From nucleus - Freshers' Edition 2019 - engaging in the public square
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Philippa Taylor considers the public dimension of a student's faith
Arriving at university you will become aware, if you aren't already, of a vast number of ethical issues: drug policies, mental health, abortion, reproductive technologies, genetic engineering, slavery, gender dysphoria, freedom of conscience, end of life decisions and organ donation, to name but a few.
The question is: 'Should we engage with ethical issues?' (ie, as individual students and as CMF?)
Let me answer the question by suggesting four reasons that I believe should drive us as Christians, individually and as a Fellowship, to engage with ethical issues in the public square:
It is important that Christian health professionals speak up for others.
Much of society in the UK is growing increasingly hostile to the Christian message and its values. There seems to be increasing pressure on Christians to go against their consciences, for example, when talking about faith or praying with patients, considering abortion referral requests or perhaps even gender reassignment. When faced with such challenges, what should our reaction be? Do we escape or assimilate, or is there another option?
Being created in God's image means that we are all wonderful, mysterious, precious and unique beings, from conception through to death. But in God's creation plan it seems we are also designed to be fragile, frail, vulnerable and dependent. Because healthcare acts as one way by which human communities care for vulnerable people, it is important that Christian health professionals speak up for others. (1)
We do this 'not with judgment in our voices but with tears in our eyes. We treat with respect the malformed baby, the person in a persistent vegetative state, the profoundly demented individual, the destitute homeless heroin addict'. (2)
The wider need for care clearly goes well beyond the vulnerable at the beginning and end of life and those with immediate medical needs. It needs to reach those being trafficked, abused, tortured, people who are homeless, lonely, in debt, in prison, hungry, struggling with pornography, alcohol abuse or poverty. There is no lack of opportunity to help others, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
We are engaged because we recognise that universal standards of right and wrong exist. Morality matters and when we fail to uphold what is right (as a society and individually), harm often follows. It is not always easy to uphold Christian moral views, but when challenged, rather than escaping or assimilating, John Stott gives another option: 'The calling of Christians is to be morally distinct without being socially segregated'. (3)
What might this mean for actual engagement? The lifestyle choices people make affect their lives and usually affect those around them too; hence, the involvement of many Christians in policymaking. Some are involved in restricting access to pornography, harmful drugs, online gambling and prostitution, or more positively, encouraging marriage, family life, health and well-being.
This is not to say people cannot make choices — people do not become moral simply through a change in law. But law and policies can encourage behaviour that is good and restrain immoral behaviour, and its impact on others.
We engage because we have been entrusted by God to care for his world. We are responsible to manage his world well and according to his desires and purposes.
Our role as stewards in the public square derives from our understanding that God instituted and designed government (4) and we are to respect and be subject to governing authorities. (5) Owners have rights, but stewards have responsibilities. We engage because we are responsible stewards, with respect, care and humility and within the confines of the law.
We are citizens because we are created to be in community. We are not only individuals doing our own thing; we are individuals in community, bound by duties of care, responsibility and compassion to others.
What might this mean for engagement as students? This should drive concern for justice and a willingness to speak out against anything that leads to unjust treatment of colleagues or patients. It should encourage Christians to (continue to) promote a culture of care for others and to love and care for our beautiful world.
But, undoubtedly, our most powerful citizenship tool is prayer.
'Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper'. (Jeremiah 29:7)
Finally, how can we engage with ethical issues in the public square?
Being informed is a good place to start! Be aware of what is going on around you, of local and national debates, of resources that can help — CMF blogs, CMF Ethics and Public Policy Newsletter or CARE's Impact Direct. For more in-depth reading, look at CMF's submissions to policy consultations, The Human Journey course or CARE's Finishing Line study on the end of life.
To engage practically, we encourage members to respond to public consultations (see the CMF website), to email or write to decision makers, (6) to visit local MPs, to join medical organisations and/or stand for election on key committees and the BMA, to write articles and engage with social media and, of course, to pray.
The better informed you are, the better you will know how to engage and what to pray for.
Philippa Taylor is CMF Head of Public Policy
1. Sloane A. Philosophy grows no cabbages. Triple Helix 2015; Spring:20
2. Wyatt J. The Finishing Line Study Guide. London. CARE, 2016
3. Stott J. Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Reflections From Genesis to Revelation. London: Candle Books, 2006:193
4. Romans 13:1
5. 1 Peter 2:13-17
6. Writing to MPs (writetothem.com)