In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.
No simple answer
The Rev. Holly McKissick, pastor of St. Andrew Christian Church, Olathe, Kan.: "It's regrettable," the priest said to the reporter, "but abortion can never be allowed, even if it means the mother dies along with her child. You can't do wrong to bring about good."
He was explaining the excommunication of a nun who served on the ethics committee at a hospital where an abortion had been performed in the 11th week of pregnancy. The woman's doctors recommended the procedure to save her life.
Listening, I thought back to case studies from graduate school: Lying is wrong; so, if you are hiding Jews and Nazis come to the door, do you turn them over? Some ethicists would say you cannot do wrong to bring about good, so you turn them over.
Really? The Scriptures are filled with people who do wrong to bring about good: Moses kills, Judith lies, Rahab deceives, Jesus picks grain on the Sabbath. The word that comes to my mind for a person who would not, on occasion, do wrong to bring about good is disconnected: disconnected from people, relationships and the complicated world we live in.
So I asked my 12-year-old: Which would God prefer: the loss of an 11-week pregnancy or the loss of the pregnancy and mother? Without hesitation, thank God, he says, the loss of the baby. He gets it: The world is gray, not black and white.
No hypocrisy allowed
Rabbi Robert L. Tobin of Congregation Beth Shalom, Overland Park: The world of human choices for the religious Jew fall into three categories: an action that is commanded to be done (a commandment or mitzvah), something that is permitted to be done (though not mandatory) and anything that is prohibited (an aveirah or sin).
Take the example of a stolen ritual object, such as a "lulav" or "palm frond" that is used in Judaism at the fall holiday of the harvest's ingathering. Each individual is commanded to own and wave this palm, along with other specific species, in his or her prayers during the festival. May one fulfill one's religious duty with a stolen lulav?!
In the Mishnah 3:1 (the first and formative book of Rabbinic Judaism ), we learn: A stolen or dried lulav is invalid. From this we learn the principle that a mitzvah (sacred commandment) fulfilled through a sin does not fulfill one's obligation (to perform the commanded act).
One might rationalize that stealing to perform a good is a good. Not true.
The law includes ample wrestling with competing values, such as "breaking" the Sabbath restrictions to save a life. But even these are fulfilling the law, not breaking it. In this way, holiness is attainable in our lives and lifetimes. "And ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy." (Leviticus 19:2b)