Christian Norms In The Ethical Square: An Impossible Dream? -- By: Michael Mckenzie

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 38:3 (Sep 1995)
Article: Christian Norms In The Ethical Square: An Impossible Dream?
Author: Michael Mckenzie


Christian Norms In The Ethical Square:
An Impossible Dream?

Michael Mckenzie*

Richard John Neuhaus, in his provocative book The Naked Public Square, makes the case convincingly that traditional communitarian (and especially Christian) values have been progressively evicted from the realm of public political discourse. Increasingly, those who desire to work within the public realm must couch their arguments in individualistic and nonreligious terms. It is hardly stating anything novel to point out that the Bible is deemed irrelevant by today’s political policy-makers. This political reality is also largely true in the field of ethics, making it difficult if not impossible to use Scripture as a source of norms for ethical discourse.

This “naked ethical square” has created a twofold dilemma for those whom I call Scriptural ethicists. By that designation I am referring to those who openly employ Scriptural values, reasoning and terminology for their normative bioethical principles as well as for the justification of those principles. 1 This dilemma consists in the fact that while the content of current secular ethics is seen as flawed (a point on which there is much agreement within the Christian community), access to the realm of ethical discourse has been effectually barred to such overt use of Christian Scripture. This is reflected in the study of bioethics, especially in both the current practice of medicine and in the major medical codes and guidelines.

It is not the purpose of this paper to say that overtly Scriptural methodologies are wrong, nor is it to make the point that a Christian methodology should be necessarily based only on effectiveness. That would certainly be in error. Scripture does counsel Christians to admonish and to warn others of un-Biblical behavior regardless of their response. Biblical critiques are also appropriate to counsel Christians—both those within and without the health-care field—to conform their behavior to Biblical standards. 2 Nevertheless there remains a problem of application within a more public realm: Can these critiques have any place within bioethical discourse in general? And, more pointedly, are they able to be effective voices for change in the

* Michael McKenzie teaches at Northwest College, Kirkland, WA, and lives at 4303 S.W. 102nd Street, Seattle, WA 98146.

arena of ethical policy-making? Franklin Payne himself realizes that any ethical system must have relevance and applicability if it is to be of any value: “An ethic that cannot be concretely applied is useless.”

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