There are few issues which inflame debate on the American cultural and political scene as those related to “life.” Come to think of it, pretty much all the issues relate to “life.” That is, I believe a Pro-life position should be – must be – more than just an anti-abortion position. It is necessarily anti-abortion but not exclusively so. This is a point I think both Conservatives and Liberals miss too often.
Conservative pro-lifers (not all and not always) who are rightly concerned about the protection of unborn life sometimes inconsistently overlook other pro-life issues such as poverty, justice, crime, racism, and societal violence. When they do address these, it is primarily, but not altogether wrongly, from the personal responsibility perspective. One inconsistency, and there are several, is arguing that the state should over-rule a woman’s right to abort a baby, but the state should also pretty much stay out of other social, moral, and ethical life issues. (Yes, I am generalizing here).
Liberal pro-choicers, on the other hand, have so absolutized individual rights and personal choice that they overlook (inconsistently, illogically, and certainly morally and ethically) the rights of the unborn person and the very essence of what it means to be human (that is, unless they are thoroughgoing philosophical materialists, and if they are, then a whole host of other ethical problems arise). Moreover, when they do address other life issues they, too, do so inconsistently, but not altogether wrongly, from a primarily structural and institutional perspective. An inconsistency, and there are several, is that a woman has the individual right and wherewithal to choose to abort a baby, but other people do not have the right and wherewithal to choose individually and responsibly in so many other areas of life, such as parenting. No, the state must do it for them.
Now, although I am starting to sound libertarian that is not where I want to go with this post. I will simply say that I mistrust both thoroughgoing libertarianism and thoroughgoing statism from a theological perspective. Why? Because neither takes fallen human nature seriously enough, whether individual sinfulness on the libertarian side or individual and corporate sinfulness on the statist side (the libertarian most certainly takes corporate sinfulness seriously). How to hold the tension between the extremes? Probably the best example in history is what our own Founding Fathers did with the checks and balances of our three branches of government. Sure, we are still working on getting it all right, but the principle of promoting freedom while acknowledging that human nature is not to be fully trusted is right there in our founding principles. But I digress.
I only want to insist that both liberal and conservative sides (and in my case, evangelical types that are mostly conservative) need to work harder at developing a consistent pro-life position. What would that entail? (I can only briefly sketch the main points. Each would take a book to unpack):
Definitely the protection of unborn children. This is not merely a legal or even “rights” issue, but is replete with moral, ethical, and even logical implications. At bottom is the core theological issue of what it means to be human and be created in the image of God.
End of life. Similarly, the core issue is what it means to be human and who is to be trusted through the often very painful process of dying.
Medical ethics. From conception to grave, what science can do with, to, and for the human body is only going to increase in both medical and ethical complexity (see, for example, the July 4 Time Magazine cover story, "The Gene Machine." Scary stuff). Once again, much of what is scientifically possible collides with the Biblical definition of human life and the value of human life. More than ever before biblical theology and ethics will intersect science, medicine, and pastoral care.
Criminal justice issues, including violence, the rights of crime victims, and purposeful incarceration. Our prison system is overcrowded and broken. Justice, in the broadest sense, is not always carried out equitably and consistently, much less wisely. The state must incarcerate violent and habitual criminals. We must, however, figure out better ways to deal with non-violent criminals through better restitution (work to pay back damages) or treatment programs (for alcohol and drug users).
Poverty, work, and opportunity. After all, this is the American Dream. Historically we have debated what are the individual’s, the government, and the church’s responsibility. We may have to struggle some more. A consistent pro-life position, however, will not take the liberal position of asking the government to do it all or the conservative position of wanting the government to do almost nothing. How do we do it better?
War. We could go on forever here. A consistent pro-life position will wrestle mightily with going to war, how a war is fought, and the purposes of any particular war. It is the governing authorities’ right and responsibility to wage war at times in defense of its citizens. It is the Christian’s responsibility to prophetically question every step and every decision along the way.
Creation. Yes, a biblical view of caring for God’s creation is called for. I do not want the pantheistic New Agers monopolizing the discussion!
Have you picked up on some of the common themes? How about the following:
*God has created all things and all people. He declared his creation good and gave it a purpose. There is an over-arching story of which we are part. If we move outside of that story or purpose, trouble will follow.
*Human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God. This is true of the person I love the most and of the person who is my greatest enemy. This truth does not over-rule government and justice, but it should affect my personal attitude toward all people.
*All have sinned; consequently, the image of God is marred in all human beings. Yes, some are “worse” than others when it comes to their actions in this world, but the problem is the same for all and the solution is the same for all: the cross of Christ. Similarly, sin has affected the creation. Because all have sinned and because the creation is also corrupt, humanity and all human institutions are far from perfect.
*Regardless of the fallen nature of humans and a corrupted creation, I must do all I can in all areas to choose life. Death is an enemy. Death, violence, disease, corruption, war, and oppression are all results of fallen human nature. I must work against these because Jesus did. I must work to overcome these because Jesus has. I must choose life first because He is life.
Working towards a consistent pro-life position does not mean we will agree on every issue, whether it is the description of the issue or the prescription for it. Shoot, I am still working on most of this myself. My point is that we need to be Pro-LIFE, and this is a Biblical issue. For some trying to address all these issues consistently may sound naïve and expecting too much this side of the second coming. I certainly don’t want to do that. To the contrary, I want to be a hard core Jesus-like realist. He knew exactly what kind of fallen world, what kind of sinful people, and what kind of deadly enemies he was dealing with. At the same time he has commanded us and empowered us to live as much as possible as kingdom citizens while we live and pray “. . . your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
P.S. Is racism among pro-life issues? Absolutely! Watch for "The Faces of Racism" soon.