Thursday, September 17, 2009

Discovering a Little More About Myself

The assignment for Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective this week was to read the book by James Gustafson, "Protestant and Roman Catholic Ethics," then come prepared to discuss the Mrs. Bergmeier case from the perspective of a Protestant and Roman Catholic theologian. I ended up picking Paul Ramsay as my Protestant and J. Giles Milhaven as my R.C. Now, sparing you a lot of the details that could be wonderfully fascinating to some and like a butter knife boring into the skull for others, I will try to cut to the basic chase.

The Mrs. Bergmeier case is about a German wife and mother, during the time of WWII. She was out scavenging for food one afternoon, away from her children, when a group of Soviet army men came along, grabbed her and put her in a camp in Russia. Her husband and children had no idea what had happened to her. They basically became lost without her, to the brink of starvation. In the camp, Mrs. Bergmeier heard about her family's attempt to find her from a friendly commander. Another soldier, who was more congenial told her the two options that she had in order to be able to leave the camp. She could become violently ill, at that point they would ship her off to another camp where medical attention could be provided, or she could become pregnant, and they would ship her back to Germany and let her go.

Thinking through her dire situation and the situation of her dying family, she asked the guard to impregnate her. He did, and she was able to go home. The family accepted her back into their lives, even after she told them the circumstances of her return. The baby was born and they pored more love into that child than ever, because for them, that child was the savior for the restoration of the family.

Now, the question is - was she right or wrong? Briefly, again, Paul Ramsay, our Protestant theologian/ethician would say that Mrs. Bergmeier was wrong to do this. He would be very sympathetic to her case, but Ramsay has a deontological approach to Christian ethics - meaning that one has a duty, so very much like using "one ought to" phrases. Not only is he deontological in his approach, but he holds that mankind has held certain promises to each other entering into a covenant relationship with one another. So, while he sympathizes with the situation, Mrs. Bergmeier needed to uphold her marriage vows, not commit adultery and not break the covenant-partnership - this was her chief duty.

Our R.C. theologian/ethician, J. Giles Milhaven, has a much different approach to Christian ethics. The key for him is LOVE. So, love knows no a priori law, it sees only the ones loved and what experience shows is happening to them. He is very empirical and wants to look at all of the evidence in order to determine the good. For him, Mrs. Bergmeier would be justified in doing this act because her love for her family and the discovery of the hurt and near fatal conditions for them would justify her doing this sin; she is responsible to love them first and take care of them.

Now, before I get completely long winded, during this whole process, I have discovered a little more about my approach to ethics and in particular, this Mrs. Bergmeier case. I will say this about myself - I think that I am a heartless bastard. I am really not your typical weepy woman (don't get me wrong, stick Sleepless in Seattle on the tube and buckets of tears will be falling in a minute). But, I read this case and felt almost anger at it. Why didn't she trust in the sovereignty of God to pull her out of that situation? She was presented with two options (only really one that would get her home), but she forgot the all important third option - anything is possible with God, who is fully in control of the situation and will work out all things for the good of those who believe in Him. Now, I am not entirely sure that Mrs. Bergmeier held this view of God, she might not have been reformed and gone through Calvin's Institutes, so I will cut her slack if ignorance is in play. But, I think that if this situation was forced upon me (and Lord, I pray that the day never does come), that I would look for the third option - the trust that my sovereign Lord will assure me home, either back to my earthly family or home to Him in glory.

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