The Louisville Institute

The Louisville Institute
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Proposal Summary

The Very Fiber of Our Being: A Pastoral Theology of Cancer and Evolution

Leonard Hummel

The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg

Summary

The purpose of this project is for a pastoral theologian and a group of pastors to develop a pastoral theology of cancer as a disease of evolution.

The science on cancer is as clear and certain as it gets: this disease is one of evolutionary development. That is, cancers progress according to evolutionary principles when cells—“the very fiber of our being” in the language of a Novena to Saint Peregrine—go their own way and, thereby threaten the rest of that “fiber.” While religious perspectives, questions, and arguments abound in church and society regarding evolution in general, remarkably few struggle to make meaning of the evolutionary nature of cancer. Even rarer—and arguably more urgent—is practical theological inquiry into faithful understandings and wise practices by pastoral leaders and pastoral theologians in response to cancer as an evolutionary phenomenon.

In this project, a peer group of pastors and I will engage in collaborative inquiry into the pastoral significance of the connection between cancer and evolution for ministries of preaching, worship, religious education and pastoral care of church, society, and the world. In our considering best pastoral practices in response to cancer, our guiding questions will be these: (1) How may God be preached, taught, and, in pastoral care, understood if the development of life and the development of cancers are linked by evolution? (2) What does pastoral wisdom look like if cancers are something that, as evolutionary phenomena, sometimes can be changed and, at other times, cannot be? (3) What are faithful and wise pastoral responses to social and economic issues generated by and in response to the evolution of cancers? The provisional answers put forth by this ecclesial community of inquiry will initiate the development of a pastoral theology of cancer and evolution.


Report

• What was the purpose of your project and what core questions guided your inquiry?
The purpose of this project was for a pastoral theologian and a group of pastors to develop a pastoral theology of cancer as a disease of evolution. The three guiding questions of the study were:
(1) How may God be preached, taught, and, in pastoral care, understood if the development of life and the development of cancers are linked by evolution?
(2) What does pastoral wisdom look like if cancers are something that, as evolutionary phenomena, sometimes can be changed and, at other times, cannot be?
(3) What are faithful and wise pastoral responses to social and economic issues generated by and in response to the evolution of cancers?

• What guiding assumptions were challenged or modified?
This guiding assumption was challenged: that religious appraisals of evolutionary theory must either be too hot (passionate and unempathic), or too cold (dispassionate and unempathic). This project demonstrated that Darwinian evolution need not be too hot or too cold for a suffering world and a church that cares about that suffering when it is understood to be the explanatory mechanism for the disease of cancer.

• What did you learn as a result of your work? What are the implications for the churches in North America and those who lead them?
That some religious leaders may find many faithful and wise ways to teach, preach, educate and provide pastoral care with those in their congregations in response to the evolutionary nature of the disease of cancer. This result indicates that further theological education in science and religion as it bears on pastoral matters such as the evolutionary disease process of cancers is warranted.


Related Publications

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