Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why I'm not signing the Westminster Declaration

Warning: this blog post contains some possibly inflammatory opinions. Feel free to tell me off in the comments, but I reserve the right to delete ones that don’t add to the discussion. (Also, I wrote this and ummed and ahed about posting it, then read Annie Porthouse’s post and thought, ‘Yeah, post it’. Thanks for giving me the courage, Annie.)

The Westminster Declaration is up and running, campaigning on those ever so vital issues that Christians get het up about: stem cell research, not letting gay people marry, and being able to wear a crucifix to work in defiance of the dress code. 'Cos that's what Christianity is about.

[A tangent: Ever wondered why Christians claim they are being marginalised? Well, maybe if we stopped concentrating on the issues that even the Bible seems to regard as marginal (based on the coverage they’re given in Scripture), we wouldn’t be so marginalised, would we? Personally I don’t feel marginalised, or particularly persecuted or oppressed. But then I don’t have a ‘pity me’ victim mentality.]

At the risk of seriously offending people who read this blog and have probably signed up to the Westminster Declaration, I’m going to go on record and say: I’m not signing it.

I have good reasons.

I could shred the moralising inanity of reducing Christian campaigning to a few marginal issues that most people really don’t care about. But why exert myself, when there are statements in the Declaration like this:

“We believe that being made in the image of God, all human life has intrinsic and equal dignity and worth and that it is the duty of the state to protect the vulnerable. … We pledge to work to protect the life of every human being from conception to its natural end and we refuse to comply with any directive that compels us to participate in or facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves intentionally taking innocent human life.”

Oh, okay then. So what this boils down to is that we don’t like abortion or stem cell research and we will prolong the suffering of people who are only being kept alive by costly medical techniques regardless of their wishes.

But did you spot what they missed out?

The clue is “embryo-destructive research”. Sounds nasty, doesn’t it. But, then what about embryo-destructive medicine like, er, IVF treatments to help couples have children?

You mean you didn’t know unused embryos were a by-product of the IVF process?

This is taken from a Catholic website, which admittedly will have an agenda in trashing IVF, but it makes the point.

“People need to understand that a major byproduct of IVF is the destruction of millions of lives. In London alone, over one million souls were created and then wasted. … This is a genocide of unbelievable proportions, just for one country. 1.7 million lives created and trashed, over 1 million of those were never even given the chance for life.” (Original post)

Note how if you believe that an embryo is a full and authentic human being, then killing an embryo is the equivalent of murder. This is the position taken by the Westminster Declaration. And this is where things get complicated. Because life is complicated.

Personally I’m not opposed to IVF treatment (please understand that). But my point is that if you are opposed to stem cell research because it is “embryo-destructive research” then you ought to also be opposed to IVF because otherwise you are condoning a process that results in the destruction of many more embryos than stem cell experiments ever have or ever will.

So, why isn’t IVF mentioned in the Westminster Declaration? This is where some people seem to be being a little bit ever so disingenuous.

It may be pure politics. It’s one thing to argue against stem cell research and talk about the wilful destruction of embryos, but it’s another thing to stand up in a pulpit and condemn IVF.

The main difference seem to be that it’s bloody unlikely that there is anyone sitting in that church who is planning to go home, go out to the shed and engage in a bit of stem cell research.

But there will be people sitting in that church, whose kids are out at the children’s group right now, who only have those precious children because of IVF treatment.

And these organisations that campaign against “destructive embryo research” don’t mention IVF. Why? Well, maybe it’s because they know that the majority of their supporters, activists and donors will at the very least have a family member or close friend, in all likelihood in their church, who have personally benefited from IVF.

Or, maybe they haven’t put 2 and 2 together yet. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they’re exhibiting a spectacular lack of logic rather than being deliberately duplicitous. Perhaps omitting IVF from the list was an oversight.

But it still looks like hypocrisy.


  1. Anonymous20/4/10 21:55

    Well said, sir! As I said over at Annie's place, I've come at it from another angle, but like you, I won't be signing it either.

    Thank you.

  2. I agree. Like you, not so much that I'm fully against IVF (thought wouldn't have it myself) but it's typical of us Christians (and perhaps just human nature) to want to 'spot it and stop it'... when in fact the 'it' is just a variant on something we are in agreement with, and don't in any way see as 'sin' or against our faith.
    What about the morning after pill... similar thing, I think. Or the mini-pill (but someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but do seem to recall I refused a certain type of pill, to take while I was breastfeeding, due to the nature of what it actually did).

  3. You've very clearly and concisely stated one of my concerns that I would have never been able to otherwise give voice to!

    I'm not going to sign it - as I've said at Phil's blog previously, life and faith and following Jesus has far too many grey areas to sign such a black and white declaration.


  4. Hi Jon - hope you are good. I dont agree with you on this one.

    Your post seems to boil down to the fact that you dont agree with the position expressed in the declaration.

    Your unsupported assertion about Christians having a victim mentality is difficult to swallow; so are the assertions about the declaration being moralising (Nowhere does it assert that everyone must agree with its terms).

    I wholeheartedly agree with the position expressed in the declaration and I have signed it because I would like policitians to know that this is the way I feel.

  5. Well, Simon, it's more that I don't agree with the logical inconsistency.

    But FTR I think it is moralising, yes. I think it reduces Christianity to a series of ethical issues that are very complex and takes a definitive view on them that it classes as 'Christian'.

    I think the 'support' to my comment about some Christians having a victim mentality can be found in any of the fevered reports about how Christians are being 'persecuted' in this country, which usually ends up in something like 'I wasn't allowed to wear my cross to work, wah, wah, you're picking on me because I'm a Christian.'

    I think claims of persecution in this country are an affront to Christians who are being persecuted around the world.

    I would question why some Christian organisations like to promote stories of 'persecution' that create fear and mistrust. My (wholly unverifiable) hunch would be that it's because there is money in doing that.

  6. I agree with you 100% about the 'persecution' complex some Christians adopt. Its an insult to those Christians who are actually suffering elsewhere in the world.

  7. Thanks for this. I respect your position (although I actually haven't read the declaration yet) but I would like to take issue with your characterisation of Christians opposing euthanasia as wanting to prolong the suffering of people who are only being kept alive by costly medical techniques regardless of their wishes, as that is not what the argument is about. Those people currently have a right to refuse interventions that will only prolong their suffering or give them only a little more time, or a decreased quality of life. The NHS really does not want to be spending money to keep dying patients alive a little longer, and certainly not against their wishes. The issue that the euthanasia and assisted dying lobby is fighting for is not for the right for these people to refuse treatment, but for the right for them to choose when they want to die and have assistance terminating their life. The assisted dying movement says we should all be able to choose when we want to die and have assistance doing it. (And for what's it's worth, the CICC panel a couple of months ago got muddled on this too.)

  8. Yeah okay, that reference to euthanasia was a bit facetious. But there is a history of opposing all forms of intervention (e.g. switching off life support).

    There is also the issue over whether it's right to legislate an ethical point of view (any ethical point of view).