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Reinventing the Stumbling Block

October 25, 2010

Stumbling towards what?

“Stumbling block”–it’s one of those biblical terms that sends a shiver of conviction down my spine.

The command is given “…make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13)

But what exactly is a stumbling block? “To stumble” generally implies an interruption in progress down a given path (difficult to stumble when you’re standing still), and the path that God is so jealous to guard among His people is that of sanctification–the process of being set apart for our “chief end”, which as the Westminster Catechism declares, is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”.

In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul admonishes the church:

“[T]ake care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” 

Here we see that our responsibility extends beyond our own lives–I may be permitted to engage in certain “disputable” behaviors, but if doing so misleads or agitates the conscience of my brother or sister in Christ, I am commanded in love to bend my liberty to their sensitivity. It is in this command that I am reminded that God’s standards of love and holiness are much higher than my own technical definitions of “obedience”.

A New Kind of Block

But a recent statement from a local Baptist reverend had me rethinking my whole understanding of “stumbling block”. During last month’s Pharmacy Board hearings, the reverend testified:

“As a Christian minister for over 45 years, I cannot find any place in the scriptures I hold sacred that would condone the refusal to help someone who is in need of medical care. Quite the contrary, the Christian Biblical text admonishes believers that we must never be a stumbling block for others. That is exactly what is proposed in the [pharmacy regulation change]: to create a stumbling block for some of the most vulnerable and needy by restricting or denying their compassionate care.”

Interesting application–surely as Christians we are to be concerned with the physical, as well as the spiritual needs of those around us. The Proverbs tell us not to withhold good from those who are entitled to it when we have the power to give it.  

But it needs to be noted that the reverend seems to have broadened not only the definiton of “stumbling block”, but also what is means to provide “compassionate care”. As it turns out, the cause he was trumpeting was a rule that would require Washington State pharmacists to dispense the “Morning-After-Pill”, even in violation of personal conscience.

Does emergency contraception qualify as healthcare? I have yet to hear of any cases where it treated a disease or saved a life (though there are certainly doctors who would argue it has taken many lives) but we are now asked to believe that it qualifies as “compassionate care” and that those whose conscience forbid them from dispensing it are acting as “stumbling blocks”.   

In a sense he is right, such pharmacists are acting as obstacles, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

Anesthesia for the Soul

I confess, part of me likes the Reverend’s application of “stumbling block” a whole lot better than the one found in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14–how much easier would the Christian life be if God permitted us to lay aside our convictions any time it became an impediment to another person’s choice–if we were no longer charged with helping others to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”?

It might make life easier, but where would such doctrine lead us? It would lead us to the place we are today, where under the cloak of ecclesiastical authority, certain ministers go so far as to twist the scriptures to sear not only their own consciences, but the consciences of those who look to them for guidance. For not only does this reverend advocate government-forced dispensing of Plan B, he also happens to be the full-time chaplain for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.

His job description is simple: to numb the disquieted hearts of Planned Parenthood’s victims. One such tale of clerical anesthetizing was recounted in a 2006 Seattle PI article:

[A]bortion days take a toll [on clinic staff], especially when they see repeat customers.

For Mona Hinojos, 30, who works at the Vancouver clinic, just being in the office made her nervous…the magnitude of what was about to happen was unshakable.

“The very first time I was involved, I thought, ‘How am I going to deal with this?’ ” she said. “I was raised Catholic, so it’s hard. But the two things — you kind of weigh them out. Women’s rights are very important, just as much as my religion. I believe in what we do here, and I believe that my faith is strong, too.”

[Reverend] Lachina’s counseling further cemented Hinojos’ already strong sense of purpose. But to one medical assistant at the clinic in Oak Harbor, the reality of being present during the termination of a pregnancy, in this case through medication, made her think about quitting.

“We weren’t doing abortions when I started here — I’d thought that would stay closer to Seattle — and when we did, it was really, really hard for me,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be published because she fears her friends will disapprove. “I thought, ‘Should I call in sick? Get another job?’ “…

Lachina listened to her concerns, telling her that God did not judge her and that she should not blame herself. His cleric’s collar, so similar to those worn by the priests she’d been raised to obey, was especially comforting.

“I’m still kind of divided in my feelings,” the woman said. “But I believe that I’m doing right, and [Reverend Lachina] really helped me.”

The reverend “really helped” her? He may have temporarily allievated feelings of guilt, but he certainly did not free her to enjoy the presence of God.

With cleverly crafted words, such ministers attempt to redefine what it means to be “compassionate”. What appears to be an interest in providing medical care to the “most vulnerable”, is in fact opening up a path to destruction. What appears to be an extension of grace to those who are overwhelmed with guilt, is actually a hinderance to true forgiveness, healing, and freedom.

God of Judgement, God of Grace

The most dangerous part of the reverend’s message is not his particular misapplication of the term “stumbling block”, or even his advocacy of abortion rights–what is most dangerous is his implication that God does not judge.

Dear friends, let us never be deceived into thinking that our God is not a God of judgement, for if there is no judgement of sin, then Christ died for nothing. It was on the cross that Christ bore the wrath for God’s judgement of sin. If we acknowledge our sin and rest in Christ’s finished work of redemption, then the penalty for our sin has been paid–we take part in the blessed double transfer of our sins being nailed to the cross, and Christ’s righteousness credited to our account. But for those who brush away the weight of sin, who see no need for repentance, who believe in a God of tolerance without holiness, the way to redemption in blocked.

The true stumbling block in this situation is not the conscience-bound pharmacist, or an outdated moralism, rather it the counterfeit compassion of postmodern spirituality, which states that “care” should include an unhindered path towards physical, emotional, and spiritual destruction.

As it turns out, there are some paths that need to be blocked in order to redirect us towards the path of life.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott permalink
    October 25, 2010 12:23 pm

    Thanks Terra. Excellent perspective. Without sin there is no judgement, without judgement there is no reason for having a savior. Without the need for a savior we are only playing the game of being religious…. and I doubt God is impressed.

    While it is not my role to judge Reverend Lachina’s, it does seem appropriate that there would be a higher standard on those in positions of influence and those who are suppose to represent Christ. Speaking of Christ, I believe this was his quote:

    “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!”

    Something we probably should all consider.

  2. October 26, 2010 10:03 am

    Very well put. To put salve on sin is a bigger stumbling block than drinking beer at a Baptist potluck. This minister who says he speaks for Christ, while putting quieting guilt and promoting murder, speaks only for the devil. (And, Scott, I am qualified in my judgment of him because Christ said we can judge by the fruit and John said no one can claim to speak for God while denying Him – other than that, I am in total agreement of your assessment).

    Keep up the good work.

  3. Aly permalink
    October 27, 2010 10:22 am

    Regardless of our theological differences, I am always impressed with your writings, because unlike many other Christians, you are consistent with what you believe…that is, you follow your beliefs to their logical conclusions, which is not something seen often enough in today’s watered-down version of popular Christianity. I really, really admire the courage you have in calling people out, as well as the gentle, loving manner in which you do so.

    Next time I come across someone who believes that being firm in the truth is a hindrance to being loving, I am going to point them to your blog.

    Keep up the great work, and God bless you!

  4. Randy permalink
    October 30, 2010 9:11 am

    Terra, Very nice blog. I enjoyed the information and opinion you posted about my local candidates for federal office and their positions on abortion.

  5. January 7, 2011 2:43 pm

    I am glad to have come across your blog. You are very well spoken and very thoughtful. You are an encouragement to me about the furure of our youth. You are a rare beauty of soul.
    What I find amazing is that the aborted child is never figuring in the equation of compassion.

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