Thursday, April 23, 2009

Synod Resolutions - The Controversial

The Controversial: Options to War Against Iran, Axis of Friendship with Iran, Health Care Reform, In Support of Physician Assistance in Dying

Let's skip to the Physician Assistance in Dying one first. This will likely be the most hotly contested resolution this year. Two years ago, a similar resolution was the only one that was really allowed extensive debate on the floor as I recall. Yes, this issue was presented and debated at the very last Synod, and yes, there wasn't a lot of debate on any resolution last time because they'd crammed all the business sessions into the last two days because they'd planned so much celebratory stuff for the 50th anniversary. And hey, look, they're going with a similar format this Synod. Brilliant.

Man, I've become jaded. But honestly, I love going to General Synod for all the reasons completely unrelated to resolutions anyway. So why do I write these posts? 'Cause I got to. That's all.

Anyway, something about physician aid in dying. Right, so a similar resolution was presented last time, and it was decided that the issue would be studied, and since someone obviously didn't think that was enough (or didn't pay attention), we get to debate it again. And ultimately, it is being recommended that it be referred directly to Justice and Witness Ministries as part of the study process laid out by the Synod 26 resolution.

In order to save us all some time on this, I refer the readership back to what I wrote about it then, because my own opinion hasn't changed too much. Here's a snippet:
Second, I don't like crediting John Shelby Spong with a whole lot, but I liked the quote included in this resolution:
If I have a medically confirmed incurable disease, and can bear the pain of that sickness only by being placed in a kind of twilight zone, where I neither recognize the sweet smile of my wife nor respond to the touch of her hand, do I not have the ethical right to end my life with medical assistance?
In other words, would someone in that "twilight zone" state be fully alive? Are the only choices a life of severe pain or a life where one is basically kept unconscious to endure the pain? It seems to me that death would be an act of mercy, perhaps even love, if these are the only other options. Also note the phrase "medically confirmed incurable." I think that sometimes people oppose resolutions like this because they paint pictures for themselves of children and grandchildren on a whim rushing to nursing homes to inject morphine into their relatives (never mind that many nursing homes have abysmal standards of care...as a pastor, I've seen and smelled some of them). Physician aid in dying is not meant for "inconvenience" sorts of cases...it is for those whose health has reached a point that makes any semblance of normal living impossible.
Aside from that, this resolution is extensively researched and reasoned to the point that it anticipates most common objections, one for many Christians being that "only God should select the moment of death." One delegate opposed to last Synod's resolution stood up, shared a Bible verse stating that "God has numbered our days," and sat down as if its meaning was self-evident. The resolution addresses this argument, asking whether a loving God would want patients experiencing incredible pain as a result of terminal illness to suffer like that. And the resolution gets very specific on the cases that would warrant this treatment: terminal illness, six months to live, legally competant to make decisions, and a few others. So again, "inconvenience"-type scenarios are excluded.

The resolution also cites methods in which physician-assisted suicide already takes place, such as a patient requesting the "pulling of the plug," and "terminal sedation," in which a patient is rendered unconcious in anticipation of the moment of death. I have been present for a few of the latter cases and can testify firsthand that no amount of striving on the part of the medical staff would have been able to bring those people back to anything remotely resembling normal life.

By far, the above resolution has the potential to make the most waves in local churches. On the other hand, the Synod 26 resolution didn't seem to rile up too many people other than those at the event, so this may be a pretty quiet one.

The two resolutions regarding Iran will most likely be dealt with by the same committee, and probably combined in some way, as is the usual practice. And that's a good thing, because quite frankly, the Options to War Against Iran resolution is horribly written. First off, in the Summary it reads, "Be it therefore resolved that the United Church of Christ, based on our Belief that Christ desires peace not violent conflict in God's world, and on our commitment as a Just Peace Conference..." So the UCC is just one Conference now?

Next, we have a long litany of some of the usual Bible texts that either 1) call for peace, or 2) mention the word "peace," and the citing of a resolution from Synod 15 in 1985 where the Just Peace term started being used (Just Peace is one of a half dozen or so designations available for local churches to adopt). Then it rushes to one single Be It Resolved that lists a handful of general ways to support alternatives to war in Iran. Throw in a bunch of grammatical errors and you've got a ridiculous slapped-together resolution.

The other resolution is much better written, though it has plenty of flaws as well. It begins by observing that many in Iran expressed sympathy with the United States after September 11th, but George Bush spurned that sympathy when he lumped Iran into his "Axis of Evil" line. "Since then," the resolution states, "President Bush and members of his administration have repeatedly alleged that Iran poses an imminent threat to the United States, U.S. troops in the Middle East and U.S. allies." These people do know that we had an election last November, right?

The Theological Rationale section is a single paragraph, which doesn't really get theological at all until the second-to-last sentence containing a pithy acknowledgement that Jesus wants us to be peacemakers. Fortunately, the actual resolution contains further theological reasoning, including Biblical passages and citing the Just Peace designation.

The resolution calls upon the General Synod to declare Sunday, September 13th (presumably because it's the Sunday closest to the 11th) Axis of Friendship Day, where churches can put candles in their windows, hold special candle-lighting services, and hold festivals in Iranian-American neighborhoods.

The idea of Axis of Friendship day isn't bad in and of itself. The term is in response to another term that was used some eight years ago, and President Obama has repeatedly expressed that he would pursue diplomacy long before war would even be considered a possibility. Aside from that, dealing with someone like Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who has famously denied the Holocaust and offered other incendiary rhetoric about the Jewish people, takes more than an Axis of Friendship Day. I have no illusions that Obama thinks diplomacy is as simple as saying, "We want to be your friend." This resolution would spark a nice gesture, but 1) it's currently a reaction to nothing, or an outdated something, and 2) relationships between countries, at least at the national level, are more complicated.

I have to sit with the health care resolution for a while longer.  I only include it in this category because of all the "socialism" rhetoric that gets thrown around when such a concept is brought up.  I'm betting that the only one of these that even has the potential to fire people up is the Physician Assistance in Dying one, and even that potential is so remote that it should be a fairly quiet time in Grand Rapids.

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