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    PloughCast 48: Canada’s Euthanasia Industry

    Generations, Part 6

    By Alexander Raikin, Leah Libresco Sargeant, Peter Mommsen and Susannah Black Roberts

    February 21, 2023

    About This Episode

    We talk with Alexander Raikin & Leah Libresco Sargeant on MAID, and take your questions. Raikin discloses his recent reporting on Canada’s massive ramp-up in medically assisted death.

    How can this cultural disaster have happened, and what can we do to prevent this approach to life and death from taking hold in our own families and churches?

    Then we answer your questions: what are the implications of the fact that marriage is becoming the province of the upper middle and upper classes, while increasingly out of reach for the working class and the poor? Are plunging birthrates such a bad thing? Plus, responses to Matthew Lee Anderson on IVF, and more.

    [You can listen to this episode of The PloughCast on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

    Recommended Reading


    Section 1: Sargeant & Raikin: Canada’s Assisted Suicide Regime

    Susannah Black Roberts: Welcome back to The PloughCast! This is the sixth episode in our new series, covering our Generations issue. I’m Susannah Black Roberts, senior editor at Plough.

    Peter Mommsen: And I’m Peter Mommsen, editor-in-chief at Plough. In this episode, we will be talking with Leah Libresco Sargeant and Alexander Raikin about medically assisted suicide, and then we’ll be answering your questions.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Leah Libresco Sargeant is the author of Arriving at Amen and Building the Benedict Option, and is a Plough contributing editor. She runs Other Feminisms, a Substack community focused on interdependence. Twitter: @LeahLibresco. Alexander Raikin is a freelance journalist in Washington, DC who specializes in medical ethics. He is on twitter at @AlexanderRaikin. Welcome, Leah and Alexander!

    We are here to talk about Alexander’s extensive reporting on the subject of MAID, Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada, in a piece for the New Atlantis, which came out about a month ago or so? Is that right?

    Alexander Raikin: Right. And I have another piece that came out for the National Review last week.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So, Alexander, what is going on in Canada?

    Alexander Raikin: Well, the sky is falling down. Everyone knows that the sky is falling down. So, disability advocates have been saying that the sky has been falling down now for years, media has been reporting almost every day now. There are new and disturbing cases of potential abuse in assisted dying.

    So, Canada now has the world’s largest and fastest growing euthanasia program. Every single day in 2021, which was the last year that we have data, more than twenty-seven Canadians died by the hands of their physicians or nurses. And that’s double the rate of unassisted suicide.

    Susannah Black Roberts: How did this happen? How did we get here?

    Alexander Raikin: I mean, that’s the million-dollar question. It is pretty jarring just how quickly Canada has fallen headfirst into euthanasia. Because ten years ago, this was considered essentially culpable homicide. The House of Commons voted repeatedly against it.

    In 2010, there was a vote where three quarters of the House of Commons voted against it. In polling, Canadians largely viewed that when asked between supporting the legalization of assisted suicide in euthanasia or increasing palliative care, or both, Canadians overwhelmingly chose palliative care.

    And yet, Canada within ten years has gone from a jurisdiction where euthanasia is, again, a culpable homicide, a criminal offense, to now this being almost standard protocol for any form of medical service. Anyone with any chronic disability or illness is essentially eligible.

    To die of euthanasia in Canada, you just need to have something like hearing loss. You don’t need to be in pain. You don’t need to have a terminal illness. You can have hearing loss. So, that was Alan Nichols. That was one of the cases where he had depression. He came out of a hospital. And then, unbeknownst to the family, he was qualified for euthanasia by physicians. When his family found out about it, forty-eight hours before the procedure, they tried to stop it. So, they sent urgent … they called the hospital, they tried to send medical files, showing his psychiatric history.

    They tried to call the police when the hospital wasn’t responding to them. And yet, Alan Nichols still died by euthanasia forty-eight hours later. Afterwards, by the way, the family tried to contact the police again trying to find out the reason why he was deemed to have the capacity to consent.

    And that’s how they found that on his MAID application. The reason that was given for his grievous irremediable medical condition, which in theory is the legal requirement were two words, hearing loss.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: Wow. Part of what’s so striking about that example is that candidates taking the perspective that the safer course is killing, that any level of delay, reflection, looping in family members who might want to intervene is disadvantaging someone.

    Alexander Raikin: As part of my reporting for the New Atlantis I found two years of seminars, of training seminars that were conducted by an organization called the Canadian Association of MAID – that’s Medical Assistance in Dying – Assessors and Providers, CAMAP.

    They’re essentially a random group of physicians that got together when MAID was being decriminalized by the Supreme Court in 2015. So, that was the Carter v. Canada case. They got together and decided we’re going to be the experts on this. And later on, they were essentially given the imprimatur from the federal government where they are currently the ones being paid to develop the voluntary training standard.

    So, they’re the ones who are developing their own training standards.

    I interviewed the president of the organization, Stefanie Green. And she has personally performed at least three hundred MAID procedures herself, and she has assessed at least another four hundred. So, I asked her about all of these potential stories of abuse that were being reported in Canada I asked her, is it true, have you heard of anyone getting MAID because of things like lack of housing, lack of appropriate medical care, poverty?

    And well, she said, matter-of-factly, no, that those stories aren’t true. That they’re clickbait. They’re not being reported accurately. No one is dying in Canada because of the lack of housing. That’s what she told me in April of 2022. Well, it turns out her own organization slightly less than a year prior, in May of 2021, had an entire seminar dedicated to just this topic on people driven to choose MAID, not because of their medical condition, not because of any medical suffering or physical suffering, but purely because of “a lack of resources.” So, in those cases, people can have diabetes, but they’re homeless.

    They could have fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain condition, but they can’t get the medical care that they need. They can have arthritis, but they have credit card debt. And all of these cases, these physicians know what is causing them to apply, why their patients are applying for MAID, and they’re granting it in many of these cases, and this is causing them moral distress.

    So, this organization has quite a few seminars dedicated on how to deal with their moral distress of what the situation is, and it’s not for the moral distress of the patients. It’s for the moral distress of the physicians who are ending the lives of their patients from treatable and preventable medical conditions.

    Susannah Black Roberts: In your original New Atlantis piece, that was really what’s one of the main things that struck me about those training sessions. It seems like one of those things where wow, virtue ethics is real, and these are people who are allowing themselves to and actively choosing to change themselves into people who are OK with doing this.

    So, the goal of the session seems to be to wear down that part of you or learn how to have a conversation with that part of you that has moral distress in this and shut them up, shut that part of you up. Is that an accurate representation?

    Alexander Raikin: Yeah. So, before publication for the New Atlantis, we sent CAMAP and Stefanie Green a list of questions, talking about the contradiction between what she told me in my interview and also what she told Parliament, by the way. So, it’s OK to lie to me. It’s another thing to lie to the parliament of Canada. But we asked her about the contradiction between these training seminars and what she said publicly. She responded by saying that she wanted to know what the seminars were.

    She asked us to send her own organization, her own training seminars, which we did. We told her how she could find them on her own website. She didn’t respond. The only response that her organization ever gave was in the National Post, which is center right mainstream Canadian publication newspaper.

    They published a summary of what I found in the New Atlantis. And the National Post asked Stefanie Green to comment. And a spokesperson for CAMAP commented. And the only thing that they said, or at least that was what the National Post reported, was that, sorry, I’m just laughing because I’m incredulous of this. CAMAP’s only response was that these training seminars were private.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: That was one of the things that really meant the most to me about your reporting, because I think we’ve heard a little bit different anecdotes about how expansively medical aid and dying is being applied, how much it’s being offered to people who call in wanting a wheelchair ramp and asked, well, would you prefer dying?

    We might have wheelchair ramps, but there’s a waiting list, but we can do death right now. But what you gave was that inside look at what are people thinking when they’re offering this? And it’s so striking that they do have some of the same normal reservations and a person would have, and they’re in a peer group that’s saying, you’ve got to let go of those, lest you promote inequity.

    It’s your job not to question the patient, not to do anything but take their request for death or even consideration of death as a strong sign to move forward. And when I contrast that with the way people talk about suicidal ideation outside the context of MAID, where the constant reminder is people will have passing in inclinations to commit suicide.

    You want to have guns out of your house. You want to have nets on bridges. You want to have anything that will slow people down so they can get out of that moment where what they want is suicide and get to a place where they feel better, which most people do. And here, any passing inclination for death is taken as holy writ that death is the right choice for this person.

    Alexander Raikin: I mean, look, nine out of ten failed suicide attempts are never tried again.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: Yes. And here, the doctors are willing to do same day, next day procedures.

    Alexander Raikin: Yes, it’s 100 percent effective. That’s what Stefanie Green told me. Once you have … and look, one of the striking things that has stuck into my mind is that speaking to so many people with disabilities and them telling me, oh, how difficult it is to get medical care in Canada.

    Canada’s medical system is collapsing. Don’t take my word for it. That’s what the head of the Canadian Medical Association said last summer, that Canada’s healthcare system is undergoing a collapse. Last month, the Canadian Federal Minister of Health said that Canada’s healthcare system is undergoing a sickness.

    Now look, he said it in French, but it still counts. You want to see someone, a psychiatrist specialized in treatment resistant mental illnesses. Someone like John Mayer who’s a psychiatrist in Ontario, and he leads a team in Toronto. He has a five-year waiting period, five years. And yet, look, I’m a Canadian citizen.

    I applied for MAID as well. And I managed to schedule an appointment. So, first of all, calling the hotline, it took thirty seconds for me to speak to a bureaucrat.

    No other public service in my entire life as a Canadian, have I been able to speak to someone within thirty seconds of calling the hotline. And I called it at 1:00 p.m., it was supposed to … I thought it would be a busy time. And I spoke to the bureaucrat.

    They never asked what my medical condition is. They never asked … they never suggested any other alternatives or potential sources. They never asked … there was no discussion over suicide prevention. All that it was bureaucratic. I didn’t even have to give my Ontario health insurance number.

    So, none of that was required. And instead, all that she asked for me is essentially my address, my phone number. And six hours later, a nurse calls me on behalf of this hotline asking if I’m interested in scheduling my MAID appointment.

    My first MAID consultation. So, again, so this is the first consultation, but this is a consultation with either a nurse practitioner or a physician, in two weeks. As she said it could be sooner if there are other circumstances that are pushing for it.

    I don’t know any other service in Canada where you can get medical care or just any public service as quickly as that. I couldn’t see my own family physician within two weeks unless there was an emergency.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: That really mirrors one of, I think of Canada as a warning sign for where the United States might be going, because we’ve had nurses striking in New York because they just can’t take care of patients. And they know that they’re understaffed.

    And that moral wound of being there, knowing what your patient needs and not being able to give it to them really weighs on them. They were striking to say, we need enough nurses on the floor that we can take care of people who depend on us.

    And I see some of this push for MAID as a way of solving the problem of not funding or supporting healthcare workers who know they’re not giving people the care they need and then MAID is presented as a solution. If we throw enough of them in the trash, maybe the surge will quiet down and you’ll be able to care for the remaining patients in the way that they deserve. And that’s so frustrating because you have this reporting on people salving their consciences about putting people to death for being poor.

    And in the meantime, we hear people speaking up and saying, I can’t work in these situations. I’m thinking of quitting my job because I go in everyday knowing I’m failing them as a nurse. And the solution isn’t more nurses or more staffing or safe staffing. Well, what if we put some of your patients to death and we relieve the strain a little?

    Alexander Raikin: So, I do want to say that having spoken to enough of these MAID providers, they legitimately believe that this is lifesaving.

    One of them described it to me that it’s almost like a safety belt, that if you have MAID in your back pocket, you can fight your disease with more vigor. But that’s not really what we’re seeing.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: It would be more convincing if they weren’t putting as many people to death.

    Alexander Raikin: Exactly.

    Susannah Black Roberts: One of the things that … so, just to clarify what the primary moral rights-based claim that all of this is falling under, it’s autonomy.

    It’s the idea that the primary obligation of physicians is to maximize their patient’s autonomy, to do what they will with regard to their own health, even if that means killing themselves.

    And this is presented again in the commercial that many people saw going around just before Christmas, which was essentially a very well put together and slick advertisement for MAID. This is presented as something that you can do as a personal life choice that will help you live your life and death beautifully and according to your own will.

    Alexander Raikin: The advertisement was by a department clothing company. They were viewing it as almost like a lifestyle brand, that was the advertisement. And that individual later, it turns out that her friends spoke to media afterwards and said that her friend actually wanted to live. She just couldn’t get the medical care that she needed.

    Susannah Black Roberts: One of the things that was striking to me in our piece was that you described in … so after 2015, the section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that was used to make the 2015 decision to permit MAID, that same section of the charter had been used two decades prior to criminalize euthanasia in Rodriguez versus British Columbia.

    The quote was, “Human life should not be deprecated by allowing life to be taken, especially by a physician.” So, how did the same section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms get flipped to support the opposite of what had been taken to support to decorates prior? That’s very striking to me. Do you have any thoughts on that?

    Alexander Raikin: Yes. So, The logic that the Supreme Court used is that by criminalizing physician-assisted dying, that individuals would who have a degenerative disease, are forced to take their own life when they’re capable, which is not necessarily when they would like to have actually died.

    In other words, if I have Alzheimer’s, I would be forced to commit suicide when I’m still have the capability to do it, not several years down the line. So, that was the logic that they used why a prohibition on physician assisted dying violated people’s rights for life.

    However, there’s no evidence for this. There’s no evidence for this at all. What we’ve seen in Canada is between 2016 and 2021, the years that we have data on this, that the number of MAID deaths have increased by magnitude of tenfold. The number of DIY suicides has remained essentially flat since 2003.

    We have not seen any reduction in the number of suicides. What we’ve seen is a huge growth, 1000 percent increase, and the number of assisted deaths. And the reason for that is because the type of people who choose MAID are not the type of people who attempt suicide.

    The people who are doing this are more likely to be older, they’re more likely to request it because of lack of meaning. The idea that they’re feeling like a burden. People are choosing to die not because of physical pain. They’re choosing to die because of fear or because of societal stigma.

    Section 2: Raikin & Sargeant: A Good Life & A Good Death

    Susannah Black Roberts: That latter idea, I think getting directly into the misunderstanding of what humans are and how we work, that something like MAID points to is maybe something we want to talk about now.

    So, one of the things that Leah and I have both thought about is essentially one of the things that is important for keeping people alive, one of the things that’s important for people understanding their own lives in a positive way, is that suicide is off the table.

    So, the fact of suicide being something that your doctor might be recommending or that might be socially acceptable, or that you might feel like you need to explain why you’re not choosing it is itself something that – living in a world, living in a society where that social imaginary is what you’re living in itself is going to make your life appreciably subjectively worse.

    Because you won’t have the attitude towards your own life that it’s precious. You’ll have the attitude towards your own life that if my utils are not up to snuff, my subjective positive life experience is not up to snuff, or if I am perhaps burdening others, really, I ought to kill myself. And that obviously is a bad outcome. Killing yourself is a bad outcome. But also, experiencing your own life in a world where you have the right and possibly you really ought to kill yourself, that’s a terrible way to live, it seems to me.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: In a parallel problem, there was great reporting in the Atlantic by Sarah Zhang about the people who have children with Down syndrome. And it’s that same idea that the default shifts.

    Once you get to a point of prenatal testing and you’re talking to doctors who expect you to choose abortion when you find out your child has Down syndrome, it made people feel guiltier in some cases, because they didn’t feel like they had a child with a disability or a child who was different.

    They felt like they’d chosen to have a child with a disability. So, instead of just receiving a child, they’d chosen it instead. It was a feeling like they were choosing it against medical advice. And that made it a lot harder on the parents versus simply just saying, this is part of what it means to be open to life and open to having a child. You may have a child with Down syndrome, you may not.

    You’re opting into this in a world everyone opts out. You as someone who’s ill, as someone who’s disabled, you’re now opting into continue living. But are you aware that like 60 percent of people in your position opt out? What’s so different about you? How are you justifying why you would pick this when so many people like you are choosing to die?

    Alexander Raikin: That is something that I found. Actually, I’ll read you something if that’s OK. One of the cases that I covered at the New Atlantis was a forty-one-year-old woman named Rosina Camaz. So, Rosina had fibromyalgia, she had chronic PTSD, she had depression, she had a myriad of physical and mental illnesses.

    So, when I originally started doing this, I thought that her case would be a more nuanced discussion over someone’s choice, for instance, to death. But when I started interviewing her powers of attorney, her friends, when I spoke to her family, it became apparent that it really wasn’t.

    So, her powers of attorney gave me her entire Google Drive, essentially her entire life. And in it, she discussed her reasons for choosing MAID. She wrote in a note that her suffering was mental, not physical. And that if she had more people to speak with, she felt that she would’ve been able to continue living.

    Now, the reason why I’m saying this is there’s another element of this story, which is one of Rosina’s powers of attorney has the same medical condition, the same condition that qualified Rosina Camaz to die, which is fibromyalgia. And he asked me not to use his name, because he currently lives on disability pay.

    And he is facing eviction and he wanted his story to be shared, but only with the pseudonym. So, let’s call him John. Well, John told me that he knows what it’s like to be living with the constant specter of MAID. The same medical … the same qualifying condition as Rosina’s.

    He knows he could stop and he knows that it’s going to be inevitable. So, what he told me is, “I’m going to take it one day. That’s how it feels to me. I don’t like that. But to me, the way things are going, society is really sending us disabled people a message,” he said.

    “We got that message even before MAID. But now, it’s codified into law and there’s these processes and resources to expedite it. I have diagnosed mental health conditions and I can’t get treatment. I need therapy. My doctor asked me the other day, what do I need? I need therapy. I need a long-term relationship with someone.” And she told me, she said, “That’s impossible.” Instead, what he was sent were YouTube videos of how to stretch. And he laughed at me when he told me this, and I felt bad for laughing too.

    But then, John said, “I need actual healthcare.” But eventually, he’ll get MAID instead. So, it is completely true that nobody is forced to receive MAID at gunpoint. But once you legalize MAID, everyone with disabilities will be forced to consider it.

    What society, what the government of Canada should be telling people with disability is that their lives matter. That people with disabilities are equal citizens. That what they need is more support, not a quicker death.

    Instead, what they get is the world’s largest and most permissive euthanasia program under a prime minister that has never received largely any consequences for all, for any of this. Canadian media has been largely silent on actually connecting the dots of all of these troubling stories.

    Justin Trudeau was on the cover of GQ, on the cover of Rolling Stone. The Atlantic described his government as the most successful progressive government in the world. And yet, at the same time, he was implementing one of the largest system of eugenics that Canada … that North America has ever seen.

    And there have been no consequences, there has been no really significant introspection.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It does feel to me as though there is a fundamental and quite rapid, but very distinct change in civilization going on such that a basic concept in what has been our civilization for the last seventeen hundred years or so, sixteen hundred years.

    This basic concept that human life is sacred in some way, that each person, however poor, however disabled, however in pain, whatever suffering you’re undergoing, each person has the same, whether king or pauper has the same … I mean, it seems weird to have to describe this.

    Because it’s like, I thought we knew this but has something that’s almost like having a treasure, which is the sacredness of his own life. You have your own life and that’s something that you are required to guard, that you have an obligation to do well with that other people don’t have the right to take.

    There’s something sacred about your own body that other people don’t have the right to violate. And that this is something that exists, whether or not you will it to, it’s something that you have. That concept of what it is to be a human being, that idea of this possession, this sacredness of this, the sacred life that each person has, that’s just not a thing anymore, that doesn’t exist. Or at least, obviously, I think it still exists, but the common social belief seems to be going away quite rapidly.

    Alexander Raikin: So, I do want to … so let me clarify. First of all, the Catholic Church in Canada has been extremely outspoken on this, and I should say that. So, I think the British Columbia Catholic Church has, I think, a monthly magazine where they’ve actually been covering a lot of these stories that mainstream media didn’t cover.

    So, I do want to clarify that there are obviously opponents to this. And as well, there are Catholic churches and other faith-based institutions within Canada’s healthcare system. And they’re currently trying to fight that they do not have to provide MAID on site.

    So, that’s really where … I mean, that’s how far gone the battle has been. Where Catholic hospitals have to convince legislators that they should not be forced to provide euthanasia on site, and instead be allowed to take their patients elsewhere to be euthanized. That’s really where the situation is.

    And it’s unclear if faith-based institutions are going to be able to win that fight. There is already effective referral requirements in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, where if you’re a physician and you do not want to euthanize your patient for whatever reason, you have a requirement to make an effective referral to another physician who you know performs euthanasia for those cases.

    So, next month, unless the government manages, unless the parliament of Canada manages to pass a bill to extend this, next month, people with only psychiatric conditions will qualify for MAID. And I should also mention that it’s not entirely true.

    Some people with psychiatric conditions already do qualify for MAID. So, anorexia patients, for instance, have been qualified since the very beginning, even though the entire idea of a terminal anorexia doesn’t really exist in medicine.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: And that the treatment for anorexia is regaining the will to live well, finding a way out of a destructive spiral, which is hard. But to say that instead it would be wrong to stop eating and to starve, but it’s right to take poison and to die is so nonsensical.

    Alexander Raikin: Yeah. But that’s how far gone the entire medical system is.

    We have that in Canada right now, where disability advocacy groups, again, much more limited, but disability advocacy groups or disability aid groups, where people with disabilities can get some care. Many of them have started putting out signs that say the same things.

    It’s like three sentences, your life is valuable, your life is important. We will not refer to you MAID for lack of resources. And this is now over fifty different disability advocacy groups in Canada have started putting up signs like those. So, I’m confident that the same thing going to happen soon for hospitals and other medical clinics as well.

    Susannah Black Roberts: It does seem like two different overlapping civilizations at this point with two different basic ideas of what human life is and what the goals of being human are.

    Alexander Raikin: We’ve been here before. I think it’s important to stress this. The eugenics movement did not just start in 2015. I think there’s a lot of parallels with the sterilization movements in North America. Similarly, you also had faith minded Americans saying, no.

    The only part of the British Empire that had a main, like a large-scale sterilization program was a province of Alberta, and that was the called the Alberta Eugenics Board.

    So, they started sterilizing the feeble-minded in 1927. And at first, it was a consensual model where the only people who were sterilized either had to themselves, they had to consent to it or their legal guardian, or an immediate family member had to consent to it.

    But by, I think, 1931 or roughly in the early 1930s, that proved to be too cumbersome, and the province of Alberta removed that requirement. So, it went from a consensual model to a non-consensual model. And as you know, in the United States, Indiana was the first state to implement a sterilization program in 1907.

    By the early 1930s, more than half of American states had a form of sterilization. And this is, of course, was then picked up by Nazi Germany as a clear model of, excuse me, the sterilization program in 1933. Though the euthanasia program that was proposed in the Reichstag in 1933 didn’t pass because of opposition from the Nazi German public.

    So, the sterilization program passed in 1933, the euthanasia program didn’t pass. So, the actual T4 euthanasia program in Nazi Germany only started on September 1, 1939 as a wartime measure act.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So, just for listeners, Buck v. Bell, which was the decision basically allowing involuntary sterilization, this was 1927. It had been gradually growing for the previous thirty years or so. The eugenics movement was a right-minded progressive thing. This is obviously what you would do in order to … for the sake of the common good, for the sake of just general social progress.

    You would definitely, obviously, not want certain people to be breeding, to have children. And so, this is something that seems very straightforward and that all right-minded people would agree on. And the people who disagreed tended to be Catholics primarily, and quite a few Protestants were quite all right with eugenics act or various kinds of eugenic sterilization.

    But it does seem to me that in a way, Nazism bought us sixty years more of thinking that this was wrong and or seventy years of being reminded that this approach to human life and this understanding of human life and what medicine is for is wrong.

    But that seventy-year delay is running out now and we’re picking up where we left off in 1933 once the Nazis took over from us as the eugenicists in chief. That might be too dark.

    Alexander Raikin: Well, I did start this conversation saying …

    Susannah Black Roberts: You did start everything.

    Alexander Raikin: the sky is falling down.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: Well, I think you’re right, Susannah, that we need frequent reminders of how evil this is because it’s a common human temptation. We need frequent reminders of why we don’t want to be this person. We don’t want to attach ourselves to this lineage of despising the weak, destroying the weak, claiming it’s a mercy when it’s a false mercy.

    But at the same time, I don’t think we just need inoculations about reminding ourselves not to be evil. We need examples of what life with the disabled can look like, what an expansive, generous life can look like. You can look at places like the pseudo town for dementia patients that gives them an expansive place they can move through freely and safely rather than just a locked ward.

    You can look at the examples of many wonderful people who are part of L’Arche, which is the community for living with the disabled, even though its founder, Jean Vanier brought people together for this purpose, but himself was engaged in sexual abuse, not of the disabled, but of some of his acolytes.

    So, I really want to recognize both the good in that model and the many generous people who have found a way to live in community with the disabled. So, I think it doesn’t just take a reminder, we don’t want to be Nazis. We want to see who we do want to be.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I think that what Leah said was, is really important that it’s not enough to just remind ourselves don’t be Nazis. And it’s not enough to remind ourselves don’t off sick people. The question I think that all of this points to is, “What’s a good death?” and is that important?

    You can think of MAID as being something that’s promoted as a bureaucratic, tidying away of people at the untidy stage of the untidy point of their life. Let’s just get rid of these people a couple of years sooner so that the very untidy part gets nipped off.

    You can think of it as a way for, I think this is going to be uniquely appealing to boomers who have spent their lives, thinking of their lives as these creative curated projects. Many of them, this is a way of curating your own death as an art project, or this is what is meaningful to me. This is the music that I want to have on. That is a vision of what a good death is. And I think that one thing that’s incredibly crucial in order to respond to this is to have a different vision of what a good death is.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: Yes. And that experience is better prepared for before you’re facing it yourself. I think one thing gets very hard is that if you aren’t present for people’s deaths, if everything is fully medicalized. Or as a teenager, you’re told like, well, we don’t want you to visit because we worry it will be too upsetting.

    What you learn is that death is almost unspeakable and unendurable. I think it’s hard to plan for your own death, especially having seen none or even having only seen one exposure to the range of how people die as part of preparing for death.

    Alexander Raikin: I mean, we’ve also seen something similar with within pregnancy that before, there was the default was that people would deliver at hospitals. Where it turns out that for many cases, you can deliver at home if there’s no complications. Well, the same thing can apply to death as well.

    Susannah Black Roberts: I mean, I think this is, again, a little bit beyond the scope in some ways of this conversation, although maybe not. But I do think that it’s like without a common understanding of what human lives are and what human death is and what comes after, it’s very difficult to have conversations that make any sense to people who have different visions of that.

    And obviously, the Christian idea is that death is something like graduation and it’s something like birth. Obviously, that was a parallel that Stefanie Green made in your interview with her in the New Atlantis piece, that she feels like it’s a delivery. And I don’t think that she’s entirely wrong. I think that her approach is a like let’s do a C-section and that … or a let’s do an abortion as a delivery.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: I think it’s much more like an abortion than a C-section.

    Susannah Black Roberts: And this is obviously something that for Christians, they believe that this is the entrance into the new life. This is along with baptism, which is the preview entrance into the new life.

    This is literally one of the most, basically, the most important thing you can do because the way that you die determines what happens after. And soft pedaling that for Christians in favor of a purely this worldly “Jesus will help you live a good life now” gospel, I don’t think is a good thing. I think we need to come back to a vision of the crucial importance of death and the crucial act of corporal mercy that accompanying someone through death is. We don’t think that death is good.

    We don’t think it’s a natural, happy part of human life, but we do think it’s radically important and it’s radically important to do it well, and it’s possible to do it well. But that doesn’t look like the self-curated expression of personal will. It looks much more like, let God take hold of the timing of this.

    Let your body do the work that it’s going to do in dying, and trust yourself to the people who are caring for you, and trust yourself to God as part of the same gesture of surrender and hope. And I’m not sure that there’s a way to have a common cultural understanding of death across visions of what death fundamentally is and does.

    But it’s interesting. I do think that one of the things that this whole conversation is bringing up is the degree to which our culture has been running on Christian fumes for a couple of centuries now.

    And the assumption that death is not something that you take into your own hands is a very distinctly Christian assumption. Suicide was considered, Cato was a noble suicide in Rome. It was considered a noble and good way to die. And Richard Hanania who’s …

    Alexander Raikin: He literally was tweeting about how … he was criticizing the idea that there are suicide hotlines because there’s no such thing as a murder hotline. First of all, have you heard of 911.

    Second of all, it’s just … if this is really the way … if Richard Hanania is really how conservatism is going to be like in the future in America, we might as well just give up. I mean, if someone’s reaction is, let’s kill grandma because she’s old, I mean, I don’t even know where to even start to have a conversation with someone like that.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Once again, if you don’t like the Christian right, wait until you meet the post-Christian right. They like Rome a lot and not current Catholic Rome.

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: And actually, if we’re talking about positive examples here, I really love the writings of the Dr. Victoria Sweet who wrote Slow Medicine and God’s Hotel, which steps away from what I see, as a precursor assumption to something like the MAID regime, which is that a doctor performs procedures.

    A doctor might even be a vending machine who does stuff, who manages stuff, who overrules the body when the body is unruly. And she really talks about the doctor as someone who’s in partnership with the body, much more like the model of birth in some cases, especially as practiced by midwives, that for the most part, our bodies are good.

    They’re not obstacles to our flourishing, they’re aids to our flourishing. And I think that’s very different than just – I need to fit this person into one of my buckets that are pretty narrow and restrictive, and then get their body to look more like that category.

    And in the case of MAID, is this a healthy person or someone who should be dead? Those are the buckets. It’s true. That’s what the sorting is. Is this someone who should live or someone who should die? And if they’re in an in-between place, well, how do I decide?

    How do I decide which bucket they belong in, because medicine is the practice of sorting and fitting, not the practice of observing and responding.

    Susannah Black Roberts: What are you currently interested in investigating?

    Alexander Raikin: There’s just so much. There really is much, and it’s just the lack of interest by investigative journalists in Canada is surreal. Just the lack of curiosity about this is surreal. I don’t have an answer for that. But again, this is the world’s largest and fastest growing euthanasia program.

    The people who are dying are dying from treatable, in some cases, even curable medical conditions, and they’re going to continue dying. One conversation I had with someone who has several disabilities was she was explaining to me how the only physician that actually spoke to her about her pain, about how difficult it was to get medical care.

    The only physician that sat beside her on the gurney with the white lab coat and stethoscope and spoke to her and said, “I understand your pain. I understand what you’re going through,” was the physician who then asked, “Have you considered MAID?”

    Leah Libresco Sargeant: Oh, my gosh.

    Alexander Raikin: So, this is happening daily. And for, obviously, the listeners here are presumably mostly American, it is worth fighting for in the United States every step of the way. If you call out organizations that are susceptible to this, they do backtrack. The Alzheimer’s Association officially issued a press release saying that Compassion Choices, the largest assisted suicide lobby in the country does not share their values.

    That is a message worth sharing. Many states are debating, passing assisted suicide, and it’s not going to stop there. They’re going to keep fighting to make euthanasia and assisted suicide as permissive as it is in Canada. And inside of Canada. They’re going to keep fighting on expanding it further.

    So, I think there’s a lot to surmise about this. It seems like eugenics, the only people who qualify for this are people with disabilities. The only people who are given an option for physician to end their life are those with disabilities. This reads to me as eugenics, and if it is eugenics, then it’s worth fighting.

    We’ve had this sixty-year grace period following the second World War and following the death of euthanasia there, but it’s coming back and it’s coming back internationally.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Well, on that note, thank you so much, Alexander. This has been incredibly disturbing and enlightening.

    Section 3: Q&As: Families for All

    Peter Mommsen: And now, we’ll be taking your questions, listeners, and reflecting on what we’ve learned over the course of working on this issue of the magazine and this season of the podcast.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So first question from you, our listeners, is actually from Dhananjay Jagannathan, who tweeted at us just now. “You all talked at a high level about the politics of generational rootedness in the first PloughCast episode for the issue, but I don’t remember you talking about a major shift in how families and households are organized. Marriage rates have fallen over the past fifty years, but differentially across people of different education and income levels. People are marrying later, but financial instability is also an issue. This will, of course, have further intergenerational consequences, both economic and social. So what do you think about that?”

    So he linked to a piece, which we will link to in the show notes, and then I also did a little bit of googling, and it kind of is even darker than the initial piece indicates. There is just a massive difference in marriage rates and also divorce rates between families of different social classes or people of different social classes essentially.

    Peter Mommsen: And essentially, according to Pew, this is data from 2015, among adults aged twenty-five and older, 65 percent with a four-year college degree were married, compared with 55 percent of those with some college education, and just 50 percent among those with no education beyond high school. twenty-five years ago, the marriage rate was above 60 percent for all of these groups. So you really see a pretty hefty drop with educational level among people who are married.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yup.

    Peter Mommsen: And why should that matter? Some might wonder. And that’s where the Institute of Family Studies, led by our friend and Plough contributor, Brad Wilcox, has done some fascinating, but also, as you say, very sobering research for years. Can’t recommend their website, the Institute of Family Studies website, enough. And we’ll link to this paper, Susannah, but do you want to just summarize why it matters whether people are married?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Sure. Yeah. So marriage, so just to sort of frame it a little bit more, before the 1970s, there were not large class divides in American family life. Basically, the vast majority of Americans got and stayed married. Most children lived in stable, two-parent families. That was the way it was for the vast majority of Americans.

    This matters because a lot of life outcomes, including future earnings, future ability to form stable families of your own, health, longevity, all are linked to being married. Being married is good for you in a lot of different ways.

    Peter Mommsen: Just very worldly ways. And with an effect rate that is pretty similar to other things that are talked about a lot more, like how much money you inherit, how much educational and social capital you inherit. Just having married parents is one of the most important gifts that parents can give their children or that children can receive from those who created them.

    Susannah Black Roberts: So, obviously, if you’re not born to married parents, you are less likely … not obviously, you are less likely to get married yourself, as well as you’re less likely to be as healthy, you’re less likely to go as far in school, et cetera.

    So this is a multigenerational, over time, increasing, amplifying effect from generation to generation, which kind of really does start to look like it’s creating a kind of caste system, a class-based caste system, in America between the married wealthy or upper middle class and the unmarried poor who, as well as being unmarried, are less healthy, less able to … the children that they have, and they are having children, which is good, but the children they have are not as able to form families of their own just because they don’t have that kind of pattern and experience. And that just seems like a really bad, sort of stratified, like hyper-stratified, almost caste-based system that’s pretty dark.

    Peter Mommsen: There’s also another aspect to this, and all of this, of course, comes with the disclaimer that none of what we’re saying is to blame or shame those who are single parents or who are not currently living in a marriage, but just the data is such that there’s a pretty strong connection between these things. Notably, if you’re not the child of married parents, if you’re not the son of married parents, you’re way less likely to have a father figure in your life, to have a father resident in your home.

    And there’s another whole set of data, specifically about boys, the extremely negative effects of not having a dad living with you as part of your household. There’s this book that has been widely reviewed this year by a man called Richard Reeves, Of Boys and Men, published by the Brookings Institution, so it’s not a right-wing screed, that talks about just the crisis of boys. So we’re not going to solve any of this stuff, except to say that Dhananjay is absolutely right. Marriage really, just based on social science data, is a super crucial institution for passing on non-financial wealth from one generation to the next to literally tie in those things together.

    And I think all we can say and answer to Dhananjay’s question is absolutely super important, and we believe that left and right, secular and religious, everyone should be getting together to support marriage, to encourage marriage, to defend the institution of marriage, and make sure that as many kids as possible grow up in homes where there’s a mother and father committed to each other and who are married. And that’s not a culture war thing. This is just really about what’s good for human beings. And maybe that’s about all I have to say, but you may have something to add, Susannah.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. There is a whole other set of data about the effects on girls of having households without fathers in them, and that has to do with you’re a lot more likely to be sexually promiscuous, to get pregnant out of wedlock, to be involved in exploitive or abusive relationships if you don’t have a father in the home, if you’re a girl. Yeah. It’s just kind of interesting, because when I was growing up, for some reason, I had this vision of … I don’t know. I had this vision that basically everyone … all of the salt-of-the-earth Americans were married, and then it was kind of like the decadent New Yorkers who got divorced.

    Peter Mommsen: Right. It was the bohemians, right?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. Yeah. Which doesn’t really seem to be the case at all.

    Peter Mommsen: No, that’s done. And actually, it’s well-educated, secular Democrats who are more likely to be married than self-identifying working-class, conservative people. Of course, there’s all kinds of policy nudges that people like the Institute of Family Studies also study. For me at least, the strongest way of counteracting the decline of marriage is that there’s plenty of people modeling happy marriages.

    I mean, literally, that sounds like a stupid, moralistic sentiment …

    but it’s really true. For me, growing up, seeing people being married, even if not everything was perfect and smooth going, but sticking at it … there’s positive social contagion too.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yup. And there is also, if there’s anything that is kind of amenable to personal choice, it is companionate marriage. So there are a lot of people out there who want to be married, and I was married very late and I just want to encourage everyone who feels like they might have, whatever, not done the kind of life pattern that they had expected, be hopeful because, I don’t know, I just got married five seconds ago, and it’s great.

    Peter Mommsen: Now, this kind of brings us into our next question. It’s actually a whole bunch of questions, and that was this yearning for parents to be in relationship to people and on the part of children and yearning on the part of parents to be in connection with their children, and also yearning from those to whom marriage didn’t work out for a place and more understanding.

    And I don’t know. This isn’t really something to discuss, but it did seem something, to us, worth noticing that our last generation’s issue just brought out many, many dozens of very heartfelt responses from people yearning for that sense of intergenerational connection or of connection to a life partner that they hadn’t found.

    There’s this one that came in from Dalana Quintana. Would you be able to read that?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Sure. This was actually just in response to your editorial, Pete, I think. “I agree that we do a disservice to ourselves and to others when we think we have nothing to learn from previous generations and that they’re somehow of less value than our younger generations. Mommsen seems to put a lot of the responsibility for this disinterest on the self-absorption of the young, but I see a bigger cause for this disregard, broken families. My father left when I was a toddler and I have no memories of him. He’s made no effort to keep in contact with me. He’s a complete stranger.”

    “Consequently, I have no interest in discovering who he is or where he came from because he had no interest in me. If young people are failing in their duty of care for the elderly, it may be because the elderly have failed in their duty to the young. There are entire branches of trees that have been broken off by parents, and I do not think it’s our children’s responsibility to repair that damage. “And so, this was just one, as Pete has dozens, of emails that came in from people primarily in response to Pete’s editorial and also to Terence Sweeney’s piece, “My Father Left Me Paperclip.”

    Peter Mommsen: Wonderful piece.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah, which, basically, there are just so many people out there who are estranged from their children or estranged from their parents or who have broken marriages, but especially the parents and children thing, and are just hurting and wish this weren’t the case. And I just couldn’t help but think about the verse in Malachi, which is the last book in some canons of the Old Testament, which talks about the coming Messiah, “turning the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents,” as just a sign of the Messianic Age.

    And that just seems so true and so powerful because this is such a point of pain for so many people. And if there’s anything that we can do to support, to treasure our own connections to our parents and children or to support other people who don’t have those connections, that just seems like a big thing to be doing out there.

    Peter Mommsen: So we turn from parents and children to those who wish they were parents but aren’t.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Right. So there were also a whole lot of responses to Matthew Lee Anderson’s “Is There a Right to Have Children?” piece. And I thought that there were going to be angry responses to this, honestly. I was kind of expecting people to be pretty pissed, because he comes down pretty strongly against IVF as a procedure that you might use if you’re struggling with infertility.

    And basically, again, there were probably a dozen responses and all of them were … this is representative. This is from Carolyn Anderson. “Wow, this article is so courageous and necessary. People have been brainwashed and fed lies in their pain. The article acknowledges the pain, but relates it back to the cross so well. It didn’t mention the can of worms that contraception brings up, but I think the two are both sides of the playing God coin. Thank you for boldness, for truth.”

    And there were just so many other people who had made the decision themselves very frequently not to do IVF and had felt like everyone around them thought they were crazy not to, or who had struggled with the decision and not felt that they had any kind of resources within the church about how to think about this. And there was just so much gratitude to Matthew and particularly to the way that he approached this in a very sort of pastoral way, I think. So you all should read that piece as well.

    Peter Mommsen: I can’t recommend Matthew’s piece enough. And I think it really is part of this wider thing that we talked about, because to the extent that children are viewed as a right, they’re also viewed as a lifestyle accessory, and a lifestyle accessory has no claims on its parents, his or her parents.

    These are all part of the same puzzle, it seems to me. And this writer, Carolyn Anderson, mentions contraception as well. So, dear listeners, we’re not going to solve all of this right now, but it is fascinating how all these apparently separate issues are really deeply interconnected and I believe have, both in terms of the structure of the problem that we face, that we began with talking about the decline of marriage. Their interconnection could have something to do with how we solve this stuff, that they could also get better together.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yup. All right. We’ve got another question here from Twitter user AKTR who writes, “How can Christian converts relate well to close family members who are hostile to their faith? Relatedly, how can someone who, as far as they know, is the first Christian in their family line relate well to their own family history and cultural heritage?” I thought that was a really good question.

    Peter Mommsen: I can’t speak from personal experience. I was talking about this question with a friend of mine who grew up in South Korea, parents are Buddhist, converted. Take the long view too was one thing I’ve seen from him and from other folks in that situation. I think that patient love really over the years can overcome all kinds of barriers. And I’ve seen, in some cases, obviously not all, that people have come to an actual deeper love and a better relationship to their parents through working through an initial rupture, but they had to be willing to keep at it. And then sometimes, you eventually come around and say, “Dad and mom, I’m sorry that I wasn’t more understanding about how this felt to you when I made this step.”

    Susannah Black Roberts: And possibly, “I’m sorry that I was such a cage-stage convert for a while and was annoying about it.”

    So the second half of the question I think is also interesting. “Relatedly, how can someone who is, as far as they know, the first Christian in their family line relate well to their family history and cultural heritage?” I think one thing to just think about is that God is at work in all cultures and in all family lines. It’s not like his hand was not on that culture and not on your family. It absolutely was.

    And those cultures and those families are also part of the story that He is telling, whether or not it’s a sort of officially Christian culture, whether it’s Buddhist or Hindu or Confucian or atheist. God is doing a lot of strange things that we don’t know about, and your family and your culture was not out of His mind or out of His field of love.

    Peter Mommsen: There’s a great book on this that I’d like to just shout out right here, and we’ll drop a link to it. It’s by the German Lutheran pastor and theologian Christoph Blumhardt, and he was writing to his nephew, who was one of the better-known German Christian missionaries in China right before World War I, and he counseled him strongly against ripping people from their cultural roots.

    But there’s a very beautiful insight in there where he discusses all the ways and he was talking about the Confucian culture of China a century ago that God had been working in the history of the people of China and it was on that that anyone working for the Gospel had to build. And so, it’s just a book I’d recommend thinking about this.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yup. What is the title?

    Peter Mommsen: Everyone Belongs to God, which kind of sums up his approach that it is the task of the Christian, yes, to proclaim the Gospel, but also to recognize that Christ has walked before us. We’re not dragging him after us in entering new cultural situations.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Mm-hmm. And of course, we do see specific examples of this in Paul’s Mars Hill speech in sort of the way that, in various ways, God had clearly prepared Greek and Roman culture and philosophy, in my view, and language to receive His Gospel. And C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man actually is a wonderful resource as well to just look at the way that God’s wisdom, the natural law, which is his own nature, has imprinted itself in every human culture through common ethical standards and that sort of thing, and I would say through common tropes and stories as well. Again, God was doing a very specific and public thing with the Jewish people, but He did not leave any of the Gentiles alone and He hasn’t left anyone alone for any of the rest of the time either.

    Peter Mommsen: We’re now going to quickly switch topics before Susannah starts talking about Aristotle.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Sorry. No, it’s really …

    Peter Mommsen: No, no, no. It’s good stuff. I actually agree with it. But what is our next question?

    Susannah Black Roberts: OK. We did that, we did that, we did that, we did that. We are now moving to, OK, the football thing. So we are recording this …

    Peter Mommsen: We’re recording the day after the Super Bowl after the … sorry, Chiefs fans, the horrible, undeserved loss of the Eagles at the hands of Patrick Mahomes’s Chiefs.

    Susannah Black Roberts: The Feast of the Superb Owl, as some of us know it. And yeah, we also had a piece in this latest issue called “Football and the Violence We Love” by Reid Forgrave. And this piece got the most shocking degree of hatred from people who agreed with him and disagreed with him. Whether they kind of agreed with him or disagreed with him, everyone basically hated him, which was just interesting.

    Peter Mommsen: It was actually the second article Reid has written for us. It was so funny to me how this just ticked everyone off. The piece he wrote last week was “Will You Watch the Super Bowl?” “Yes, football is too dangerous, but its grit is also why it deserves our love.” Reid, interestingly enough, he covers the NFL professionally as a journalist, but he’s also the author of this book, Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy, which goes deeply into the issue of CTE, so it’s brain damage from minor concussions.

    So he knows really both sides of this, of the awfulness and the beautifulness of football. I just think people should read both his articles again, this time dialing down their emotional reactions and actually thinking about some pretty well-considered stuff on both sides.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yup. We also have a related question from a friend of the pod and friend of the Bruderhof and friend of Plough, Peter Blair. “What is your opinion about the disputed rough call at the end of the Super Bowl last night?” I do not observe the Feast of the Superb Owl, and so I cannot comment. Pete, would you like to comment?

    Peter Mommsen: You would not have wanted to record the comments that were made in my living room at that call.

    Susannah Black Roberts: That’s good to know. And now we are moving on to our final question. This is a really interesting long email from a guy called Bob Alloway.

    “What I would like to learn more about is how your communities seek God’s will together. I don’t just mean the constitutional questions of who makes decisions and by what majority, but how people are trained to seek and discern God’s will, the sort of good habits that Bonhoeffer discusses in Life Together. Charles Moore says, ‘When a collective decision must be made, we strive to wait patiently before God until there is heartfelt unity among all.’ This suggests consensus decisions made by the whole community, as with the Quakers.”

    “However, it is clear from Homage to a Broken Man,” which is your book, Pete, which we will link to in the show notes, “that although decisions in Paraguay were theoretically made by all, in practice, they were being manipulated by a few evil men behind the scenes. How do you cultivate disciples nowadays who can discern such things?” Yeah. I thought that was a really interesting question, and I sort of know the answer because I’ve asked similar questions, but what did you write back to him?

    Peter Mommsen: I mean, there’s a bunch of pieces to it. Yes, we make decisions unanimously and then hope that that unanimity comes from the Holy Spirit. Certainly on important questions, if we all ask God to show us His will, he’s going to give us all the same answer if we are listening. So that’s what we believe. To me, it follows that making decisions by majority vote, even though I recognize that goes all the way back to the Council of Nicaea, is a really questionable way for a Christian body of believers to make decisions. The idea that the majority should rule over the minority or somehow is the way of discerning what God’s will is in a given situation strikes me as pretty suspect.

    So that’s sort of the pro … it’s not procedural because there’s no procedure to get there. Right? I mean, in practice, what it means is that in more practical decisions, the body of members will ask a particular brother or sister to be responsible for an area, whether it’s a business or a publishing house or the kitchen, or how to organize the work on a given community, and give them pretty wide responsibility to make those decisions as best they can, and there’s an expectation that we trust that person to basically have the well-being of all in their heart.

    And of course, if we have a major qualm of conscience about something they’re doing, we can speak to them but also give them the freedom to carry out a responsibility as God gives it to them. But then when it comes to bigger questions, like discerning whether someone is called to the ministry or church-related matters, certainly, but also other bigger practical decisions that have a spiritual impact, we will really just take time to listen to each other.

    And here, I think his question, “How do you develop the good habits that Bonhoeffer discusses in Life Together?” I mean, there’s a few good habits. One is not gossiping about each other. So you’ll never make good decisions as a body of believers if, before the decision even comes up, you’re in the habit of talking behind each other’s back. That will pretty much automatically block any sort of heartfelt unity that you might want to have.

    Another one is to take Saint Paul at his word when he says to “esteem others higher than yourself.” So yes, have opinions, have your insights, feel free to articulate them, maybe strongly, and then be willing to let go of them and listen to other people, and literally park your opinions. Now, people hate that when you say that sometimes. They’ll say, “Oh, then I’m expected to just sign up for groupthink and just deny my own convictions.” Yeah. I mean, that would be a bad form of that, but I think there’s also just a huge level of human realism that actually all of us know from, say, within a family or within a marriage that there are absolutely times when you express what you think and then you’ll leave it and know that you’re not the only one with a hotline to God. Right?

    There is nothing safe about trying to make decisions this way. There is no procedural safeguard. It can be abused. He references some stories I tell from our community’s history where there were times when the appearance of consensus was used to browbeat people into conformity. Absolutely, that can happen. I mean, one of my favorite little factoids, Susannah, is that the British House of Lords up, I believe, until the sixteenth century used to make decisions unanimously, because it was considered, I suppose, beneath the dignity of the House to have this sort of messy, political, democratic vote trading going on among the peers, right?

    Susannah Black Roberts: Bad vibes. Ungentlemanly.

    Peter Mommsen: And they abandoned it for just this reason, because if there’s always this expectation that everyone has to come to the same conclusion at the end, then this creates a huge amount of pressure on the single holdout, who may be the person who’s right, to just get with the program.

    Susannah Black Roberts: 12 Angry Men. 12 Angry Men is a wonderful Sidney Lumet movie about this dynamic that everyone should watch.

    Peter Mommsen: Yes. Yes. Yes, yes.

    Susannah Black Roberts: We’ll link to that too in the show notes.

    Peter Mommsen: And there, there kicks in that good habit again of listening to each other, which is all stuff the New Testament tells us to do, submit to one another in love.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Mm-hmm. It is interesting, as you were talking about this before you made the House of Lords reference, what you described as you shouldn’t be gossiping about each other. The word that we have for gossiping in advance of a vote, like talking behind people’s backs in advance of a vote, is politicking or canvassing or something like that, forming coalitions. And there’s something like fundamentally, that is not the kind of thing that you should be doing in the church. That’s not how that should really be working, and that’s interesting.

    Peter Mommsen: If you are brothers and sisters, by definition, I mean, just thinking of those words, brothers and sisters in Christ, there’s something deeply inconsistent to that if you are forming factions of people who are with me against them.

    And then obviously, that too can’t turn into some type of legalistic rule so that somebody who is actually being hurt can’t go to a person they trust and say, “I don’t dare to say this to person X, but Pete’s really being a jerk to me.” Right?

    Susannah Black Roberts: No, never. That would never happen.

    Peter Mommsen: No, that would never happen, but just hypothetically.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Right? Obviously, none of this stuff can turn into law.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: But if there’s love among us and if there’s the desire for trust among us, even if that trust is broken, we’re going to get back to trust so that we can try to make the decisions this way. So that may sound like a whole bunch of idealism and impractical. We’ve been trying to do this for one hundred years. Like I said, there’s no guarantee it works, but there’s no guarantee that Christian community works.

    Susannah Black Roberts: Yeah. There we go. Well, I think that pretty much wraps up our Q&As for this issue or this season, this series of the podcast. And yeah, that was awesome, Pete. Thank you.

    Thanks for listening, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast needs met, and share with your friends! For a lot more content like this, check out for the digital magazine. You can also subscribe: $36/year will get you the print magazine, or for $99/year you can become a member of Plough. That membership carries a whole range of benefits, from free books, to regular calls with the editors, to invitations to special events, and the occasional gift. Our members are one aspect of the broader Plough community, and we depend on them as a kind of extra advisory council. Go to to learn more.

    Peter Mommsen: That’s it for this season of the podcast, but check back here this time next week and for the five weeks following for a PloughRead, one of the articles from the issue in audio format. And see you back here in six weeks for our next podcast series, on our “Pain and Passion” issue!

    Contributed By Alexander Raikin Alexander Raikin

    Alexander Raikin is a writer in Washington, DC.

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    Contributed By LeahLibrescoSargeant Leah Libresco Sargeant

    Leah Libresco Sargeant runs Other Feminisms, a Substack community focused on interdependence.

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    Contributed By portrait of Peter Mommsen Peter Mommsen

    Peter Mommsen is editor of Plough magazine. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, Wilma, and their three children.

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    Contributed By portrait of Susannah Black Roberts Susannah Black Roberts

    Susannah Black Roberts is a senior editor of Plough.

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