The Word of God is a lens through which one can perceive what Christian morality is and how to act. God is a loving father, who stands up for the weak and oppressed, and who has created each of his children with a very special purpose. When thinking about a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, Christian ethics offers an argument in favor of the dignity and personhood of the unborn child. Especially in the face of a world where selective abortion is seen as a solution.
In Christian ethics, there are three parts to morality: conduct, character, and goals. In order for this problem to be remedied, these three aspects of morality must be in tune with how God would act towards people with DS. This problem boils down to treating other human beings with the respect and dignity they deserve. Although Christian analysis and the Bible do not speak directly of Down Syndrome as a disability, many passages throughout scripture have to do with caring for and defending those who cannot care or stand up for themselves. God’s character, and the magnification of it through Jesus Christ, helps to illuminate how children and the most vulnerable are to be treated.
For Christians, “morality is ultimately grounded in the character of God — that is, the ultimate source for morality is not God’s commands but God’s character…” which is “…further clarified by 2 Jesus’ character.” (Rae) God is made known to us through his Word, which is the source of moral authority for ethics (Jones). Through scripture, four truths about God’s character in regards to injustice are revealed: God loves justice and hates injustice, God has compassion for the victims of injustice, God judges and condemns the perpetrators of injustice, and finally, God actively seeks rescue for the victims (Lewis 79). God loves justice and will constantly seek to end injustice. Justice, as one of the cardinal virtues, simply means “fairness,” as well as “honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life” (69). God is a caring Father, who looks out for the powerless and maintains the welfare of the vulnerable.
According to C. S. Lewis, “moral rules are directions for running the human machine” and are not “something that interferes, something that stops you having a good time”(5). Morality consists of three elements: harmony between individuals (conduct), internal harmony (character), and the purpose of human life as a whole (goals) (72). All three of these aspects must be in top shape for a person to act morally. Lewis uses an illustration of ships to further explain what he means. To be a properly functioning fleet, each ship must be in harmony so that they do not ram into each other. However, unless each ship is maintained internally, one cannot ensure that can happen. All ships must agree on a destination, the goal of their journey. If the ships intend to go to India but instead end up in Boston, there is something wrong. In the same way, Christians must ensure their goals and purposes are aligned to ensure upright action.
To find how to properly respond to the reality of Down Syndrome, one must look to God’s character, and therefore, to his Word. Through scripture, moral action can be discerned. Psalm 139 addresses God’s knowledge of, relationship with, and plans for the unborn child. Verses 13-16 show that God “formed [the] inward parts” and “knitted [the child] together in [the] mother’s womb,” ensuring that the child is “fearfully and wonderfully made”. In knowing this fact, along with the fact that God’s eyes “saw [the] unformed substance” and also has “in [His] book… the days that were formed for [them], when as yet there was none of them”(8), the life of the unborn child greatly increases in worth. Even in the earliest stages of development, regardless of genetic makeup, the Lord had a purpose for the undeveloped embryo (Kohlnberger III, Barker). This is seen through Jesus Christ in his treatment of children. In Matthew 19, Jesus commands his disciples that they must “Let the little children come to [him]… for to such the kingdom of heaven belongs”(10). The dynamic of this ancient culture is reminiscent of today in how children with Down Syndrome are often viewed: dependents without a voice. However, Jesus’ attitude towards children is only welcoming and protective. He reveals the mission of God’s Kingdom – caring for the weakest.
Discerning how to address the negative perception of those with DS and their marginalization through selectove abortion must once again come from an understanding of God’s character. Psalm 146 praises God for: executing justice for the poor, giving food to the hungry, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, lifting up those who are bowed down, watching over the sojourners, and upholding the widow and the fatherless. God cares for the most vulnerable in any society, provides them with what they need, and “is a God of… all-embracing pity, socially and personally, a God of moral exactness, who is moved by the plight of the needy” (Carson). Caring for those with DS requires that they are defended from the harmful misconceptions that arise in the selective abortion debate. For instance, in Iceland, a country which has recently been named the sixth-most atheistic nation in the world and the “most godless country in Europe” (Gunnarsson), 99% of DS pregnancies are aborted every year (Government of Iceland). Icelandic pastor Gunnar Gunnarsson says that “the way to counter Iceland’s ‘elimination’ of DS and culture of abortion will come through the Lord. He will transform the hearts of individuals that will transform a nation” (Gunnarsson). Only in this way will hearts be transformed.
God impartially loves the unborn, has a heart for justice, and upholds the vulnerable. Christians must reflect the same heart. Through Scripture, it is evident how God would care and advocate for those with DS. The aforementioned moral principles must be applied to how we support and care for children with Down Syndrome. Our character and conduct must be in line with God’s when we approach this issue. Furthermore, the synthesis of these two aspects will create a clear course of action to follow. The simplest solution lies in remedying the negative thoughts and countering the biases of those with DS. This can only be achieved through an understanding of morality and the teaching of God’s Word.
Carson, D. A. et al. “Psalm 146.” New Bible Commentary. Leicester, England: Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, 1953.
Government of Iceland. “Facts About Down syndrome and prenatal screening in Iceland.” From The Embassy of Iceland in London. March 2018. https://www.government.is/diplomatic-missions/embassy-article/2018/03/26/Facts-aboutDowns-syndrome-and-pre-natal-screening-in-Iceland/
Gunnarsson, Gunnar Igni. “Iceland Capitals’ Only Baptist Pastor Doesn’t Want Down Syndrome Eliminated.” Christianity Today. (2017). https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/august-web-only/icelands-only-baptist-pastordown-syndrome-abortion.html. Haugen, Gary. Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
Holy Bible. ESV. https://www.biblegateway.com/.
Jones, David W. An Introduction to Biblical Ethics. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.
Keener, Craig S. Matthew. ed. Grant R. Osborne. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
Kohlenberger III, John R. and Kenneth L. Barker. Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Abridged Version): Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.
Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: New York, 1952. Rae, Scott. Moral Choices. New York, New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.