Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rethinking "pro life"

I was raised in a typical evangelical Christian “pro life” perspective; i.e., “pro life” meant (means) anti-abortion. In recent years, though, I have been challenged to reconsider this view.

One of the themes of the men and women – Jews, Muslims, and Christians –  I have met in Israel and the West Bank is, that a foundation of working for peace is to be radically pro-human, pro-humanity: to see every person as a fellow human being, created in the image of God.

And this leads me to conclude, to be pro-peace is to be pro-life, in a radical, comprehensive sense (seeking shalom, a comprehensive wholeness in all of life). And thus I post the following two quotes for your consideration. Please read them all the way through, and think about the connection between (pro) life and (pro) peace. The first is by Johann Arnold, from Seeking Peace. The second is from Brennan Manning, from his thought provoking work The Ragamuffin Gospel.

“In peacetime, priests and ministers preach on the Ten Commandments, ‘Thou shalt not kill…’ In wartime, they bless bombers. Anti-war people are pro-abortion, and militarists are anti-abortion; anti-abortion activists are prodeath penalty, and so on. Everyone wants to get rid of some particular evil, after which they feel the world is going to be a better place. They forget that you can’t be for the bomb and for children at the same time…”
(Johann Christoph Arnold)

“We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death. We are pro-life to the extent that we are men and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no ‘others.’

“Today the danger of the pro-life position which I vigorously support is that it can be frighteningly selective. The rights of the unborn and the dignity of the age-worn are pieces of the same pro-life fabric. We weep at the unjustified destruction of the unborn. Did we also weep when the evening news reported from Arkansas that a black family had been shot-gunned out of a white neighborhood?

“One morning I experienced a horrifying hour. I tried to remember how often between 1941 and 1988 1 wept for a German or Japanese, a North Korean or North Vietnamese, a Sandinista or Cuban. I could not remember one. Then I wept, not for them, but for myself.

“When we laud life and blast abortionists, our credibility as Christians is questionable. On one hand we proclaim the love and anguish, the pain and joy that goes into fashioning a single child. We proclaim how precious each life is to God and should be to us. On the other hand, when it is the enemy that shrieks to heaven with his flesh in flames, we do not weep, we are not shamed: we call for more.

“The sensitive Jew remembers the Middle Ages: every ghetto structured by Christians; every forced baptism, every Good Friday program, every portrait of Shylock exacting his pound of flesh, every identifying dress or hat or badge, every death for conscience's sake, every back turned or shoulder shrugged, every sneer or slap or curse.

“With their tragic history as background, it is not surprising that many Jews are unimpressed with our anti-abortion stance and our arguments for the sacredness of human life. For they still hear cries of Christkiller; the survivors of Auschwitz and Dachau still feel lashes on their backs; they still see images of human soap, still taste hunger, still smell gas. The history of Judaism is a story of caring: they are not sure we care for them. 

“The pro-life position is a seamless garment of reverence for the unborn and the age-worn, for the enemy, the Jew, and the quality of life of all people. Otherwise it is paste jewelry and sawdust hot dogs.”
(Brennan Manning, emphasis mine)

Takeaways for me, from these authors and my Israel/Palestine “peace heroes,” are that as a “Christian,” I must be open-hearted toward Muslims, Jews, and all others, of any religion or none, treating them with respect, and seeking relationship, working for their rights, etc.  And if I consider myself “pro-life,” I need to rethink the broad implications of that concept, and be ready to follow through on applying it to every area (as these authors advocate).

Values, if they are true, if they are worth holding, if we are to be people worthy of them, must be applied across the board to all people and situations, and not only to our narrowly defined group (or project or cause).

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