What Cecil the Lion and Planned Parenthood Taught Me About #AllLivesMatter

What Cecil the Lion and Planned Parenthood Taught Me About #AllLivesMatter July 30, 2015

For myself and many of my fellow pro-lifers, the last few days have been a frustrating, difficult time in the news and media cycle. Four videos have been released by the Center for Medical Progress, videos that at the very minimum suggest that Planned Parenthood has been profiting off the sale of aborted fetal parts. Despite the urgency and stomach churning nature of this human interest story, few major media outlets seem willing to even acknowledge the story; or if they do acknowledge it, they take an obviously preemptive journalistic stance with Planned Parenthood (looking at you, New York Times).

In the absence of big journalism, social media has kept the investigation of Planned Parenthood in the public eye. Blog posts, tweets, screen grabs, et. al, have played a crucial role in keeping the story in front of the nation. And it’s the importance of social media in keeping Planned Parenthood in the public eye is precisely why so many in the pro-life camp have been more than a little bewildered by the omnipresent story of Cecil the Lion. Cecil, one of Africa’s most famous lions, was killed on a preserve by an American tourist, who know finds himself in the midst of an outrage hurricane (PETA has called for his hanging).

Regardless of how you feel about Cecil the Lion—and it should be noted that many of the evangelical pro-life voices in my Twitter feed have said the killing was wrong—it doesn’t take an imagination sympathetic to the pro-life cause to comprehend why many are frustrated at the overwhelming media coverage given to an animal’s death, compared to the coverage given to Planned Parenthood and the CMP’s videos. Even more, many pro-life evangelicals have watched social media in the last 24 hours be given over to a state of pure indignation over the death of a lion, while many people remain either ignorant, apathetic, or defensive about Planned Parenthood and abortion on demand.

For pro-lifers, one of these stories is clearly more urgent than the other. Many pro-lifers I know care about humane treatment of animals. The issue isn’t that we shouldn’t be talking about poaching, it’s that we shouldn’t be talking about poachers of wildlife at the expense of talking about poachers of human life. It’s an issue of proper priority at an urgent moment in our culture, a moment when, exposed with hard truth about our society’s line item valuations of human life, many seem more interested in an animal and its hunter.

Wait. What does that sound like? Where have I heard that kind of thing before, recently?

I’ve heard it from the African-American community for more than a year. Indeed, my frustration at the making much of Cecil’s death while the death-dealing of abortion culture goes unnoticed sounds very similar to what black Christians and others have been saying for a long time about #BlackLivesMatter.

Just recently a Democratic candidate for President was booed at an event for saying that “all lives matter” in response to a question about violence and injustice suffered by the black community. Some conservative publications have used the booing to criticize the #BlackLivesMatter movement for a lack of perspective and humanity; after all, who would jeer the idea that all human lives do matter?

But the Cecil/Cecile Richards chiastic that we’ve seen in the last 24 hours has been a learning experience, at least for me. Before this week I didn’t feel the frustration towards #AllLivesMatter. I couldn’t quite empathize with the thought that we shouldn’t say say all lives matter. But now, I think I realize why that politican was booed. Saying “all lives matter” in the face of unjust treatment and violence towards black Americans is a problem of priority. It’s a disordering of the moral imagination, like feeling more heartache at the death of a lion than at the dismemberment of unborn children.

What if some Christians who advocate for the humane and respectful treatment of animals were now saying that we need to think less about Planned Parenthood and more about animal poaching, since all life is important to God? I think most pro-life evangelicals would rightly reject such reasoning. All life does matter to God, but human life matters more, and right now we are beholding—to our eternal accountability—the inside of an industry that markets in the deaths of innocent human lives. To not understand how this should take precedence in our thoughts, our prayers, and our activism is to misunderstand a great deal of the Christian ethic.

What I’m hearing from my black brothers and sisters in Christ is that there are deep and violent dysfunctions in our social and political structures when it comes to people of color. And when I turn on the news, I see this testimony often confirmed. As a fellow Christian, I need to properly prioritize human life. Being “pro-life” is not quite enough; I must be pro-life and whole-life, valuing the image of God no less because it is in an adult body. To say that we shouldn’t talk about why black lives matter, only why all lives matter, is a distortion of the moment, a distraction from where the deepest fault lines in our justice system are. It’s a misplaced moral priority.

We won’t always agree on every solution to these problems, just like not all pro-life people agree on the best strategy to end abortion culture. But that’s OK. The details are important but they must come after we’ve learned to value the right things. The cause of life goes beyond the Planned Parenthood clinic and the pulled over car, but that doesn’t mean we can look past those places. What matters most to God is what should matter most to us. “So God made man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”

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