God's Word for today

Monday, 2 February 2009

Should preaching be "unbiased"?

This past Sunday was designated as "Sanctity of Life" Sunday in our Circuit, and in each of the three services of the Uitenhage society we played a 6-minute DVD by Focus on the Family, followed by the message.

Our Superintendent (Bill Thompson) preached at the two morning services, and I did the evening one with the youth, and it was quite evident on which side of the whole debate the two of us are - in Bill's services he had a minute's silence for all the unborn babies "murdered through abortion", while my own message was similarly hard-hitting, culminating in a group discussion among the youth.

The following morning I had a chat to our Youth Pastor to find out whether he had had any feedback, and he indicated that while my message was generally well-received and the group discussions were found to be stimulating, one or two of the girls were a bit disturbed by the topic, feeling that it was "not a subject suitable for church". It was also felt that as a male, I probably didn't fully understand the whole picture (something I readily admit), and that my message was rather "one-sided" (in favour of the so-called "Pro-Life" position).

Having been involved in freelance journalism for some time, I am well aware of the need to provide unbiased reporting in many cases. But when one is a preacher, should the "non-bias" theory also hold true? Personally, I don't believe so. In fact, my view is that a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be biased. After all, isn't the Gospel message referred to as "Good News", rather than just "news"?

Insofar as abortion is concerned, I tried to be balanced in terms of the various alternatives available, while holding onto what I believe to be the "sanctity of life" position as contained in Scripture. And while as a male I would not be in a position where I would need to make a personal decision concerning abortion, as a father I feel strongly that the decision to give an unborn child a shot at life (or to deny them such a shot) is not mine to make.

One of the girls in the service asked whether abortion is justified in the case of conception as a result of rape. Once again, such a situation would not arise with me as a male, but there is the possibility (God forbid) that my wife could be raped and a pregnancy may result. Naturally, one cannot say for certain how one would respond until the situation actually arises, but my wife and I have in fact discussed such a scenario, and we would hope that our view would be that while it is by no means her fault that conception took place in such a brutal manner, neither does the fault lie with the unborn child.

So if there is anyone reading this post who was in the service this past Sunday, and I offended you, I pray that you would forgive me. However, I make no apologies for causing anyone to feel uncomfortable, as it is from such discomfort that deep thought takes place.


Rock in the Grass (Pete Grassow) said...

Hey S: have you familiarised yourself with the position of the Methodist Church on this? Because as a Methodist Minister you do not represent a personal belief: you believe and preach the doctrines of our church.
and there are moments when the MCSA does not agree with the Focus on the family position.

Steven Jones said...

Hi Pete

This reply may seem a bit rambling, but please indulge me as it is more reflective of my thoughts rather than the way I would write if, for instance, I were to prepare a research paper.

When I was preparing for this service, I went quite extensively through the booklet on abortion published by the MCSA, bearing in mind that the objective of this particular Sunday was to address the question of "Sanctity of Life" and in particular the issue around abortion.

The starting point was the 1995 Conference statement that it affirms “the sacredness and value of human life”, and it expresses the belief “that abortion at any stage of pregnancy is undesirable and not in harmony with the perfect will of God”. The DEWCOM document clarifying the MCSA's position on abortion also refers to two schools of thought concerning when human life is said to commence: "Those who believe human life begins at or soon after fertilisation are, naturally, concerned for the rights of the foetus and tend to be anti-abortion. Those who see personhood beginning only once the foetus can survive outside the womb are more inclined to favour the rights of the pregnant woman and to be open to the idea of abortion. The statement acknowledges that no direct guidance is forthcoming from Scripture to help decide which of these positions is 'Biblically correct', and grants that there are sincere Christians are to be found on both sides of the debate."

Given that "Experience" is one of the elements of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, my own experience is one of having been present with my wife when it was confirmed that she was pregnant with my son, and seeing the flashing light on the ultrasound at 3 weeks of pregnancy, which her gynaecologist confirmed to be our unborn son's heartbeat. While I cannot purport to speak on behalf of my Superintendent and the process that has shaped his view on abortion (which is quite similar to the one I hold), this experience has strongly influenced me against considering abortion as an option - a view that has strengthened over the past 11 years as I have watched my son grow and develop.

Having said that, I also recognise that a woman or young girl may find herself in a situation whereby she finds herself pregnant under trying circumstances (e.g. rape, poor socio-economic conditions, potential deformity, etc.) whereby a number of options may be considered, including possible abortion. Should she decide to go the abortion route, the role of the church (which I represent as a minister) is to offer counsel in a non-judgemental accepting, loving, and pastoral manner. Such acceptance, I believe, is in line with the MCSA's position.

However, I also believe that while a minister is expected to uphold the doctrinal position of their church, one should also not be "robotic" about it. I'm not sure if there are many ministers of any denomination that accept their particular church's doctrinal positions 100% to the letter. The ongoing debate concerning same-sex relationships within the MCSA is a case in point.

With this in mind, when presenting the message, I put forward my view points in a manner that I believe is not in conflict with the current position of the MCSA. I also included a time for discussion during the service, where the young people (it was a youth service) broke into groups to discuss certain issues raised in the DVD and the message. I specifically said that they were not to come up with a dogmatic "yes" or "no", instead thinking about their answers.

My Superintendent and I both watched the DVD beforehand as part of the preparation process for our respective services, and he endorsed the showing thereof at the morning services (which he conducted), as well as the evening service (which I conducted). We both believed that the content thereof was not in stark conflict with the doctrinal position of the MCSA, or (I believe) we would not have shown it in our services.

Another thing that I may need to consider comes out of the counselling skills course that we are currently doing at the Phase One college. The facilitator of this course has indicated that there may be situations whereby the counselor may need to withdraw from the particular engagement, whether based on Biblical beliefs, prior experiences, personal prejudices, or a combination thereof. For example, she indicated that she would not be able to counsel paedophiles, since the thought of someone molesting a child brings about such feelings of anger in her that her judgement would be clouded. We were taught that we need to recognise our own "blind spots", and possibly the abortion issue is one of mine. I can comfortably see myself offering Christian counsel to a woman who has had an abortion, and I believe that I could do this in a non-judgemental manner. However, I cannot see myself looking at abortion as an option before the fact.

I guess that experiences such as these are part of the formation of one's ministry, and I trust those who have journeyed along this road for far longer than me would not be too harsh on someone who is at as early a stage of one's ministry journey as myself.

I would be interested to hear your views (as well as from others) as to exactly what the doctrinal position of the MCSA is, since to my mind the DEWCOM document leaves a great deal open to interpretation. I also trust that this discourse has not been so wayward as to warrant me a serious "slap" at Synod concerning my adherence to the doctrines of our Church.