To do: “Sonogram, funeral plans”

large_babyinfantcaskets_upload_1There are two kinds of people in this world who cannot avoid wrestling with the term “theodicy” — clergy (especially hospital chaplains) and reporters who are committed to covering religion news.

It’s a theological term, obviously, and it gets used here at GetReligion from time to time. Here’s a crisp definition:

Main Entry: the*od*i*cy

* defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil

This term certainly comes to mind when reading (and viewing) the materials in multimedia Dallas Morning News package about Deidrea and T.K. Laux and the birth of their baby boy, Thomas Gordon. I heard about this series (several links in that post), of course, through Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher and the Crunchy Con weblog. He knows painful, inspiring, stunning theology when he sees it, too.

There are journalism issues that we could discuss, such as why the unborn child is a “fetus” when medical personnel are in the room, but Thomas Gordon is an unborn child the rest of the time. I think reporter Lee Hancock did a fine job of not letting this kind of issue get in the way of the story. And what a story it is.

There are dozens of passages that I could cite and that’s just in day one. You are simply going to have to grab a box of tissues, and a Bible if that’s something you are comfortable doing, and start reading.

But here is a crucial passage, as these parents wrestle with the medical realities of rare chromosomal glitches called Trisomy 13 and 18. There is no way to avoid religious questions in this series, especially since the parents are devout Christians, and this is a case in which the word “devout” is demonstrated again and again.

Deidrea felt like she was having an out-of-body experience as she heard herself say that they’d already agreed to love any child God gave them.

The doctors’ careful phrases looped in T.K.’s head — “incompatible with life,” “usually fatal,” “option of termination.” If their baby wouldn’t survive the pregnancy, he blurted, why continue? How could they let their baby suffer and put Deidrea at such risk?

Hours later, Deidrea couldn’t sleep. Alone on their living-room couch at 3 a.m., she prayed: Why them? What now? How could she and T.K. come together — not apart?

She felt a flutter in her belly.

She mouthed the name that she and T.K. had settled on just before the sonogram that morning, what now seemed a lifetime ago. Thomas was for T.K., whose given name was Thomas. Gordon honored her grandfather, who died only weeks before she and T.K. learned that they were pregnant.

Thomas, she said to the darkness. Thomas Gordon Laux.

The movement in her belly was unmistakable. Thomas kicked hard. It felt like answered prayer.

There are many crucial players in the story, as well as the parents. They are surrounded by a strong religious community. There is a hospice nurse who is gifted — almost beyond words. The editors were granted permission to reproduce sections of the mother’s private letters to her unborn son (which, of course, made me think of the classic “Letters To Gabriel“).

Read it all, or try to. Then try again. It’s hard to do this kind of journalism, but this is what happens with journalists wrestle with real life.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    Thank you for this story. It is a powerful statement about what journalism is at its best. It would be wonderful if stories like this could be used to train doctors, nurses and others.

    Thank God there was no ‘death panel’ sludge surrounding the help these wonderful people were given.

    I have only one minor quibble: In this internet age, I wish the list of groups providing support had included some national groups because people will be reading this story from all over.

  • carl

    The question that must be answered is “Why?” How does one who disbelieves in God see through to an answer that can only be found in the Providence of God? The bitter harsh truth is that the answer may never be found this side of eternity. Men can only trust that it does have purpose even if they do not see it. How do journalists who understand Providence only as a city in Rhode Island comprehend this? How do they report what they cannot comprehend?

    Even more so, the culture at large is learning how to detect such children, so that they may be aborted. As a people, we do not value the life, and so certainly can see no point in the suffering. The parents in question seem strange and alien – bringing forth a defective child that will certainly die instead of dispatching it with a quick and impersonal procedure. How do readers receive an explanation that is so foreign to their way of thinking?

    There is the potential for a huge mismatch of worldview in this story between subject and reader. The dominant secular ideology by its very nature can produce only use-value in man. These children do not have use-value. The idea of greater purpose hidden in the Providence of God is incomprehensible to the secularist. And yet for the story to be effective, the journalist must communicate the worldview of the parents on more than an intellectual level. Otherwise, the reader will conclude that the parents in question are religious fanatics who knowingly gave birth to a child only to watch it suffer and die. I am not sure how a journalist steeped in the presuppositions of the secular culture can accomplish this task.


  • Kristine

    Thank you for the ‘box of tissues’ warning. I needed it. Having read the story on the internet, i also got to read through the comments. A couple of folks came away from the story with a very different view of the situation than I did.
    The service that was provided by the Laux’s in telling their story, and the reporter’s skill in telling it is a fine use of newsprint and electrons.