One of the issues that has been brought to the fore in this election season, at least for Christians, is what it means to be “pro-life.” Certainly, the usage of the term in the political world of the US is a euphemism for one’s view on whether abortion should or shouldn’t be a protected right of women as part of the right to privacy. But being “pro-life” is also arguably a holistic and natural outgrowth of a Christian worldview, one that is opposed to abortion but also a variety of actions individuals or nations take that fail to treat each person, each human life, as sacred, regardless of that person’s color, creed, origin. In line with Christ’s most pointed and unique teachings, one that is “pro-life” in the Christian sense is also concerned with how people and governments treat their respective “enemies” real or imagined, along with prisoners, domestic or foreign, as well as any person, who by whatever circumstances (economic, familial, racial, ethnic, national, etc.) is vulnerable to being treated as something less than sacred.
Though I’m not Catholic (or even “Diet Catholic” as my Episcopalian friend has called himself with a chuckle), I have come to appreciate certain areas of depth within Catholic teaching and practice, and perhaps none more so than what is called Catholic Social Teaching. Catholic Social Teaching is “is the body of doctrine developed by the Catholic Church on matters of social justice, involving issues of poverty and wealth, economics, social organization and the role of the state.” More important for this discussion, though, is the belief at the foundation of that teaching, which is, specifically, that “human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching.” The key here is that being “pro-life” in this sense can never be limited to being opposed to abortion, though it obviously includes that, and strongly so in Catholic and most Protestant circles. But it also extends to how individuals, families and societies structure their treatment of those in poverty, to refugees, to outsiders, to young women, to old men, to children, to other nations and their people, to those accused of crimes, to those convicted of crimes, even to enemy soldiers, to terrorists—to everyone. Being “pro-life,” if it is to be rooted in a sense of sacredness for all human beings because of God’s love and blood for all human beings, is never only about one area or kind of life or just one policy of government. Now, being the good low-church Protestant that I am, I’m sure my own version of being “pro-life” doesn’t match Catholic Social Teaching on all points. But what I admire and welcome, and wish for all my Christian brothers and sisters of all denominations, is to let the Catholics, our older brothers in the faith, speak to and remind us how being “pro-life” for the Christian isn’t just about abortion though it does include it. Being against abortion is just one of many logical outgrowths of a prior and deeper and more broad commitment, gleaned from our gospel, that all human life that has been loved by God, and bled for by Christ, is sacred and to be treated accordingly.
A misogynist or opportunist can be opposed to abortion just out of disrespect or disdain for women or out of political convenience, but cannot be pro-life in this larger sense. Being pro-life in the line of Christ’s great teaching and example is about seeing great, even supreme value in all human life because God does. Being pro-life will say that even our enemies should be given water if thirsty, that prisoners should not abused or tortured but treated with dignity, that we should disagree and take our stands civilly, but not hate or denigrate, that we use force against others, if at all, as little and as surgically as possible to restrain those committed to evil. The one that is pro-life is not only opposed to the flippant or unnecessary use of force, but also opposed to a quick or foolish use of the tongue, as it also has the power of life and death, often full of poison, set on fire by hell. Being pro-life in this also has a deep, deep concern for the powerless and defenseless in a given setting—like the unborn, the poor, the orphan, the widow, the accused, the refugee, the minority—quick to resist the forces that tend to take advantage of or simply devalue those in each society with less power. Being pro-life in the tradition of Jesus means one is sensitive to the tendency of the love of money to eclipse and overpower love of God and fellow man, leading to oppression and ruthlessness and to injustice and the use of people for financial gain or personal advancement. The wisdom from above is peace-loving, as are those that are pro-life, not vindictive, vengeful or prideful. One that sees life as sacred will be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.
What if Christians were really pro-life and not just opposed to abortion? What if the defining principle of our politics, public life, discourse, and vote was driven by the belief that all life is sacred, including those that oppose us in one way or another? What if we evaluated candidates, not with a checklist for positions as much as a discernment to see what the collective of a candidate’s proposals, their treatment of others, their words and their actions, said about the degree to which they saw all life (lives in and out of the womb, lives of their political rivals and national “enemies,” lives within and beyond national borders, lives of the poor, of the lame, of those without power in the world) as sacred, as worthy of dignity, respect and preservation?
I do not pretend that such a holistic commitment to the sacredness of life will always lead to easy answers, privately or publicly, at home, work or the voting booth. But I’d rather we evaluate with depth in Christ’s values than not. I’d rather we, of anyone, take a more holistic look at our laws, our candidates, etc., and look for those and encourage those that demonstrate a view of all people as sacred. The best of our work as a Church, and the best of our aspirations and history as citizens of the United States, has that guiding principle within it. Our darkest, most shameful moments, by contrast, in the history of the Church and of the United States, show we are fully capable of forgetting that foundational principle from time to time and letting fear rule and guide instead. What will be said of us in this time? Will the sacredness of all life be our guide?