Friday, November 18, 2016

An American Heresy: The Myth of Innocence and Abortion

The Myth of Innocence and Abortion

The so-called pro-life movement has always represented a contradiction to me.   There is much advocacy for the rights of the unborn.   I regularly see billboards with photos of babies in the womb along the highways and catchy slogans on bumper stickers on the backs of cars.   My Facebook feed was filled with the so-called po-life telling me that if I didn't vote for Trump millions of babies would die.

But what I did not see was any compassion or concern for human beings once they were born. The political so-called pro-life movement is one of the most active opponents of providing health care for all in our society.  They oppose the biblical mandate of helping the sick on the ground that it would enable the unwashed masses to get free abortions.  At the same time many so-called pro-life advocates actively support the death penalty.
Only about one-in-ten (11 percent) Americans hold a “consistent ethic of life” position, opposing legalized abortion and capital punishment. In fact, in the general public, there is no significant correlation between attitudes about the legality of abortion and views on capital punishment. Fully two-thirds of Americans overall say they favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, compared to only three-in-ten who say they oppose it. Support for capital punishment is virtually identical to the general population among Americans who say abortion should be illegal (69 percent) and among those who identify as “pro-life” (69 percent).
Let me be clear at the risk of alienating my progressive friends, I believe that abortion is evidence of our bondage to sin.  I would love to see a society where there are no abortions.  But to risk alienating my conservative friends (I probably already done so have by the title of this post), I would also like to see a society where there is no death penalty and where the sick are cared for regardless of their ability to pay.   I advocate that the centrist, historic, and apostolic witness of Jesus Christ calls for the consistent ethic of love for all that are alive.   My biblical sources for this view are the red letter words of Jesus himself contained in Matthew chapters 5 and 25.  

What troubles me most is the the result of the inconsistent ethic of life of the so-called pro-life movement, is a world where more abortions happen because of their actions.  Abortion rates have long been linked to the health of the economy. 
Abortion numbers go down when the economy is good and go up when the economy is bad, so the stalling may be a function of a weaker economy,' said University of Alabama political science professor Michael New.
How is this so? This happens because by having a capitalist health care system that sees health care as a commodity rather than a public good; we give an economic incentive to abortion over childbirth. Most people who who hold a so-called pro-life view see no reason to change the nature of our market based health care system, but this is what the reality of it  actually is:
Planned Parenthood estimates that in the United States a medication abortion costs between $300 to $800 and an aspiration abortion (in the first 12 weeks) between $300–$950.
If you don't have health insurance, the average cost of prenatal care is about $2,000... The costs of childbirth can be steep. The charge for an uncomplicated cesarean section was about $15,800 in 2008. An uncomplicated vaginal birth cost about $9,600, government data
If we care about reducing or eliminating abortions we would work to fix the economic incentives, instead the so-called pro-life movement works to criminalize women and those who feel called to help them. My suspicion is that criminalizing abortion will only drive it underground and put more people at risk.

There are two reasons the so-called pro-life movement behaves the way it does.   One is just good old fashioned selfishness.  By advocating positions that conform to the views of the majority of Americans regardless if they are biblical or not, they hope to obtain influence, political power and monetary donations for their causes.  Cultural accommodation is good for the religion business, which sells things rather than change lives.  Cultural Christians espouse the concerns of businessmen rather than disciples selling prepackaged cheap grace in the forms inane music and sappy devotionals at Walmart prices (see Bonhoeffer, the Cost of Discipleship).

The second reason is theological, as the so-called pro-life movement embraces a dualistic theology which sees human beings as being born innocent.  This ideology maintains that while in the womb the baby is completely innocent.   Once born the child can choose good or evil.  If the child chooses evil then he or she is no longer innocent and his or her life is forfeit.  According to this world view. criminals can be executed because they have chosen evil.   If mothers abort a pregnancy they are killing the innocent and liable for judgment.  If that same mother brings the baby to term but advocates the killing of criminals or enemies in war she is still considered innocent.  The problem with this is that people who hold this view call it Christian.  It is not: it is the ancient Iranian heresy of manichaeism. It has more in common with the ideology of the so-called Islamic state than it does the teaching of Jesus. The so called pro-life movement is really a pro-innocence or pro-purity movement. When humans attempt to usurp the Lordship of Christ and judge who is pure or not by their own criteria it always ends up being demonic.

A genuine Christian pro-life movement would advocate for the elimination of abortion not because babies are innocent, but simply because they are alive and that life is the province of God and not human beings.  It would also realize that the mothers and fathers of these children are created in the image of God as well and have intrinsic value in God's eyes just as much as babies do.  It would not seek to outlaw and criminalize abortion  and its providers but to work with allies on all sides to help people avoid being trapped in situations where there are only bad choices.

For both Christian scripture and tradition teach that there is no such thing as innocence. From the womb to the tomb, people are always good and bad mixed up. Every individual has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (see Romans 3:23) Also, there is no such thing as a completely pure or innocent person, even babies. (see Psalm 51:5)  War, capital punishment and abortion are always expressions of humanity’s bondage to sin. Christians should work to minimize their occurrences, while demonstrating love, forgiveness and mercy to both those who commit and are affected by these actions. (see Matthew 5:38-42)  This call for love, forgiveness, and mercy will only have meaning  if we address the structures in our society which make it easier for people to choose death over life.  It will only embrace the truth if it realizes that people rarely get the luxury of choosing between good and evil in a broken world.   Most times we make choices and hope they hurt as few people as possible. (see Romans 7)

Always expecting people to make the right choice while giving them no help or incentives to do so is cruel and unjust.   A consistent ethic of life  will provide for others in need at every stage of their lives no matter if they are considered pure or impure by society. (see Luke 6:27-36).   Jesus did not go to the cross because we were good; he went because we are loved, and God chooses to forgive us despite our sin. (see Romans 5:6-11).  A consistent Christ based pro-life stance would be based on building relationships of forgiveness and trust rather than winning elections and triumphing over political foes.  A consistent ethic of life would also save more lives than the unjust system we now have. Not only babies, but mothers.  Not only mothers, but the sick.  Not only the sick but the imprisoned.  Not only the imprisoned but the strangers.  (see Matthew 25:31-46).   A consistent ethic of life would also help our world look a bit more the way Jesus envisioned it could be than America does today.


  1. Wow, I read this over countless times and I'm still in shock about the generalizations you make as you put anyone who labels themselves as Pro-Life including myself in a convenient one size fits all box.
    I see that you attempt to differentiate the political movement from the person but making your point with a shotgun kills the person in the process. Suggesting Pro-Life folks actively oppose care after the birth of a child seems to ignore all the Christian organizations that offer pregnancy counseling including countless adoption outlets. Young Lives as you know is one of many organizations that seeks to care for young single moms and their babies.
    Next you jumped on the latest bandwagon. If you are not against the Death Penalty you can't be Pro-Life. Please consider that since 1973 there have been 50 million babies killed in the name of women's rights and about 1500 inmates on death row were executed. The average person on death row is there anywhere from 10 to 15 years. I'm curious how you compare a home invader who raped and murdered his victims to an unborn child whose only earthly crime is to find itself with an unprepared mother? The death row inmate has years to hear & respond to the gospel & the unborn are just labeled medical waste and tossed.
    Sadly the next point is the classic economic dilemma. The cost of having a child is 500% higher than getting rid of it. The cost of giving birth to the majority of poor uninsured mothers is typically covered by Charity Care so your rationalization to justify an abortion is misguided.
    We can discuss the topic of health care being a public right versus a commodity all day long but the reality of the cost of care doesn't go away. While I agree there is plenty of change needed within system it's far from one sided. Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield went under financially due to the fact that too many locals used the very expensive ER to address minor aliments. There were not enough local paying patients to cover the difference. But the existing laws required the ER to take anyone who showed up. The ACA never tried to send these patients to less expensive Medi-Merge style care centers. Are you aware that Horizon BCBS operates on a 1.2% profit margin? Hospitals are merging left & right as their margins are equally tight.
    Big Pharma & Medical Devices is where the margins are much higher but the age old challenge is where do the billions for R&D come from if there is no profit to be made by investors. Consider the cure rate for cancer patients from only 10 years ago.
    The only time I was amused was when you stated that you were concerned about alienating your progressive friends. Suggesting that us Deplorable Pro-Life folk are only as such due to our selfishness, desire for power and a financial contribution to our political cause really hit below the belt. So much for your conservative friends.
    I thought it was interesting that you referenced Dietrich Bonhoeffer. How do you justify Bonhoeffer's decision to join a plot to kill Adolf Hitler?
    Your next point goes into a area I've never encountered in any discussion regarding the life of the unborn. The unborn find their worth as a child of God and are born in spiritual sin as we all are.
    To continue to ensure that any honest but ill informed Pro-Lifer is truly a heretic, we need to realize that our world view is more in line with ISIS than our plastic dashboard Jesus. What?
    You state " Always expecting people to make the right choice while giving them no help or incentives to do so is cruel and unjust ". I agree but labeling millions of people you have never met & suggesting that is how they feel or act is an outrageous statement. I'm curious how you came to this conclusion.
    If you recall the fighting between catholic & protestant rulers over control of Europe, today they have empty churches and we're headed in the same direction in the US if we decide to label folks who do not agree with us as Heretics

    1. Thanks Mark

      Thanks for being so thorough in your response. It is really helpful in thinking things through especially in how I went over the top in how I spoke about the pro-life movement . For this I apologize. There is an obvious difference between the people in the movement who advocate for the ending of abortion and the public identity that the movement has. It is true that there is always a disconnect between how a movement is portrayed and what people are actually saying. I did not clarify this enough.

      I should have also explained how our culture which promotes a libertine view of sexuality that seeks to downplay our responsibility for our actions actually works to magnify the problem. I have a particular problem with liberals who oppose any advocacy for abstinence before marriage. This view reduces people to our worst behaviors and says nothing really can be done. I don’t accept this.

      I also did not make the crucial point that my own beliefs can also lead toward certain heresies. I would maintain that there are no heretics but we all have heresies. For example orthodox Lutheran theology often leads to a fatalism about human actions (antinomianism). So as just as we are a mix of good and bad, so are the ways in which we talk about the things that matter.

      Perhaps I should have been more clear about my own prepositions some of them are 1. All are created in the image of God. 2. Therefore I do not make a distinction between the born and unborn all are equally valuable. 3. Life is given by God as a gift and is the province of God exclusively. 4. Therefore any premature ending of human life is sinful from the womb to the tomb. 5. This can be from either our actions or our lack of action. 6. Human structures are always broken and in need of reform.

      Unless I am wrong, these should be straightforward. The more difficult one is that as a result of the world’s bondage to sin there will be crucial times in everyone’s life where they have will a choice between sin and sin. This is exactly what Bonhoeffer had work through in his dilemma which you allude to. Bonhoeffer is very much in vogue now but went through a period in the 60’s and 70’s where he was criticized by pacifists because he chose to be part of the plot to assassinate Hitler. Like most, he was making the best choice he could, and like too few of us, he used his relationship with Christ to help him make it.

      However even when we attempt to make the best choices we can with God’s help, they will not be purely good all the time. When they are not, we have to learn how go forward in forgiveness. When we attempt to judge who is pure or guiltless, we place ourselves in God’s position. It is this point I wanted people to think about. I would like people to think as much about helping “guilty” life as “innocent’ life. Because that is what Christ did for me and the world.

      The other points you raised I can address as well, but I wanted to start with the theological. I would love to talk to you more about this so I can learn some more from our discussions. You always keep me on my toes.

  2. Rarely do I sit back and think about how to mold a reply but mine was a 2 barreled head shot. The point where we both agree is that all of us are far from perfect and in great need of a Savior. The point I didn't address is dealing with the situation such as it is. There are 2 victims, the baby as well as the mother of the aborted child. Sadly I've discovered that the mental health of the mother who chose an abortion has an increased likelihood of dealing with PTSD or even suicide in some cases. That mother is in no less need of God's love and forgiveness than any other person on earth. I've been privileged to have two friends share with me their experiences about their own abortions. Every year that non-birthday becomes a period of incredible sadness. All the non abortive services that Planned Parenthood offers can not make up for the lie told to women every day they are in business. This topic is very toxic and brings out the rawest of emotions out of people on both sides of the aisle. If people remained silent how many more Jews would have been killed or would we own slaves even to this day. It's easy to look at both these situations in hindsight. We are also seeing an interesting phenomena today in that so many disillusioned young people are looking for a purpose in life to make them complete. Many have picked up the banner of being social justice warriors. Sadly many of their causes are just not well thought out. When we spent too much time with like minded people we lose perspective. Far too much effort is spent screaming at people who do not agree with you and less time actually trying to figure out how to present your view point and build a dialogue. Calling me a racist because I don't buy into BLM or sexist because I don't believe abortion is a women's right or angry straight white male ( or homophobe ) since I choose to have Hayley or Jenn enter a ladies bathroom or locker room with only biological females will never change my point of view. As we learned through this political season folks have points they will make in public that are very different than they make in private. Trying to persuade folks in a public will only get you so far. Add anger and rage and you lose 99% of them. Stand for what you believe in but I think we will get much further when we engage people as individuals. Jesus hung out with 12 guys most of the time and changed the world