Meaningful, civil debate about hot-button issues like homosexuality, cloning, and abortion is often hard to find in religious circles, not because of the issues themselves but because of the way people think about them.
That's the view of the Rev. Gene Edward Veith, Jr., culture editor of World Magazine who will lecture at the 13th annual Toledo Reformed Theological Conference Friday and April 1. Mr. Veith also is director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The very nature of public debate has changed from one involving reason and evidence to one that is a battle of personal wills, Mr. Veith said in an interview this week.
Like many culture watchers and scholars, Mr. Veith asserts that society is entering the postmodern era, "and postmodernists tend to be relativists when it comes to truth," he said.
"It becomes, 'That's your truth, this is my truth. You have no right to impose your truth on me,'" Mr. Veith said. "There is no looking at moral issues in objective terms."
That approach to debate does not consider scientific evidence or logic, but instead relies solely on an individual's own "personal culture," he said.
He cited the abortion issue as an example.
"In the old debates about abortion, people could come up on different sides of the issue, bring in evidence on one side or the other, talk about it in moral terms, and people could possibly be convinced to change their minds," Mr. Veith said. "Now you don't have that."
In decades past, the abortion debate often centered on questions of whether the fetus was a human being and whether the procedure involved the taking of a human life.
Today, the debate has shifted to whether one person or group can impose its moral values on another in allowing or disallowing legal abortion, Mr. Veith said.
"Instead of calling themselves pro-abortion, they call themselves pro-choice. It doesn't matter what she chooses. If she chooses abortion, that's right for her. If she chooses not to have an abortion, that's right for her, too," he said. "It's almost a paradigm shift in the way people look at moral issues."
Debate over euthanasia also has changed, Mr. Veith said. Rather than ask, "Shall we let it be possible to kill sick people?," it has become a matter of personal values and choice: "If the person chooses to die, who are we to say they should be kept alive?"
The Rev. Greg Withrow, pastor of the Assembly of Christians in Bedford and organizer of the annual conference, said the sessions are aimed at presenting theological ideas for the general public. This year, the theme is "The Battle for the Mind of the Church."
Debate in the Terry Schiavo case inspired him to focus this year's conference on theological views of euthanasia, biotechnology, just war, and other divisive issues.
"As a pastor, we are being asked these kinds of ethical questions," Mr. With-
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