It’s been said that a fundamentalist is an evangelical who got mad. Fundamentalists in 1920, angry that their fellow conservative believers did not fight back, fought against moderates and liberals in their own denominations as well as in other churches and in the nation. Their politically minded descendants do the same these days, using their kind of biblical literalism as a weapon.
Republicans control both chambers of Congress and likely could muster enough votes to block the Oregon law that allows physician-assisted suicide. But an apparent about-face by an Oregon senator could alter the political landscape in the Senate.
It is said that death waits for no one and makes no appointments. That was the case for the 1,000 people killed by Hurricane Katrina, the 70,000 dead in the Pakistan earthquake, and the 181,000 lives claimed by the Asian tsunami that hit in late 2004, overshadowing the dawn of 2005.
As Terri Schiavo drew her final breaths, dozens of praying protesters—and even greater numbers of journalists—massed daily outside her hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida. The crowd changed mostly whenever religious activists—ranging from Randall Terry to Jesse Jackson—showed up to comfort those who grasped at any straw of hope.
Judge George Greer, a Florida county judge in the spotlight three times for ordering Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube removed, was advised by his Southern Baptist pastor to leave the congregation—despite the judge’s reputation as a conservative Republican and conservative Christian.
The Terri Schiavo case serves as a reminder of how important advance written directions are to family members when an incapacitated loved one is at death’s door, say church leaders. And at least three denominations reminded members of the general tendency of ecumenical churches to oppose extraordinary medical means to prolong life.
The Terri Schiavo case highlighted our worst fears: the loss of autonomy, the burden of care put on family members, a painful private decision splayed before the press and the public, and, most profoundly, seemingly needless suffering. Whatever else it does, the case should impel Christians to reexamine fundamental beliefs about care for the severely disabled and those at the end of life.
Like March Madness in the basketball world, participants in the debate over Terri Schiavo seemed driven to pick a team and root it on to victory, vanquishing the opponents. With her death, it’s time to put the madness behind us and attend not just to the passion but to the compassion on both sides of the debate. Both sides, after all, claimed to be on Terri’s side.