The recent defection of renowned novelist Anne Rice from organized religion has some religionists taking stock of the state of organized religion in America. Things don’t look good. The current state of organized religion may be described like a patient in medical shock: weak pulse, shallow breathing, and pale skin. What is driving down the number of parishioners in the pews? I don’t think secularism is largely to blame. I think certain doctrines from the pulpit are the culprit.Do you return missionaries remember what it was like to encounter ardent evangelicals and their closely allied believers, Born Again Christians? I do. They were good people alright, good people like those you find in any LDS church house on a Sunday morning, yet I could not understand why they so firmly accepted a doctrine of salvation rooted in simply affirming acceptance of Christ. No matter how many times I quoted the familiar phrase, faith without works is dead, they downplayed the importance of works, claiming instead that we are saved by faith and grace, not by works. Downplaying the importance of works was bound to have ramifications on behavior, and it is. Recent polls indicate that the “saved by grace, not by works” chickens are coming home to roost (to borrow a phrase from Obama’s former minister, Reverend Wright). Consider, for example, that evangelical pollster George Barna found that Born Again Christians are more likely to divorce, and University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus found that evangelical adolescents who believe in abstaining from premarital sex are more like to be sexually active at an earlier age than Mormons, mainline protestants, and Jews. Are these the sort of polling results we would expect to find among believers who are continually reminded that salvation is largely about faith and not works? Perhaps. Author Ronald Sider calls it the “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”. In his book by the same name, he asserts that “By their daily activity, most Christians regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is their Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate their allegiance to money, sex, and personal [self-gratification].”This sort of treason is present in all Christian churches, but why is it increasingly becoming a concern among evangelical and born again churches? Perhaps the “saved by grace, not by works” doctrine is sending an unintended message, that it is okay to sin a little as long as you accept Jesus as Lord. Is this doctrine and its accompanying laissez-faire attitude toward works, particularly works of a sinful nature, contributing to the hypocrisy that is pushing people like Anne Rice out of organized religion? Finally, changing doctrine away from traditional Christian teachings is also contributing to defections from organized religion. Consider that in 2009 the American Evangelical Lutheran Church voted to remove the celibacy requirement for gay ministers, a vote which opened the door for openly homosexual Lutheran ministers. In the same year (2009), the Lutheran Church lost almost 91,000 members or 48 congregations, largely due to the aforementioned vote.Like Forrest Gump, I wish I could end by saying, “That’s all I have to say about that.” Yet this sort of post demands a closing comment. I used to think that it is better for someone to be in a mosque, church, temple, or synagogue on a Sunday morning than at home watching football; now I am not so sure. If I had to choose between someone being at church listening to an openly homosexual minister downplaying the importance of good works in obtaining salvation, or being at home on a Sunday morning, I might chose being at home (reading scriptures and good books instead of watching football ;)
On September 25, 2006 President Bush used his veto powers for the first time. What did he veto? A bill allowing federal funds to be used for embryonic stem cell research. (I wish he had used his veto powers on big spending bills, but that is another story.) The veto was a welcome blessing for many religious folks, but seen as a curse for many folks stricken with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Multiple Sclerosis. At the bill signing ceremony, children who started out life as frozen embryos designated “to be discarded” were brought to the center stage. The image of President Bush and parents holding these precious kids tugs on your heart strings and makes you glad that the kids were given a chance at life instead of being tossed into the bio-trash bin. But as usual we need to set emotions aside and rely on research and reason when seeking a clearer understanding of what is going on.Most people, including Christian folks, don’t have issues when couples with fertility problems use in vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization involves fertilizing an egg (ovum) with a sperm outside of the womb. One approach is to inject a sperm directly into an egg (called intracytoplasmic sperm injection). The fertilized egg, called a zygote, is then placed in an incubation chamber and cultured until it reaches the embryonic stage of development, at which time it is transferred to a woman’s uterus.Because embryos fail during the incubation phase, or fail later after being transferred to a uterus, multiple embryos are created. Why go to all the trouble and expense of creating a single embryo that might fail? It seems reasonable to create multiple embryos. But what happens to the extra embryos when a pregnancy is successful, assuming the parents want no more children? They are discarded.Where is the uproar over discarding embryos? There really isn’t any. If there isn’t a fuss over discarding unwanted embryos, then why the fuss over using ‘unwanted’ embryos for stem cell research? It seems to me that people opposing embryonic stem cell research should also be opposing discarding embryos with equal fervor, but they aren’t. Are we, as a society, morally obligated to give every frozen embryo a chance at life? Does tossing out an unwanted embryo translate into a spirit not having a chance at life? I think most Mormons would say no. Wouldn’t it be great if every unwanted embryo were given to adoptive parents? Yes, but that does not always happen for one reason or another. If it is acceptable to discard unwanted embryos created for birth, then why not use them for stem cell research?Good news: Adult stem cell research is proving much more promising that embryonic stem cell research. This will hopefully prevent the creation of embryonic stems cells for research purposes and minimize the use of unwanted embryos in research - a win win situation for everyone, inlcuding people who may one day be adopted as embryos.