Being “pro-life” had always been something that was central to my identity. I learned early on, that in order to be a good Christian, one was expected to be “pro” or “in favor of” life- which made complete sense, and still does.
As Jesus followers, we follow the one who can lead us to eternal life and life abundant, and therefore should hold a worldview that is intensely in favor of life. Great. I’m all on board.
What I grew to find increasingly problematic however, was the dishonesty of the term; a term which at face value should indicate an ethos which is always radically in favor of life, really was simply a term to indicate I was against abortion. It didn’t legitimately represent a holistic life ethos which always sided in favor of life.
It still doesn’t. When someone says “pro-life” our thoughts immediately go to the age-old abortion debate (something I’m not interested in hashing out on this blog), when instead it should cause us to think of an all-encompassing value system which shows a primacy for the value and dignity of life in all respects, and at all stages.
A beautiful term, which I would be proud to wear if understood accurately, has been reduced to a single issue. As the cultural definition of the term has taken root, it has become a less-than-honest term that further separates society in an us-vs-them mentality.
Those who oppose abortion are deemed “pro-life”, and those who may not oppose abortion in all circumstances are not pro-life.
Those who oppose abortion and advocate to see it become illegal in all forms are not necessary pro-life; as is often the case, they are simply pro-birth. Likewise, those who do not oppose abortion in all circumstances are not necessary any less pro-life than the former.
Instead of the tiresome polarization this term often brings, I would love to see a new understanding of the term give birth. One that no longer gives false impressions about holistic life value systems… one that is far more accurate in how it is used. I have decided to begin using the term in a legitimate way- a way that represents a total and complete value, not just for the unborn, but for the post-born as well.
Recently, Mark Sandlin wrote two fantastic posts which you’ve probably read- “10 Things You Can’t Do While Following Jesus” and “10 Political Things You Can’t Do While Following Jesus.” (If you haven’t, go read them- they’re good.) With his blessing, I’m going to borrow the format in a quest to illustrate what the term “pro-life” should legitimately express. So, if you’ve always considered yourself pro-life, allow me to show you the 10 things you can’t do while legitimately professing to be on the side of life.
10 Things You Can’t Do and Still Call Yourself Pro-Life
10. You cannot support unrestricted, elective abortions, after the age of viability.
While I don’t want this to be a post about abortion, I would fail in my argument that the term pro-life need be holistic and represent all life, if I didn’t list abortion. While I don’t favor the complete abolition of abortion in all circumstances, I think it’s an easy call to oppose elective abortions which occur after the age of viability.
In my other life as a photographer I volunteered for a fantastic organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. My role as a volunteer photographer, was to travel to the local medical centers and to take portraits for families who had lost a child. Usually, the children I took portraits of were pre-born, and died in the womb. It was one of the most difficult jobs I have ever done, as I attempted in some small way to help grieving families by giving them a tangible memory of their child. During those portrait sessions, I had some rare opportunities to see life up close. While we have all seen artistic renderings of what an unborn child looks like, I have had the rare opportunity to be someone who has actually held them in my own two hands. From 18 weeks gestation (twin boys), to babies who were due to be born any day, I have seen life close up. And, all I can say for me, is that I know this is life, that it is precious, and that this must be an element of a pro-life ethos.
While there will always be debate on this issue, and I’m not fishing for any here, for children who are able to survive outside of the womb independently, it should be an easy call to be opposed to elective abortions in these cases, and to side on the side of life.
9. You cannot oppose a livable, minimum wage.
After adjustments for inflation, the minimum wage today is $2 less an hour than it was in 1968. [1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/20/10-minimum-wage_n_3474024.html] However, a study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United revealed that by simply raising the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $10.00 an hour, it would lift 58% of the working poor out of poverty. [2. ibid] There are millions of Americans stuck in an inescapable life of poverty- not because of laziness, but because their hard work at lagging minimum wages are insufficient for basic needs, such as housing. According to the Low Income Housing Coalition, the best case scenario for minimum wage workers can be found in Arkansas and West Virginia where one would only need to work 63 hours a week at minimum wage in order to rent a two bedroom apartment at fair market value. Live in New York? You’re looking at working 136 hours a week in order to pay just for housing. My home state of Maine? That’s 81 hours a week. [3. http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/05/30/opinion/5302012wage/5302012wage-jumbo.jpg]
It’s impossible to say that we are legitimately in favor of “life” when millions among us are unable to afford basic housing regardless of how hard they work.
8. You cannot advocate, support, or passively tolerate economic policies which oppress the poor, minorities, or any other marginalized group.
I’m not going to get into which policies I personally feel do or do not oppress the poor because I don’t want my overall message to get sidetracked by political assumptions; the fact remains that we cannot claim to be in favor of life while simultaneously oppressing the poor. All throughout scripture, we are warned about this and in fact, in Amos 5, Isaiah 1, and other prophets, God makes it quite clear that our religious activity is offensive to him if we are failing to defend the poor and needy. Job wanted it on the record that he had never oppressed a poor person. Jesus warned that the judgement of the nations would be a judgement based upon how they treated the poor and vulnerable. And when the disciples sent Paul out? Their last words were “remember the poor” (Gal 2:9-10)
Being in favor of life, must mean being in favor of the poor and oppressed.
7. You cannot oppose gender equality
Being in favor of life, means we equally value the life of both genders. In 2013, we should seriously be ashamed that women still earn approximately 73% of what men earn for the same work, and that places like Texas just declined to become the 43rd state to pass a law against gender based wage discrimination. But, it gets more tough than that: as scripture teaches, there is no longer “male or female, slave nor free”, and as a result, we need to demand an end to gender based discrimination in our churches as well.
Sometimes when I need to get my blood pressure up, I listen to Youtube videos of “Pastor” Steven Anderson- he’s the same pastor who threw an Obama supporter out of the church mid-service, yelling “murderer” but yet also has sermons on why women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, why women should only wear dresses, and why he carries his wife around the house each day (to show her that he’s in charge).
If we really value life, we need to actively oppose gender based discrimination everywhere we find it, even if that’s a little too close to home for our comfort.
6. You cannot hold anti-immigrant sentiments or support oppressive immigration policies
As people of the way, we must remember that the immigrant population is one that is mentioned over and over again in scripture. We are commanded to be hospitable to them, be generous with them, and to treat them no differently than those who are native born.
To live in one of the richest countries in the world, and to live in a nation which consumes copious amounts of the worlds resources, it doesn’t show a value to life when one wants to continue consuming but simultaneously build fences to keep our poorer neighbors out. The worldview of “this is mine, leave it alone” is incompatible with a pro-life ethos. It reminds me of a story Jesus told one time about a rich man who lived in a gated community but ignored a poor man on the other side of the gate… lets just say, things didn’t work out so great for the rich man.
5. You cannot oppose healthcare for all
I’m not necessarily an apologist for Obamacare, but one cannot say they are legitimately pro-life while opposing equal access to healthcare– especially by the poor. To say “you are required to carry your baby to term” in one breath and then say “but want vaccines so that your baby doesn’t get sick and die? Sorry, you’re out of luck there” is the opposite of being pro-life. Arguments like this reduce the movement to simply being pro-birth, and nothing more.
I recall an occasion during one of the many, many, many republican debates during the last primary season. Ron Paul was asked if someone who was ill, but didn’t purchase healthcare, should simply be allowed to die. Members of the crowd quickly shouted out “yeah!”, and Paul’s response, left me unconvinced that he fundamentally disagreed with the statement.
Ensuring people have the medical care they need to live, is part of being in favor of life.
4. You cannot use dehumanizing language
Throughout history, the use of dehumanizing language was a precursor to oppression. Once we begin referring to other human beings with language that underemphasis or obscures their humanity, we have committed the sin of blasphemy by ignoring the imago dei in that person. If we use dehumanizing language for long enough, we’ll start seeing those individuals as less than ourselves- which make it much easier to begin oppressing them, even in subtle ways.
Racial epithets, the “R” word, and even the term “illegal” (which in addition to being derogatory, is a totally dishonest term), dehumanize an individual and make them less than ourselves. This is inconsistent with a pro-life worldview, and inconsistent with the God of scripture.
In Philippians 2:3, Paul tells us that with humility, we need to “consider others more important than ourselves.”
3. You cannot support unrestricted gun rights
This one should be the most obvious, but it’s not. Individuals with a pro-life worldview need to take a more reasonable approach to this issue than those who typically control the narrative. If one holds a foundational belief that we need to radically side on the side of life, then we ought be willing to sacrifice some of our rights in order to be true to that guiding principle. The Christian life bids us to set aside our own personal rights and interest in the name of others, and we can start here on the issue of gun control.
It’s an impossible argument to call oneself pro-life, but to also argue that any citizen ought have access to military grade assault weapons, which are objects designed to take life away. There is no other purpose for guns, beyond killing things. To resist reasonable, middle-ground measures such as background checks, registrations, and mandatory safety training does not indicate that one is holistically on the side of life. In society, we recognize that cars are great tools, but can also harm people. As such, we require a license to operate one, registration of all cars, insurance on cars in case someone is injured, and accountability measures for people who don’t play by the rules. To completely abandon that logic with guns, is beyond fathomable- especially if one claims to be in favor of life.
People who are legitimately in favor of life, need to be far more reasonable with compromise on the whole gun discussion.
2. You cannot support the death penalty
Being pro, or in favor of life, means that we are in favor of all life. That includes those who are on death row. If we are Jesus centered in our approach and development of this worldview, we see that Jesus himself in John chapter 8, stood in the way of an imminent execution. And, while perhaps the law had the right to demand death for certain criminals, as far as Jesus was concerned there isn’t anyone alive who is worthy of acting as the hangman.
Culturally, we know that capital punishment is expensive, ineffective, and inconsistently practiced across racial lines– which alone make it an unjust practice even without solid theological reasons for opposing it. Worldwide, 93% of all executions are carried out by China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United States. Hardly the international pro-life community, no?
Our culture in the US has become so captivated by retributive justice, we have completely lost sight of the task of restorative justice, which God has called us to as ministers of reconciliation. If we value life, we must strive to see lives restored instead of lives destroyed.
1. You cannot support, advocate for, or participate in war
I served in the Armed Forces for almost 10 years, and they were some of the best years of my life because of the people I served alongside of. However, today as a Jesus follower and an Anabaptist, I now realize how inconsistent advocating, supporting, or participating in war is for someone claiming to have a pro-life worldview.
I remember one time in particular, during Operation Allied Force. We had the opportunity to write messages (image of me, above) on bombs before they were dropped– and we did. I’m ashamed to admit, we had a lot of fun doing it. To this day, I have no idea who those bombs killed or how I could have been so lighthearted about participating in death. I’m so very sorry for participating in that, especially with an easy spirit.
War is incompatible with a way of life that radically sides with life, and stands in the way of death. Those of us who truly wish to live out a pro-life ethos, must be busy pounding our swords into plowshares, and must refuse to make or train for war as we await the restoration of all things.
If you see yourself as pro-life, great- because I see myself that way too.
However, if you’ve worn that label simply because you want to abolish abortion- please, let me challenge you to expand what it means to truly be pro-life, instead of simply being pro-birth.
Let’s redefine the term pro-life to honestly encompass a holistic worldview which sides on the side of life.