Jesus Teach about Homosexuality?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 4

Lillian Kwon, “Theologians Find Vines’ ‘Homosexuality Is Not a Sin’ Thesis Not Persuasive,” The Christian Post, September 28, 2012. (Quoted throughout article)