Last week I shared to Facebook a Washington Post story titled “White House directs federal agencies to cancel race-related training sessions it calls ‘un-American propaganda.’” I prefaced it with this: “At all levels of American society, we are confronted with crucial choices about what sort of people we are going to be in our life together. There is much that I could say in reaction to this news, but I’ll simply say that this is evidence that an alarmingly large segment of American society, extending all the way to the top levels of government, seems determined to make the wrong choices. Let’s choose to be better.”
Someone responded to my post with a comment voicing this question: “By better do you mean vote for the murder babies crowd?”
Usually when I make such posts on social media, I don’t get involved in comment thread skirmishes. I offer observations or pose questions, and usually I let others take up the discussion. (Let’s just say that in this case, there was no lack of others to take up the discussion.)
But when you’re a minister and theological educator committed to forming followers of Jesus Christ as people who welcome life and work for its flourishing, it’s hard to take a pass on that question — especially when asked by someone who had attended a guest teaching series I’d led in an area congregation.
The question also came a couple of weeks after I’d already offered lengthy responses to similar questions. Our 14-year-old son had asked us at dinner about how we were planning to vote in the upcoming presidential election and how that related to what he hears from friends at school about what voting for particular candidates allegedly means about one’s position on abortion. My response was probably far longer than he wanted. I’d also already responded at length to a private message from a minister, a former student, who sought advice about responding to questions like this from church members.
So, I didn’t have to think long and hard to offer the following response to the question, “By better do you mean vote for the murder babies crowd?”
No. I am an adoptive parent who cares passionately about protecting vulnerable human life in its beginnings. I hold to what has been described as a “consistent pro-life ethic,” maintaining the sacredness of all human life, from womb to tomb — which would include opposition to the termination of life in the womb, but also through warfare and capital punishment.
“I hold to what has been described as a “consistent pro-life ethic,” maintaining the sacredness of all human life, from womb to tomb.”
While abortion is not directly mentioned in the New Testament in its predominantly Jewish context, as Christianity in the next century began to spread throughout the world of the Roman Empire, Christians encountered a world in which Romans sometimes did not protect life at its beginning, either aborting unborn children pharmaceutically or abandoning newborns to be left to die. Thus the Didache — an early Christian document from the early second century, written not long after the latest-written New Testament books — in its second chapter mentions these practices in the context of a long vice list of what characterizes the “way of death” in contrast to the virtues of the “way of life” embraced by followers of Jesus Christ.
Fast-forwarding to our current dilemmas: I believe a Christian contribution to the transformation of our social order should involve voting for candidates at all levels of government who will work for policies that promote the flourishing of human life, from womb to tomb. This includes working toward a social order in which people do not terminate life in its beginnings — and in which there is support for the flourishing of life in all of its subsequent stages.
Focusing this transformation on making abortion illegal, and especially on electing presidents who pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices who are thought to be committed to overturning Roe v. Wade (always a big unknown, for there’s a long history of independence of thought of Supreme Court justices after their appointment to the bench, and the judicial principles of precedent would make that a rather difficult outcome to achieve in that fashion) has not seemed to be very effective in ending demand for abortion. Internationally, the countries with the highest per-capita abortion rates are those with the strictest laws against abortion.
“The focus on a legislative approach to eliminating abortion has led to a neglect of other important aspects of creating a social order committed to the flourishing of human life from womb to tomb.”
Meanwhile, in our current configuration of the American political order, the focus on a legislative approach to eliminating abortion has led to a neglect of other important aspects of creating a social order committed to the flourishing of human life from womb to tomb — attention to safeguarding the environment that sustains human life, reducing economic inequality, rectifying injustices rooted in race and gender that have perpetuated patterns of human relation that are to the detriment of life’s flourishing, reducing military threats to human life (especially through reducing, or eliminating, nuclear weapons), and reforming the criminal justice system are a few things that come to mind in this connection.
So, no, I do not mean “vote for the murder babies crowd” (which does not describe the Democratic-inclined Christians I know, and certainly not me), but rather “vote for the flourishing of human life, of all life, so that our society may be one that welcomes and cares for all life, especially vulnerable lives.” And regardless of whomever we may choose as the candidates who get our votes, I hope we will all choose to be better, to become people who welcome all life and seek to build a society in which it may flourish.
Steven R. Harmon is professor of historical theology at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity in Boiling Springs, N.C. He is author of Baptist Identity and the Ecumenical Future and co-editor with Amy L. Chilton of Sources of Light: Resources for Baptist Churches Practicing Theology.