Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Here we Go Again
Of all the viewers who followed the Gosselins, evangelicals were among the most faithful. Jon and Kate's refusal to resort to "selective reduction" when they found themselves pregnant with sextuplets, their membership in an Assemblies of God church, and their Isaiah 40:31 T-shirts all helped to make them icons of evangelical piety. Churches from across the country clamored to be added to their speaking tours. In the last two years the vast majority of Jon and Kate's presentations took place at Christian conferences or at evangelical churches, most often Baptist, nondenominational or charismatic.Hmmmm...maybe there is something to these well organized hierarchical denominations after all?! The quoting continues:
We evangelicals tend to be easily impressed. We cheered on Jon and Kate's decision to carry all six babies to term but rarely considered the prior question: Was it right for them to undergo risky fertility treatments in the first place? They had been married only a matter of months when Kate, who was in her mid-20s at the time, took fertility medication to stimulate her ovaries for intrauterine insemination and became pregnant with their twins, Cara and Mady.It was these greater questions about "reproductive technology" that casued my wife and I to opt out of same. But I digress...
Only a few years later, Kate's ovaries were stimulated once again, but this time they were hyper-stimulated. Warned by their doctor during an ultrasound examination that the fertility medication had worked a little too well and that four mature follicles were present, Jon and Kate nonetheless went ahead with the insemination. Apparently their doctor had miscounted on that fateful day, because Kate soon discovered that she was pregnant with seven embryos (one of which miscarried a short time later). Six babies were growing in a space designed for one, posing great risks to the life of each baby as well as to the life of their mother. Faced with this unintended but preventable situation, Jon and Kate were right to carry all of the babies to term. But this decision is not enough to warrant their status as models of Christian faithfulness. That most evangelicals were satisfied to celebrate the end—six miraculous lives—rather than assess the morality of the means whereby those lives were created, betrays the thinness of evangelical reflection on reproductive ethics. Too often our ethics have focused so singularly on the question of abortion that we have given comparatively little attention to the morally-significant issues surrounding infertility, reproductive technology, childbirth, and parenting. As such, we have a hard time challenging the assumptions of our consumerist culture or those who, like Jon and Kate, seem to be beholden to it.
As fellow Christians, we should have reminded the Gosselins that life is a gift to be received in gratitude, not something to be grasped, purchased, or sold. In many ways, the last four seasons of Jon & Kate Plus Eight is the story of a family that seemed to progressively lose sight of this truth. Of course, they had help along the way from TLC, from the show's producers, and not least of all, from their Christian viewers.
As such, the breakdown of Jon and Kate's marriage is but a symptom of the larger weaknesses of ethics in the evangelical community. We are easily seduced by wealth and fame. We are easily contented by the shallow rhetoric of hot-button issues. In short, we are easily deceived by cultural values painted in Christian veneers (or clothed in Isaiah 40:31 T-shirts).Lord, hear our prayer...
The hope for us—and the hope of Jon and Kate—is to turn once again to the rich, complex, and difficult ethics of Jesus and to let those ethics form us into a more discerning people in the world. It is time that we look for role models who value self-sacrifice over material gain. It is time that we practice forgiveness and the healing of broken relationships and call fellow Christians to do the same. It is time that we take our own marriage vows seriously and hold our brothers and sisters to be true to their commitments as well. Most importantly, it is time that we develop a view of faith and life that is capable of asking deep questions and courageous enough to embody real answers. Then, and only then, will Christians have something to offer the world and something to offer Jon & Kate Plus Eight.