A thought provoking letter from a Lutheran Bioethicist

The following letter to the editor was published in “The Lutheran”, the official magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia, in the December edition. I thought it would be worth republishing it here:

Let’s Celebrate Jesus coming as an embryo

Christmas is coming, and we Lutherans are good at celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus.

25 December is often the best-attended day at our churches, as we sing welcome to the holy infant in the manger. Few of us seem to remember that Jesus chose to enter this human world nine months before that birth.

Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are better than we at celebrating the annunciation, the announcement of the incarnation made by the angel Gabriel to Mary, and the festival marking it (Lady Day) on 25 March. In all your years of attending Lutheran services, has your pastor ever mentioned the annunciation?

I believe that in making the deliberate choice to come as na embryo, as the most tiny and defenceless member of the human family, Jesus was teaching us to respect life from conception onwards. Has your pastor ever mentioned the human embryo in a sermon?

Does all the 2008 lack of respect for the embryo in reproductive technology, in stem-cell research, in cloning human embryos and in abortion law reform just roll by you and your church?

Perhaps pastors (and we) feel awkward in defending the human embryo because we are aware that some women in the pews will have had abortions. And yet in 2008 the major Christian churches do not condemn women who have abortions. Rather, we see them as victims pressured into a non-choice by othe rpeople or by circumstances beyond their control.

Fortunately, as with all our sins, we can rely on the grace and mercy of our loving God.

This Christmas please consider asking your pastor to celebrate in March 2009 Jesus coming to earth as an embryo.

Dr Rob Pollnitz
Glenside SA

It is, I think, a good letter with a good intention.

But it does raise the question of why (especially since the death of the late great Rev. Dr Daniel Overduin, the Lutheran pastor and bioethicist who worked closely with Fr John Fleming in the 80s), bioethical issues are not as high on the radar of the LCA as they once were. I understand that the last Lutherans For Life National Convention – which used to be very well attended twenty years ago – was attended by less than a dozen people.

I wonder, for instance, whether there might be a connection between the failure of the contemporary Lutheran Church to clearly proclaim their public teaching on the sacredness of human life from conception till natural death (a teaching they share with us Catholics) and the Lutheran support of artificial contraception? I think this could be so. Dr Pollnitz might have added that many pastors might feel “awkward in defending the human embryo” because many in their congregations are using contraceptive devices or medicines that result in very early abortion of the embryo.

In the same way that the LCA’s teaching on the sacredness of human life is clearly attested in their documents but less so in their preaching, so also the feast of the Annunciation is on the Lutheran calendar but rarely celebrated and proclaimed publically in Australia. (My wife’s parish of St Paul’s Box Hill is an exception – they often observe this feast with a choral vespers).

In this context, Dr Pollnitz’s suggestion that Lutherans could raise the prominence of their celebration of the Annunciation is certainly a suggestion in the right direction. Certainly it is an area of shared faith and doctrine between Lutherans and Catholics which could result in a fruitful alliance for our society at this time.

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