Jan. 22 marks the 41st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. It has been popular in recent years for younger Evangelicals, or post-Evangelicals, to criticize Christians for having been so “obsessed” with the whole abortion issue for the past 40 years or so. While most don’t dispute its importance, or even its ethics, they can’t quite bring themselves to care about it with the same passion, or understand how their parents could have fixated on it to the exclusion of all other relevant political issues. With poverty, the ecological crisis, and rising violence in the world, how is it that for so many Christians abortion still is the issue?
I’ve refrained from commenting on issues of this sort over the last few years, largely for pastoral reasons, but when a buddy of mine asked a question along the same lines the other night, I was forced to re-examine why the issue has been such a sticking point for me in my own political wanderings. Among the various arguments that ran through my head, one thought in particular stuck out to me: if abortion really is the termination of an innocent human life, then I can’t think of another issue for which we have as much to answer for in America.
At the outset, I must say that none of this is meant as a comment on the pastoral issue involved with the decisions of individual women in horrifying situations faced with such terrible choices. Given the usual struggle with guilt, shame, and depression, compassionate care leads me to believe that the grace of God and the restoring word of the Gospel must be the first one on our lips. But in the world of governance and the provisional judgments of political authority, the dark moral reality must be painted in their starkest light.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, since abortion was legalized in the 1970s roughly 50 million + abortions have been performed in the US alone. Let’s see that with zeroes: 50,000,000. Again, assuming abortion really is the ending of an innocent human life, we’re talking about a death-toll over eight times the carnage of the Holocaust. Each year the death-toll dwarfs that of any armed conflict currently taking place around the globe. In New York City, it’s reported that 41%, or 2 in 5 of all pregnancies end in abortion. When we put it in that light, you can begin to see why for so many this isn’t simply one issue among the others.
Let me put it this way: nobody today would say that MLK Jr. was wrong for fixating on race and equality issues. Nor would anybody today complain about abolitionists’ single-minded obsession with slavery. I shudder to think what future generations will think when they look at Christians today and their lack of horror at the tragedy of abortion in America. At this point I’m reminded of one of the best, albeit snarky, rants against self-righteous complaints about ignorant, Christian “single-issue voting” I’ve ever seen. This was back before my blogging days, but I ran across this online, saved it for a rainy day, and unfortunately I don’t remember where or when or who this was. (Also, just to clarify, a. this is sarcastic, b. the grammar is not mine.):
Ok, bear with me as I rant. I’ve just about had it already with you people!
I am not a single issue voter. I never have been and WON’T become one now! There are dozens of other equally-important issues out there for which we can find common ground and then just leave the whole abortion thing alone. Why hit THAT red button every election cycle?
It’s always the same old mantra every four years. A bunch of crazy right-wingers, who I resent being associated with, keep blathering on about the “scourge” of abortion and the “injustice” of killing “innocent” human lives. I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but we have more important things to talk about like health care and taking care of the LIVING (and aging) population, a war in Iraq, an energy crisis looming, financial scandal, and all the rest. What is UP with you single-issue voters anyway?
It was just this way in the sixties. A bunch of do-gooder activists wandered the streets and took up valuable air time in the nightly news holding up signs, blathering on about human rights and demanding equal rights for black people. I mean c’mon, BLACK people of all things! When we SHOULD have been talking about the environment and not wasting our time with such frivolities, there they were, the single issue voters, rearing their ugly heads and ignoring a dozen other more important issues, at least!
Then I remember back in the 40’s, we spent trillions of US dollars funding a ridiculous war to help liberate “The Oppressed” Jews and others held in so called death camps across Europe. What did we gain from that, I’d like to know? Jews. Right here on OUR soil! And what a shame, because we had an energy crisis looming that we could have worked our way out of, not to mention at least a handful of other issues.
Less than twenty years before that, there they were again, those single-issue voters. This time, they were sending our boys off to get arms and legs blown to fight against who? I don’t even know! Probably to “liberate” somebody again. I’m sure that their time could have been better spent dealing with inner city crime and controlling the beginnings of the drug trade, or maybe a Mexico fence or something….
At the turn of the 20th century, we witnessed throngs of people about protesting against injustices directed at WOMEN and demanding basic human rights for them. I mean, come on! WOMEN!! What’s up with that, America?!? It’s almost inconceivable that we didn’t put our time and efforts into something at least as important like the job market and the economy. Maybe we could have avoided those world wars altogether!
So now you can see why I’ve had it with you people! When are you going to get it through your heads that you CAN’T vote just a single issue? Our borders are vulnerable, our education system is a joke, and we’re in the middle of a great big mess of a war. We have work to do in the economy, environment, and energy. We have to shore up our investments and home mortgages and get ready for retirement. We have children to cart around and music lessons and dogs to feed and new music to buy and (Oh My gosh, I almost forgot) I have to tape the latest episode of…something or other.
There’s just waaaay too much important stuff out there to worry about one issue like abortion. Besides that, abortion’s kind of… like… eew, you know, and all that stuff?
Again, none of this is a comment on the particular cases of individual women in desperate situations. Nor is it necessarily to say this makes voting a clear issue. Some continue to make the case that voting for an explicitly pro-life candidate isn’t always the most pro-life thing to do. They argue that a prudential decision can be made to vote for a candidate who will, through other means, reduce the total number of abortions given the low chance of actually over-turning Roe V. Wade, or passing pro-life legislation. I’m not entirely convinced by that logic, but I can see someone making it in good conscience.
My only point here is to illuminate why, given the reality of what Christians believe abortion is, it is perfectly sensible for Christians to be passionate about the issue, to the point of “obsession.” Of course, I hope it motivates them to do more, say, spare a few volunteer hours with local women in difficult situations. Again, this is not only a national political issue, but ultimately one for the local church to be involving itself in, giving women better choices at the personal level, beyond just closing certain horrible doors at the legal level.
In closing, I’m reminded of the comments of the great missiologist Lesslie Newbigin in an address entitled “Gospel and Culture” delivered in 1996 in Brazil at a Conference on Mission and Evangelism:
“I am going to raise on particular issue which I have never raised in public before and which I did not intend to raise when I came to Salvador. It is connected with this ribbon on my wrist. When we stood in the old slave market on Saturday morning on those rough stones which had felt the weight of the bare and bruised and shackled feet of countless of our fellow human beings, when we stood in that place so heavy with human sin and human suffering and we were asked to spend two minutes in silence waiting for what the Spirit might say to us, I thought first how unbelievable that Christians could have connived in that inhuman trade; and then there came to my mind a question: Will it not be the case that perhaps our great-grandchildren will be equally astonished at the way in which we in our generation, in our so-called modern, Western, rich, developed culture, connive at the whole-sale slaughter of unborn children in the name of that central idol of our culture—freedom of choice? I know—and as I say, I have never raised that issue in public before, but do so because I was told to do so—I know that to raise it is exceedingly painful, as painful as was the struggle against the slave trade, as painful as was the World Council’s program to combat racism. But I have discharged that commission. In the context of this conference it is simply one example of the costliness of that attempt to ensure that the gospel is not domesticated within our cultures, but continually challenges our culture.”
–Reprinted in Signs Amid the Rubble, pg. 118
Soli Deo Gloria