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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0 Responses to A thought provoking letter from a Lutheran Bioethicist

  1. Past Elder says:

    Dionysius Exiguus, or Dennis the Humble, my esteemed fellow Benedictine whose calendar is still the basis of what is used wordlwide now, esteemed the Feast of the Annuciation so highly that while years were still counted from January Roman style, New Years Day was 25 March to fall with the Annuciation because the Time of Grace begins with the Incarnation, which begins with conception.

    I would suggest that the relationship between artificial contraception and elective abortion is the other way round — one comes to the wrongness of the former when one sees the wrongness of the latter.

    I would also suggest that Catholic no less than Lutheran pews hold those practicing the former while opposing the latter.

    Therefore, let us take Dr Pollnitz’ suggestion exactly as it is — that we remember the Annunciation as when Jesus first entered human history, as when as my brother Dennis laid out the Time of Grace begins, and let these parts of the catholic faith, whatever be the name over the door where it is proclaimed and celebrated, then proceed to other conclusions which follow them.

  2. matthias says:

    a very pertinent discussion Schutz .Many Protestants see contraception as being in a separate basket to abortion,but i know denominations where abortion is condemned outright eg Brethren and Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia are two examples.(Just read the Westminister Confession of Faith booklet published by Rowland Ward from the latter church)
    However where are the Baptists and Churches of Christ in the pro-life debate? On the sidelines arguing that where the Scripture is silent then that leaves members open to use their conscience,right at the time when their support was needed by their fellow Christians in protesting against the Abortion law reform. Where were leading Baptists here in Victoria eg tim Costello??

  3. Schütz says:

    Couldn’t agree more, old fellow.

    You are certainly right that “Catholic no less than Lutheran pews hold those practicing [artificial contraception]”. Although I would suggest that the percentage of those Catholics actually in the pews on Sunday who practice artifiical contraception would be much less than the percentage of those in Lutheran pews on Sunday who do the same. Still, the fact that some members of their flock do practice artificial contraception cdoesn’t stop the Catholic Church from publically proclaiming the wrongness of it. In fact, knowing this, she proclaims it even louder.

    and you are almost certainly right that “the relationship between artificial contraception and elective abortion is the other way round — one comes to the wrongness of the former when one sees the wrongness of the latter” – except that the wrongness of both was once recognised by all Christian Churches, and the protestant churches went wobbly on artificial contraception, while still in the main being against elective abortion. Later, they started going wobbly on the abortion issue too.

    So you might be right philosophically speaking, but I think in terms of how the once strong stand of the churches has unravelled on these issues, it is the way in which I described it.

  4. Schütz says:


    You and I must both be on the computer at the same time this morning – I missed your comment while typing the above!

    I have blogged elsewhere on the issue of text based legalism in religious traditions blunting the otherwise clear and united witness that the religious communities could be giving at this time. By which I mean laws in traditional Judaism or Islam which put the start of human life at fourteen or forty days or something regardless of what we now know on the basis of science. Your example of the Baptists and co. is just another example of this. Because their ethics are based simply on a legalistic reading of the sacred text (with no reference to natural law or philosophy or science) they are free to support abortion if they want to since Scripture says nothing about it.

  5. matthias says:

    Baptists and Church of Christ Wobbly on abortion. Will the Wobblies be evident on the issues of euthanasia and infanticide when they appear? Francis Schaeffer the great presbyterian philosopher and theologian wrote three books that influenced me : Whatever happned to the human race,A Christian maninfesto in which he outlined the battle grounds against abortion,euthanasia and infanticide. His last book the Great Evangelical disaster,showed the beginning of the wobbliness.
    (Ironically his son Franky Schaeffer V converted to Eastern orthodoxy)

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