Christians Find Relevance in Schiavo Case Over Easter

Even as the legal and political battles over Terri Schiavo simmer down, the case of the dying Florida woman remains a fervent topic among religious groups -- especially Christians as they celebrate this Easter weekend.

A number of Christian leaders across the country say they find the Schiavo case relevant as they mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and they plan to bring up the controversy over whether or not Schiavo should be kept alive by a feeding tube during their Easter forums.

"Jesus died that we might live," the Rev. Thomas Foudy, pastor of St. Coleman Catholic Church in Pompano Beach, Fla., told his congregation last weekend. "So, very much, this situation is a powerful, poignant and relevant example of the sacredness and the beauty of life and the significance of what Jesus did for us."

But, just as many Americans are divided over the issue, so are Christians.

Debating Sacred Right to Life -- And Death

Charles Henderson, a Presbyterian minister and Christianity Guide for, has been hosting an online forum about the Schiavo case for the site. He says he has received a lot of "strong reaction" from other Christians over his online editorial asserting there is as much a sacred right to die, as there is to live.

"Some Christians are having a hard time understanding what's going on here," said Henderson, who has led congregations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. "It's easy to identify with Schiavo's parents who keep saying their daughter is being starved to death."

Still, Henderson believes many Christians would argue that people in Schiavo's situation should have a right to forego the life support of a feeding tube. He finds particular relevance in the biblical story of Christ's death.

"Good Friday is a day that celebrates a voluntary death," he said. "Christ chose to die to express his love for humanity. I wouldn't compare Terri Schiavo to Jesus Christ directly, but Jesus' message was that physical life is not the ultimate value."

He adds that in the Book of John, when Jesus appears before Mary Magdalene who has come to his tomb on Easter Morning, he tells her "Do not hold onto me."

"The meaning of the passage is you have to let go -- I'm moving onto another realm. It is against the will of God to hold onto someone when it is natural to die," he said.

Among the online messages from people outraged by Henderson's arguments, one contributor to his online chat wrote, "I truly believe God is saddened by the lack of mercy and charity. What's next on your agenda? Those with Parkinson's who can't get food to their mouths? Or maybe those with Down syndrome who can't earn enough to put food on the table?"

Powerful Timing

The author of a blog called "blogicus," who goes by his first and middle names Timothy Lewis, is among those Christians who find the timing of the Schiavo case particularly powerful. He feels so strongly that Schiavo should be kept alive that he co-founded a Web site, called a month ago to provide a forum for those wishing to argue for Schiavo's life.

"The timing of this is a catalyst for Christians," Lewis said. "Many people are talking about the suffering of Christ and they are identifying it with Schiavo. Easter is a time for reflection and we are reflecting about this innocent woman whose life is being taken. It adds a lot of force to the whole issue."

Members of the Catholic Church, which has been a powerful advocate for the preservation of all life, including that of the unborn, have weighed in strongly on the Schiavo case. In a March 20 editorial in the Orlando Sentinel, the Bishop Thomas Wenski of the Diocese of Orlando, draws a direct parallel to Schiavo and Christ's story.

"Holy Week, the annual remembrance of Jesus' passion and death, begins with the Passion of Terri Schiavo," Wenski wrote. "As Terri shares in his passion, she will share in his Resurrection. Like Jesus did, Terri Schiavo cries out, though with muted voice: 'I thirst!' "

Should Schiavo die over the religious weekend, Lewis says it could have "a huge impact."

"If she dies as everyone is reflecting about the resurrection, it may generate a groundswell movement to change how the brain dead and disabled are treated in society," he said.

But just as some find the Easter holiday a poignant time to be discussing the Schiavo case, others see it as an inappropriate occasion to bring up the controversy.

"This has become a political issue and it has a whole different flavor than, say, if another tsunami happened," said Rev. Jimmy Only, who leads The Congregational Church of Manhasset, N.Y. "Another weekend I might bring it up, but, this being such a holy time, I don't think it would be appropriate to bring up something that has become so political."