Thursday, March 19, 2015

Synthetic Children, Traditional Families and the Leading of the Spirit

This past week has seen a storm of words over Dolce and Gabbana's claim about traditional families constitute the only families:

"“The family is not a fad,” Gabbana told the interviewer. “In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.” 
Procreation “must be an act of love.” Children born through artificial insemination or egg donors are “children of chemistry, synthetic children. Uteruses for rent, semen chosen from a catalog,” Dolce said.
“The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow; there are things that should not be changed.”"

You probably read about Elton John's reaction (he and David Furnish have two sons) but here is another which is worth noting, if only for signs of political unity in the GLBT community unravelling as the politics of capitalist society exerts itself.

Picking up on my post of a couple of days ago about the Spirit at work among us, I wish to raise the question of the leading of the Spirit about family life.

I suspect we can all agree that there is a degree of plausibility to the claim that the Spirit is leading the church to support gay couples. (Note this is not the same as saying we all agree with the claim itself). The plausibility lies in recognition that social life is important, that the community of two is less likely to be lonely than the community of one, and that God blesses and supports friendship. We can see that if the Spirit is leading the church at this time in a new direction then it is in the direction of the better (e.g. safer, more secure, mutually supportive) life which comes from partnership.

Dolce and Gabbana's comments about the traditional family in respect of children and about the way in children should be intentionally brought into the world in the context of the traditional family lead me to ask:

Is it plausible to think that the Spirit of God is leading the church beyond the embrace of same sex partnerships to bless the intentionality of (say) two men bringing children into the world via a surrogate mother, knowing that the children will from the beginning have no mother?

Answers on a postcard to Box ... no, seriously: could answers to this question not only offer a Yes or a No but also some reasons for saying Yes or No. That is, reasons which explain how we would know as a church that this is, or is not the leading of the Spirit.

My argument here is that claims to know the leading of the Spirit in respect of new ethical situations are easily made and initially may even have a popular hearing. But very quickly we get to situations where the claim to know that the Spirit is leading in such and such a direction is less likely to have a popular hearing. Not - dear Elton John - because of bigotry but because of uncertainty as to how on earth we might establish the claim. If you have ideas on how the church might establish such a claim, send them in via comments.

Now for those who vigorously want the church to oppose Dolce and Gabbana's vision of the family and affirmation of the importance of children born to a mum and a dad, there is another route forward: a straight ethical argument which does not invoke the Spirit of God.

My argument here is that pressing the church forward on the basis of what some see as the leading of the Spirit is a fraught pathway which quickly runs into shoals and reefs.


Father Ron Smith said...

I cannot help thinking of the statement of Jesus, when he said this: "Who are my mother, sister or brother?" The family here is not defined by biology!

Jean said...

Hi Peter

I write as one who never knew their biological father. I agree with Ron in that we can have family that is of the heart rather than just biology.

What caught my attention most with the D & G debarcle was one comment from them, that using sperm donors or surrogate mothers who donate eggs to have children is treating children as a social experiment which potential risks are too great.

For me this is my greatest concern - for children conceived in such a way whether the couples be same sex or heterosexual (IVF where a thrid party needs be involved). A lady I once worked with had a baby through a sperm donor because she was single.

The effect of my own personal history has given me an insight and intense passion to be mindful of how much children who have experienced the complexities around broken relationships can be affected.

To add one more complexity to this social situation which is now so common, and deliberately by choice; frankly dismays me.

The defenses in this debate have centred around the equality of homosexuals and the freedom of choice for humans and how things are in modern life. Have we
become so selfish; what happened to the best interests of the child?

I am not so sure re where the Holy Spirit plays in leading the church on this one. I do know He has played a part in my own ongoing personal journey towards wholeness and healing.


MichaelA said...

Hi Peter,

Why do you assume that there are any "new ethical situations"?

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Jean for sharing your personal experience.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
I assume there are new ethical situations because there are new situations. I see IVF as a new situation about home children might be procreated and thus some new ethics to be thought through. I also see the abolition of slavery as a new situation for which an appropriate new ethic (relative to the Bible) could be Never again will slaves be kept.

Peter Carrell said...

[This comment is from Andrew Reid. Apologies Andrew, my thick thumb pushed the Delete button on my smartphone rather than the Publish button].

Dear Peter,
In a debate like this, it's important to get the fundamentals right. Before we look at the question of the Spirit's guidance in new ethical situations, we need to ask the prior question, "What has the Spirit already said through the word of God He inspired in scripture?" Too often, we set the Holy Spirit against the Scriptures, like the serpent in Genesis 1: "Do the Scriptures really say that? Is that really relevant today?" We ignore the Spirit's inspiration of the Scriptures and role in helping us to follow its teaching.
In this case, I would suggest that the Scriptures present a clear model for family life and parenting that begins in Genesis 2 and is taught consistently throughout - a permanent, faithful relationship between a man and a woman who participate in God's creative act to bring children into the world. So, the claim that the Holy Spirit is leading us in a new direction to bless same-sex parenting fails because it contradicts the Spirit's voice in scripture.
The question of IVF or surrogacy for a married man and woman is in a different category, because it is a debate about a new technology within the framework of a relationship blessed by God in the scriptures.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew
In response to your comment above:
Do I take it that "in a different category, because it is a debate about a new technology ..." is a recognition that there are genuinely 'new' ethical situations on which we have yet to determine what the Holy Spirit's guidance is?