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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers

I finally had the chance to read the column Ann Coulter wrote about Kent Brantly, the African Missionary doctor who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while treating others in Liberia. Entitled "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'," Coulter's piece is not only confused, but also mean-spirited. However, I want to use Coulter's disparagement of Christian missionary efforts as an opportunity for Christians to learn something: how judging Christian efforts by worldly standards is mistaken. Coulter thinks her reprimand is clever, but she fails to recognize the value of human life and discounts the power of God.

Devaluing Human Life

Coulter's article, aside from the emotionally poisonous words, tries to make the argument that Christian missions should be approached from a utilitarian perspective. She complains about how the cost of treating the now infected doctor and his nurse "has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered" and then asks "why do we have to deal with this at all?"1 The answer is simple and something that is largely forgotten in this day and age: Christianity values human dignity. Because humans are made in the image of God, Christianity has always taught that alleviating suffering at cost to oneself is a noble and worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, it is an enemy of Israel that provides comfort and healing to the victim on the street. The Samaritan even pays the poor man's caretaker's bill and tells the innkeeper "whatever more you spend, I will repay you."2

Throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have sought to model their Master's words. The Romans thought Christians were crazy for picking up indigent children who had been abandoned on the Tiber. In an agrarian society, a healthy child is an asset, another hand to help work the farm. An indigent child is a liability. It means another mouth to feed and more overall suffering in times of drought or famine, not to mention the additional work. However, Christians recognized the image of God that was reflected in each life and could not do otherwise than serve them.3 As I've previously written, missionaries such as Father Damien purposely risked themselves to serve in a leper colony, with death as a result.

Coulter has seemingly bought into the concept that human suffering can be somehow quantified into dollars and cents. By advancing such an idea, Coulter herself demonstrates how cheaply our society's view on human life really is. While her facts are a confused (when Brantly went to Liberia, it was not yet a country infected; It was only after he was stationed there that the outbreak began and he chose to stay and treat the victims), she still wants to measure the alleviation of human suffering by cost. That cannot be done. Christian missionaries demonstrate how invaluable human life is in such selfless acts. If suffering becomes only a bottom-line game, then we've lost our humanity altogether.

Underestimating the Power of God

The other major error Coulter makes in taking a utilitarian approach to missionary efforts is she simply doesn't understand how God works. In her article, she accuses missionaries of being "tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S... So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream. "I don't know how Coulter can read the minds of so many Christian missionaries to ascribe such motives, but she feels that it is more prudent to be missionaries here in America. She writes:
If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.

If he had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World. 
Here, Coulter completely ignores 1 Corinthians 12:14 that the body of Christ has many members and each is called to a different role. Paul instructs the church "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable."4

My calling is apologetics. It involves interacting with people, discussing ideas, and possibly changing minds, which Coulter sees as essential. But that doesn't mean all should be so called. Brantly had always felt the call to Africa, even as a kid according to his mother.5 He did the thing that God had laid up on his heart, and that is the more important thing. Mother Theresa did likewise.

If God is in control, then we have faith that He may work it out for His good. And, while it may be that Brantly could make a movie mogul like Christians a bit more by providing him with medical services in New York, it is also possible that by contracting Ebola movie studios would be interested in making a movie of Brantly's life and heroism. It may even be possible that such a move would have a greater effect on the population of the country than Coulter assumes her path would take. It isn't like Chariots of Fire, Lilies of the Field, and even Molokai don't show such a result.

For Christians, pragmatism is not the primary model for action: obedience is. It is not to us to merely count the number of people we may touch, but to trust God and follow His will for our lives. That doesn't mean we don't take any kind of results into account, but it does mean that ministry efforts cannot be reduced to numbers.

I know Coulter is politically and not spiritually motivated. But even in this area, it has been proven that Christian missionaries are THE factor responsible for stable democracies forming across the African nation. Perhaps Coulter should look at the history of Christian missionary efforts a bit more carefully before she lambasts it so. People are not numbers; by her criticism, Coulter is in danger of becoming the very thing she says she stands against.


1. Coulter, Ann. "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'." AnnCoulter.Com. 6 August, 2014. Online. "
2. Luke 10:25-37. English Standard Version. Crossway. Accessed online.
3. See my article "How will children be valued if Christianity is lost?" for several supporting cases.
4. 1 Corinthians 12:21-23. English Standard Version. Crossway. Accessed online.
5. Associated Press. "Mother: Doctor with Ebola sought to be missionary." LIN Television Corporation. 28 July, 2014. Online.
Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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