At bioethics.com, I curate and post articles from the media that deal with bioethics issues. A typical post at bioethics.com is a title, link, and short blurb from an article in the mainstream media, such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Reuters, or the Associated Press. Over the past year, one bioethics.com post received more views in a single day than any other post, and it won by a large margin: “The Twitching Generation” by Helen Lewis at The Atlantic (See post here). I posted “The Twitching Generation” on Monday February 28, 2022. On Saturday alone it received 2,512 views, and as of April 2022, it had 5,338 views. Those numbers are just for the bioethics.com post which serves as a thoroughfare to the actual article. The topic is apparently of interest to our bioethics readers, so let’s look at what we can learn from Helen Lewis’s article about teens and technology.
Ministry leaders who foster vital congregational community can constructively address the adverse trends in the growing national crisis regarding the upturn in mental illness. In the previous piece on ministry along the mental health continuum, the charge to ministry leaders was to be part of the solution: faith communities serve a stabilizing function that increase disease resistance by reversing isolation. Here, that challenge will be expanded. Ministry leaders can indeed be part of a larger social movement that promotes mental health and fulfills our Gospel calling. Awareness of trends in mental health care can assist clergy to customize and deepen the support offered to struggling parishioners.
Is the clamor regarding an uptick in untreated mental health cases an absurd prophecy or another conspiracy theory? The data would suggest otherwise. There is reputable evidence that increasing numbers of people are inwardly perturbed and exhibit symptoms such as sleep disturbance, suicidal ideation, and addictive behaviors. The COVID-19 pandemic itself brought evidence-based epidemiology -the data driven study of patterns in health and disease- into the public spotlight.
"...For when people were afraid to visit the sick, then they died with no one to look after them . . . . The bodies of the dying were heaped one on top of the other, and half-dead creatures could be seen staggering about in the streets or flocking around the fountains in their desire for water." Thus Thucydides (ca. 431 BC) paints a vivid—if morbid—picture of a plague in the classical world. This situation did not change for another seven centuries. We can learn much from what (and who) brought the change.
Too frequently Christians in the West engage questions about medicine and healthcare from within our particular political binary—conservative or liberal. Our pundits endlessly debate the questions, “Who should have access to medical care?” “How should they get it?” And, most of all, “Who should pay for it?” Might Christians have more to say than our polarized political discourse allows? Our ancient brothers and sisters would answer with a strong, “Yes!”
This moment in time has created a unique opportunity for pastors and church leaders who are concerned with bioethics. Now more than ever before, people are interested in the questions that bioethics seeks to address. While it would be easy to leave teaching on these matters to experts and news outlets or to focus any teaching on COVID-19 specifically, I believe this misses the opportunity this moment offers. COVID-19 has provided an opening for broadening congregants’ thinking on bioethical issues beyond the current pandemic, and to do so from a distinctly Christian perspective. This chance should not be wasted.
In a previous article in this forum, I wrote about how COVID-19 could serve as a jumping-off point for raising issues of bioethics in the church, issues that extend far beyond the current pandemic. Two examples I gave were of issues related to vaccines/public health and healthcare disparities. However, there is another topic that is just as easily raised and is perhaps even more pressing for the church today: facing death.
As more and more of our friends, neighbors, and family members get vaccinated, it occurred to me that it would be helpful to offer some biblical counsel on the topic. As Christians, we must take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5) as we consult both God’s Word and His world (i.e., scientific research) to discern whether the COVID-19 vaccine(s) are helpful and wise. To that end, I want to offer a set of biblical touchpoints to consider as you think about this issue.