Jesus Loves the little children

Every religion on earth has its lists of what its followers must and must not do, may and may not do.  They tend to govern what foods one may or may not eat (and to an extent, when), under what conditions and with whom one may engage in sexual or even social relationships, what clothes must be worn.

Some people try to treat this as a primitive form of science, like when they say that the Jewish prohibition of pork was tied to trichinosis infection–death meant God would punish you for this. That isn’t entirely sensible, as the people surrounding the Children of Israel enjoyed pork without harm.  Why else would there have been a herd of pigs conveniently located on a nearby hillside into which Jesus could drive demons (Matthew 8:31)?  (Don’t give me nonsense that they were wild swine–who herds wild swine? And who raises pigs for any reason other than food?) It is a rule strictly for the followers of the Hebrew religion, and has no bearing on the eternal fate of those who are not members.

But all enduring religions worthy of the name share some core values and truths.  One of the big ones in the three religions derived from Abraham (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is the protection of the innocent and vulnerable, especially children.  Any form of these religions that does not hold this as a central teaching is to be held in suspicion, evaluated carefully, and condemned.

The Bible, from start to finish, leans heavily in favor of care for the widowed, orphaned, stranger, impoverished.  Indeed, Jesus is clear that no matter what you believe, if you have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned, you will receive divine favor (Matthew 25:44).

There is, in Christianity, a special place for the care of children, and Jesus explicitly commands that nobody get in the way of his relationship with little ones (Matthew 19:14, Luke 18:16).  He seems at his best when he is healing, and at least two instances of healing children come to mind:  the healing of the Canaanite woman’s son (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24), and the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43).  Boundaries are crossed:  neither of these families are the people to whom the Messiah was sent, and yet Jesus healed them anyway.

And so, it is exceedingly confusing that a Christian doctor decided that her faith prohibits her from treating a child whose parents both happen to be women. Yes, some Christians have a fairly narrow view of what it means to be a family, or what constitutes marriage, or what is the best way to raise a child.  And yes, the law does allow doctors to discriminate in this way on the basis of their “religion”.

But the appeal to religious belief which allows a doctor to refuse treatment to a child raised by two women, one of whom is the biological mother, is questionable for one simple reason.  Christians worship the bastard son of a teenage mother who couldn’t name the father without the threat of death. We don’t know if Mary was technically a “virgin” the way we understand physical virginity–because sexual intercourse outside marriage was a capital offense, unwed pregnancy pretty much would not have existed.  And so an unmarried woman who carried a child to term, and long enough to raise him with a respectable husband, was nothing short of a social miracle.

Jesus was raised in a home that most conservative Christians would have found scandalous.  And yet, we honor that family as “holy”, and as an example of what families are and should be when they are at their best. The holy family was a social miracle.  The trend toward greater acceptance of same-sex couples choosing to raise children in stable and loving homes where commitment and fidelity are key values is a social miracle in our time.  Christians should rejoice in this, not make it more difficult.

Religious freedom is fine, and there are possibly good reasons for a doctor refusing to treat a particular patient on religious grounds (for example, a Muslim or Orthodox Jewish physician may choose to treat only patients of his or her own sex, to observe religious prohibitions against touching people of the opposite sex outside their own families).  If that is made clear as a general policy of the practice, I can see no objection.  It limits the people who might seek care from a particular physician, and might limit the medical specialties or institutions in which that physician can exercise his or her vocation.  But it is up-front and honest, and causes no real harm.

But something about a Christian doctor who meets a same-sex couple prior to the birth of their child, says nothing about the religious objection, and lets their refusal be delivered by a third party, has a spiritual bad smell about it.  Dishonesty, cowardice, and forgetting the basics of the religion in whose name you claim to act–those are never attractive qualities.

On an individual basis, it adds stress to a family already making the major life adjustments which the arrival of a child entails.  A physician who accepts a patient but then decides not to provide the care within his or her competency is a fraud–perhaps not in the legal sense, but in a moral sense far deeper than acknowledged by law. It is also questionable how important her faith is to her, given that she did not consult the tradition she claims to uphold prior to indicating that she would accept these new patients.  I wonder how much she knows the Christian tradition–especially the little bit about letting one’s yes be yes, and one’s no be no.  And if you don’t demonstrate a thoughtful application of the things you claim are paramount in your life, your capacity to make thoughtful applications of anything else is suspect as well.

On a more general basis, this doctor has discredited the very Christianity she claims to uphold.  And for that reason, Jesus wept.


2 thoughts on “Jesus Loves the little children

  1. Wendy, you are so good at unpicking and analysing the various aspects of this (to me) distressing story. I had had the obvious response – (what makes this doctor think her behaviour is acceptable? ) – based on her expression of moral disdain. But equally, as you say, having originally taken this couple on, she should have stuck to her (social) contract.

    1. Thank you, Laura! (My hands are a little slow these days, but my mind is still reasonably quick… 🙂 )

      It just seemed really sleazy to me, every aspect of the way the doctor handled it. Even if I agreed about the rightness/wrongness of same-sex couples raising children (I obviously do not), you make it an up-front policy. You don’t take them on, back out, and then have someone else face the people you’ve let down.

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