This week I had the privilege of hearing from the Executive Director of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity at Trinity. She provided an introduction to the Center, as well as a brief look at the major issues confronting bioethics today.
Many of the bioethical questions of our time do not have clear-cut answers, so she offered some guiding principles for thinking through them in a constructive and Christian way. Of the suggestions she made, I found one to be especially insightful. When it comes to the bioethical issues in our own lives, she encouraged us to begin with the following question:
Who owns your body?
Although the realm of bioethics extends far beyond the sphere of your individual body, I think this is a wonderful place to start. So many of the bioethical dilemmas facing Christians begin with an inadequate understanding of our own bodies and what God created us for.
Of course, the Bible is very clear about who owns our bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 tells us,
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Who owns your body? Your Savior does.
This truth can serve as a North Star as we wade through the muddy waters of bioethics. For example, when it comes to matters concerning birth control, IVF, and surrogacy, the question of who owns our bodies demands our attention. No matter where you come down on these issues, it is crucial that you first consider that your body is not your own.
For evangelicals in particular, this is an important step. While the Catholic Church has a coherent position on bioethics, evangelicals do not. We allow for more freedom on these questions, but this freedom is not always theologically reasoned. In fact, many evangelicals exhibit tremendous theological inconsistency on the issues of bioethics.
Take, for instance, the passion with which evangelicals oppose abortion. This opposition is so strong that many evangelicals are “one issue” voters who believe abortion to be more important than just about any other. It is a major part of the evangelical DNA. And yet, as loudly and dogmatically as evangelical women condemn the practice of abortion and have no qualms about telling other women what to do with their bodies, many refuse to be told what to do with their own bodies. When one dares to broach the topics of birth control or IVF, one is met with intense defensiveness. You are likely to hear something along the lines of, “It’s none of your business” or “This was my personal decision.”
While I don’t believe there are easy answers to a lot of these questions, nor am I advocating for a particular position here, what disturbs me is the attitude and worldview fueling these responses. Quite frankly, your body IS the business of your church community, and what you choose to do with your body is NOT a personal decision. Not only is it first and foremost under the jurisdiction of God, but what you do with your body impacts your entire community. It’s not just about you.
All of that to say, we have GOT to get to a place of bioethical and theological coherency when it comes to our bodies, and I think that asking “Who owns your body?” is a great place to begin. In fact, it is a helpful guiding principle in the face of many topics, such as sexuality, how we dress, and how we choose to spend our time.
For now, I ask you to consider this question with all the seriousness that Christ’s sacrifice deserves. I’m not going to tell you whether birth control or IVF is right or wrong (if you want to read my engagements on these topics, you can find them elsewhere on this blog), but I do want you to think through these complex issues from the perspective of stewardship, not personal ownership. I want you to give it the time, attention, study, and theological engagement it requires. It is the way of the world to claim complete and total autonomy over our bodies. But we are not of the world.