The Global Scandal of “The Global Baby”

The Wall Street Journal blows the cover off the international trade in babies and reproductive technologies this week, as reporters Tamara Audi and Arlene Chang tell of the emergence of a market that assembles the “global baby.”

Just consider the shocking introduction to their report:

In a hospital room on the Greek island of Crete with views of a sapphire sea lapping at ancient fortress walls, a Bulgarian woman plans to deliver a baby whose biological mother is an anonymous European egg donor, whose father is Italian, and whose birth is being orchestrated from Los Angeles.

The Bulgarian woman is a surrogate hired by an infertile Italian couple. The business arrangements are very much for-profit, and are negotiated by PlanetHospital.com, described by the Journal as “a California company that searches the world to find the components of its business line.” Audi and Chang then add: “The business, in this case, is creating babies.”

The desire for a child can be overwhelming, as the clients who go to PlanetHospital can attest. Some now turn to these international brokers who, often skirting the laws of respective nations, go around traditional means of adoption and fertility treatments. These companies do their business on a global scale, “often using an egg donor from one country, a sperm donor from another, and a surrogate who will deliver in a third country to make what some industry participants call ‘a world baby.'”

Our Ethics are Agnostic

The report candidly acknowledges the fact that many unborn babies are aborted by means of “selective reductions” – a procedure chillingly detailed in the article. Rudy Rupak, CEO of Planet Hospital, denies ethical responsibility in amazingly candid terms: “Our ethics are agnostic,” he told the paper. “How do you prevent a pedophile from having a baby? If they’re a pedophile then I will leave that to the U.S. government to decide, not me.” These firms are increasingly popular with homosexual male couples, who can arrange to have babies born that will include the DNA of both partners, so long as a common source of donor eggs is used.

The Wall Street Journal deserves credit for this important exposé of the ‘Wild Wild West” of reproductive technologies that is now operating across the globe. Made clear in this article is the fact that there is no adequate means of regulating this business.

Christians must recognize that these technologies are fraught with moral complications — and many of them dramatically so. These technologies, marketed through a global business in babies, threaten to redefine the vary nature of reproduction and the definition of family and parenthood.

On matters of such importance, it is simply evil to say, “Our ethics are agnostic.”

So, Why Is Incest Wrong?

There are certain questions now pressed upon us that previous generations would never believe could be asked. One of these is thrust upon us by events in New York City, where a well-known Ivy League professor has been arrested for the crime of incest. What makes the question urgent is not so much the arrest, but the controversy surrounding it.

David Epstein is a professor of political science at Columbia University, where his wife also teaches. He previously taught on the faculties of Harvard and Stanford. Last week, he was arraigned before a judge in Manhattan, charged with a single count of felony incest. According to authorities, Professor Epstein was for several years involved in a sexual relationship with his adult daughter, now age 24.

Though the story was ignored by much of the mainstream media, it quickly found its way into the cultural conversation. William Saletan of Slate.com, who remains one of today’s most relevant writers working on the issues of bioethics and human nature, jumped on the story with a very interesting essay that openly asked the question many others were more quietly asking: “If homosexuality is OK, why is incest wrong?”

After reviewing the various legal arguments used to justify criminalizing incest, Saletan comes to the conclusion that genetics cannot be the fundamental basis, since incestuous sex could be non-reproductive. Similarly, the basic issue cannot be consent, since no one is arguing in this case that the sex was non-consensual.

He gets the liberal response just about right: “At this point, liberals tend to throw up their hands. If both parties are consenting adults and the genetic rationale is bogus, why should the law get involved? Incest may seem icky, but that’s what people said about homosexuality, too. It’s all private conduct.”

Saletan comes to the conclusion that the basic reason for the wrongfulness of incest is damage to the family unit. As an Ohio court ruled, “A sexual relationship between a parent and child or a stepparent and stepchild is especially destructive to the family unit.”

Now, remember that Saletan raised the issue of the morality of incest as related to the question of homosexuality. He argues that the family-damage argument against incest does not apply to homosexuality. In his words: “When a young man falls in love with another man, no family is destroyed.”

Saletan’s argument is easy to follow, and if you accept his fundamental premise, it can even make sense. But his fundamental premise assumes that there is no damage to a particular family unit if a homosexual relationship exists. That argument can be made only by ignoring the impact upon a family of origin. Beyond this, it limits the family-damage argument to an individual family, when the argument must be more broadly applied to the family as an institution.

This article is a very interesting window into the sexual confusions that lie at the heart of our age. To his credit, Saletan gets the conservative argument basically right:

The conservative view is that all sexual deviance—homosexuality, polyamory, adultery, bestiality, incest—violates the natural order. Families depend on moral structure: Mom, Dad, kids. When you confound that structure—when Dad sleeps with a man, Dad sleeps with another woman, or Mom sleeps with Grandpa—the family falls apart. Kids need clear roles and relationships. Without this, they get disoriented. Mess with the family, and you mess up the kids.

That’s a pretty fair summary. Of course, the Christian argument goes much deeper than the merely conservative argument, affirming the fact that, with exacting precision, God has spoken to the sinfulness of such behaviors — specifically condemning both homosexuality and incest. In other words, Christians move the question from mere wrongfulness to sinfulness and place all issues of sin within the biblical account of sin and redemption.

It is extremely revealing that, for many of our fellow citizens, incest may merely “seem icky.” And yet, all around us are folks who, with a straight face, deny the inevitability of this slippery slope.

The Sins of the Father

The suicide of Mark Madoff, the 46-year-old elder son of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, has all the trappings of a Greek tragedy. Madoff hanged himself in his Manhattan apartment on Saturday, the second anniversary of his father’s arrest for what is now known as the world’s largest-ever Ponzi scheme.

Just before killing himself, Madoff called relatives and asked them to check on his two-year-old son, sleeping in the next room. His death came even as prosecutors and other legal authorities were considering legal charges against the sons of Bernard Madoff. At the same time, other authorities were seeking to go after the Madoff relatives in order to regain some of the vast losses suffered by investors in the senior Madoff’s $50 billion fraud.

The Madoff sons have insisted on their own innocence, and they had originally confronted their father with the concerns that led to his arrest and conviction. Bernard Madoff is now serving a 150-year federal prison sentence.

Was Mark Madoff guilty of complicity in his father’s criminal scheme? We may never know. He insisted on his innocence, but there can be no question that he profited from his father’s criminal acts. News reports on the Madoff scandal have introduced many Americans to terms like “noxious profits.”

Regardless of the legalities in this case, there is a tragic affirmation of a biblical principle here. In the Old Testament, God is said to visit the iniquities of fathers “upon the children to the third and fourth generation.”  [see, for example, Exodus 20:5, 34:7; Number 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9]

Some Christians turn these passages into nonsensical and sensationalistic warnings about “generational curses” that must be removed by some kind of special prayer or ministry. The reality of the biblical warning is clear enough. We are warned that the consequences of our sins are not limited to ourselves, or even to our own generation.

Bernard Madoff did not ruin only his own name, but the name carried by his children and grandchildren. The moral, legal, and financial consequences of his sin will not be borne by Bernard Madoff alone, but by his descendants after him.

All of this is brought tragically to mind when we think of the despair of Mark Madoff — and even more so when we consider what this means for a two-year-old boy who had been sleeping in the next room. That grandson was not even conceived when Bernard Madoff was conducting his Ponzi scheme.

Cast aside the unbiblical nonsense about “generational curses” and reflect on the reality of the Bible’s teaching about the consequences of our sin — a sin indeed visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation.

That two-year-old grandson already represents the third generation. May God mercifully protect him.

Coed Quarters & Free Birth Control–The New Campus Culture?

The campus of George Washington University must be an interesting place to be — and it looks like it may quickly become a lot more interesting. Consider these opening words from a report in The Washington Post: “The long-eroding boundaries that once kept men and women apart on America’s college campuses soon will disappear at George Washington University, which this week announced that students can share dorm rooms with anyone they want — regardless of gender.”

Thus, GWU becomes the latest school to adopt a “gender-neutral” housing policy. This policy, which will allow students to share a room with a person of either sex, was not pushed by heterosexual students. The demands came from gay, lesbian, and transgendered students. A student leader of “Allied for Pride” said, “Ivy League schools have it. A lot of progressive schools have it. It was time for us to try it.”

Several GWU students had already experimented with gender-neutral housing on campus by living in a townhouse they labeled “Escaping Gender.”

One shocking aspect of this development is how the moms quoted in the article were all for the new policy. “The students need to learn to make these decisions based on their own comfort levels,” said one mom. Another mom said, “They’re 18. We can’t do much about it anyway, if they’re away at school.”

That is patent nonsense, of course, but it indicates that many parents are no more mature or level-headed than their 18-year-old offspring.

Meanwhile, Newsweek also reports that GWU is wondering if the Obama health care regulations will classify birth control pills as “preventative medicine”, which would be available for free through insurance programs. GWU freshman Jessi Payton told Newsweek that not having the The Pill does not mean that students will not be having sex.

“The answer is definitely not having students abstain from sex,” she insisted. “We are adults. We are going to have sex, and if the pill isn’t available, sex just isn’t going to be as safe.”

Well, if this young woman’s words prove anything, it is that she is definitely not an adult. College students are dependents. They may be 18, but they are not living as full adults, supporting themselves and living responsibly. It’s a sad picture of America’s college students and a reflection of the moral confusion at the heart of the larger culture.

Depressed? Well, hold on for this: George Washington University was first established by Baptist missionary/statesman Luther Rice as Columbian College, a Baptist college for the training of young people for service in the church and on the mission field. Baptists lost control, the school changed its name to George Washington University, and it now serves as a parable of the secularization of higher education.

In less than two centuries, the school has modulated from Luther Rice to gender-neutral housing and demands for free birth control. The slide will not end here.

Transgressing the Transgressive–Why Modern Art No Longer Shocks

The great code word for art meant to scandalize is “transgressive.” The term was well-established by the end of the 1960s, when artists sought to scandalize middle-class morality by “transgressing” moral boundaries. Artists and writers began pushing through the moral limits, seeking the thrill that comes by shocking the masses.

All this was part of the Marxist dream of destroying bourgeois morality and values in order to liberate humanity from the constraints of the Christian worldview. In some ways, the effort was stunningly successful. But transgressive artists have run into a wall of sorts. How do you scandalize when every moral conviction has already been transgressed and trampled upon?

Eric Felten of The Wall Street Journal wrote about this in his recent column, “After the Shock is Gone.” Felten argues that artists who seek the transgressive approach today are often frustrated. “But once all the boundaries have been blurred, what’s left?” he asks.

Felten cites leftist philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who observes that perversion itself “is no longer subversive.” It has all been seen already. Perversion no longer shocks. As Žižek notes, “transgressive excess loses its shock value.” It is hard to invent a new perversion that someone else has not already exhibited in a museum or presented on the theater stage.

This reality frames many of the artistic worlds around us, ranging from the local art museum to the television set. It all becomes boring as it loses its shock value, leaving the artist looking increasingly pathetic. “How many decades will Madonna continue to wear that same costume as if it were a racy innovation?” Felten asks.

The inability to transgress or shock is a sign of cultural decadence, but it is also a signifier of the foolishness of sinful humanity. Left to our own devices, we will do our best to shock ourselves until we can shock ourselves no longer. Then, we grow frustrated.

Transgressive art is exactly what we should expect from transgressors, is it not?

Who’s Afraid of Noah’s Ark?

A proposal to build a theme park that would feature a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark has set off a controversy in Kentucky that is worth watching. Within days, the controversy had spread to the pages of The New York Times and USA Today.

So, who’s afraid of Noah’s Ark? Lots of folks, it seems, but the editors of the state’s two largest newspapers, in particular.

The “Ark Encounter” is a major project to be undertaken by a partnership led by Answers in Genesis, the group that built the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky — an attraction that has now recorded over a million visitors by some reports. The attraction, also to be built in Kentucky, is to include live animals and a 100-ft tower of Babel.

The partnership has applied for incentives under the Kentucky Tourism Development Act, and Governor Steve Beshear announced plans for the park at a news conference in the Kentucky State Capitol.

Then . . . the deluge.

The Courier-Journal of Louisville editorialized that the project would amount to “creationist tourism” that would embarrass the state by featuring “a fundamentalist view resting on biblical inerrancy [that] indirectly promotes a religious dogma.”

The editors asked, “Why stop with creationism? How about a Flat-Earth Museum? Or one devoted to the notion that the sun revolves around the Earth?”

An op-ed column in the same paper lamented with frustration the fact that the proposed theme park was just another reminder that “only 39 percent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.”

Meanwhile, the state’s second-largest paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, declared: “Anyone who wants to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible has that right.” But, the paper added, the state would be embarrassed by appearing through its governor to embrace “such thinking.”

The paper reported that Daniel Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, called Gov. Beshear’s support of the project “embarrassing for the state.”

The editorial boards of the state’s two largest newspapers seem to be very embarrassed indeed. Gov. Beshear kept his comments fixed on economics: “The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” he said. “They elected me governor to create jobs.”

The proposed theme park is expected to attract 1.6 million visitors in its first year, bringing a $250 million annual economic impact within five years.

The most interesting aspect of this controversy isn’t the proposed theme park, but the panic among the commonwealth’s self-appointed guardians of evolutionary theory.

So who’s afraid of Noah’s Ark? Now, we know.

The Retreat from Marriage — A Recipe for Disaster

For reasons that include all that we can learn from this report, and for many more that we know from the Scriptures and Christian wisdom, Christians know that the marginalization of marriage can only lead to unhappiness, unhealthiness, and the unraveling of human relationships.

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Empire or Cow Town? National Geographic Looks at the Kingdom of David and Solomon

Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein argues that the kingdom of David and Solomon is a greatly embellished biblical fiction. Jerusalem, he argues, was a cow town, a “hill country village.” David was an insurrectionist and bandit whose followers were not a mighty army, but “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting.”

All this is reported in the cover story of the December 2010 edition of National Geographic magazine. That magazine, you will remember, made its own headlines just a few years ago with the claim of a “Jesus family tomb” which was supposed to cast doubt upon the New Testament accounts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. That “discovery,” by the way, did not stand up to close investigation.

Now, the magazine wades again into contested and controversial territory in its cover story “The Search for King David.” At least one strand of the article reaches back to 2005, when archaeologist Eilat Mazar announced that she had discovered the palace of King David. More recent developments include the discovery by archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel of Judean ruins in the Elah Valley, which is where the Bible records that David slew Goliath. Add to this the discovery of what may well be a large copper-smelting facility in Jordan by American archaeologist Thomas Levy. All of these discoveries would add much to the case against those who claim that these events did not happen or were greatly embellished.

“In no other part of the world does archaeology so closely resemble a contact sport,” explains National Geographic. The claims and counter-claims of archaeologists are used to make arguments for and against the truthfulness and authority of the Bible, for and against the validity of Jewish claims to the land, and for and against any number of related controversies — all of them heated and potentially explosive.

The National Geographic article is both interesting and inconclusive. It leaves most of the big questions raised but unanswered. Significantly, the magazine does undermine the case for the “biblical minimalism” school of archaeology that would claim David and Solomon as “simply fictitious characters.”

Nevertheless, Christian readers of the magazine should note a couple of key observations. First, this cover story documents the fact that archaeology is not an exact science and that the discipline is heavily influenced by ideological interests. Claims and counter-claims often have as much or more to do with those contemporary agendas than with the study of ancient civilizations.

Second, Christians should always remember that the truthfulness and authority of the Bible are not based upon any authority external to the Bible itself. There is no external evidence required to “prove” the Bible’s truthfulness. It stands on its own claim to be the Word of God. Archaeology may sell magazines and make for interesting reading, but it cannot prove nor disprove the Bible.

Help from Hindu Quarters — The New York Times on “Take Back Yoga”

In Sunday’s edition of The New York Times — the front page, no less — reporter Paul Vitello writes about “a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga.” Well, welcome to my world. My last few weeks have been heavy into “fierce debate” and light on “the gentle world” part. It all started when I was asked to answer a practical pastoral question: Should Christians Practice Yoga? My answer was the answer long offered by those committed to orthodox biblical Christianity — No.

There is nothing wrong with stretching exercises, and Christians are called to meditate upon the Word of God, but the practices of Yoga, both historic and current, are not about mere stretching. I will not repeat the argument here, but you can read my essay for yourself. After that, came the deluge. After a major story by the Associated Press and coverage in the mainstream media, I found myself (and my poor inbox) flooded with angry, vitriolic, confused, and even threatening emails. I did not seek to fuel the national debate, since I was trying to advise Christian believers, not attempting to launch a social crusade against Yoga.

Along the way, something really interesting happened. I started getting emails of a different sort, and many came from India. Central to my argument was the fact that Yoga is inseparable from Hinduism. I was nonetheless a bit startled to receive, for example, an email from a teenager in India thanking me for my “heroic” act of recognizing that Yoga is historically and essentially Hindu. After coverage in the Indian press, my exhausted inbox received many similar messages.

Stefanie Syman deserves credit for raising the issue of the American commercialization of Yoga in her book, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. But now The New York Times reports on a movement called “Take Back Yoga” that seeks to reassert the Hindu roots of Yoga. As Paul Vitello reports, the group is “mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.”

Before diving into the terms of the debate within the world of Yoga, Vitello briefly juxtaposes me with New Age guru Deepak Chopra. Interestingly, Vitello cites Professor Loriliai Biernacki of the University of Colorado, who points to a range of spiritual practices and beliefs rooted in Hinduism but increasingly common in American today, including reincarnation, meditation, karma, and even cremation. “All these ideas are Hindu in origin, and they are spreading,” she told the paper. “But they are doing it in a way that leaves behind the proper name, the box that classifies them as ‘Hinduism.'”

I take that as a vindication of my argument from an unexpected source. I am not so deluded as to think it will end the debate. I just sent a warning to my inbox.

Confessionalism: The Past Meets the Future in Georgia

Well, it looks like Georgia Baptists had a debate worth having. Associated Baptist Press reports that the Georgia Baptist Convention voted to separate itself from a church that has called a woman to serve as co-pastor. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the recommendation that the convention oust the church, but the debate must have been interesting.

Meeting November 15-16 at Albany’s Sherwood Baptist Church, the GBC took the action in keeping with its adoption of the Baptist Faith & Message as its confessional basis. That confession of faith, adopted as revised by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, states: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

The church, Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, is one of the most venerable congregations in the state convention. For decades, it was the very epitome of the GBC establishment. Louis Newton (1892-1986), who served as president of both the GBC and the SBC, served for decades as the congregation’s pastor, beginning in 1929. Now, the church is considered no longer in fellowship with the GBC on the basis of its violation of the confession of faith. The recommendation to remove the church came from the GBC Executive Committee.

The debate, as reported in the press, got to the most basic and urgent issues. Michael Ruffin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, argued that the GBC was practicing “selective creedal application” of the Baptist Faith & Message. In his words:

There are many, many, many more provisions in the Baptist Faith and Message . . . . I don’t want the GBC to become even more creedal in its application of the Baptist Faith and Message than it has on this one score. We really should consider the arbitrariness of such an application. I think we also ought to consider the possibility that if we get serious about holding every Georgia Baptist Convention church accountable to every line in the Baptist Faith and Message as we are this one, we’ll soon have no churches left.

It appears that Michael Ruffin is right. This is an example of selective creedal application. The GBC removed another church, First Baptist Church of Decatur, for the very same reason just last year. The issue of a woman serving as pastor has been the only issue on which the GBC has taken such an action in recent years.

But, is selective creedal application wrong? The answer to that has to be both yes and no. No denominational body is equipped to deal with every issue in every meeting. The issue of a woman serving as pastor is a public statement that presented the GBC with an unavoidable decision. It would either stand by its own confession of faith, or it would, in effect, decide to abandon its own confessional identity.

Dr. Ruffin was honest in arguing that even as the GBC was undertaking a “selective creedal application” of the Baptist Faith & Message, he did not want the convention “to become even more creedal in its application of the Baptist Faith & Message than it has on this one score.” His argument is well recognized as stating the case against any regulative application of the confession of faith. His argument did not carry the day, nor should it have, but he presented his argument with consistency and honesty.

The truth is that denominational bodies will have to be more expansive in applying their own confessions of faith, or they will inevitably find themselves to have become an amalgamation of churches that are no longer standing together in common beliefs and doctrines. That would be a tragic abdication of responsibility.

The reality is that even greater challenges are certain to come. Doctrinal deviation is a real and present danger, as Southern Baptists have learned over the past half century and more. The future will require all Christians, Baptists included, to be more clear about our beliefs and common confession, or we will lose our theological integrity and Gospel faithfulness.

The application of confessional accountability undertaken by the Georgia Baptist Convention this week is a reminder of how Baptists hammered out their understanding of confessionalism in times past — and a sign of things even more difficult sure to come.

On Exorcism and Exorcists: An Evangelical View

We should respect the power of the Devil and his demons, but never fear them. We do not need a rite of exorcism, only the name of Jesus. We are not given a priesthood of exorcists — for every believer is armed with the full promise of the Gospel, united with Christ by faith, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

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