As evangelicals who came of age during the culture wars, we're part of a generation ready to move past the pitched left-right debates. The critiques of Christian political activism have held some merit: A hyper-focus on elections, voter guides, and strategy has often buried the gospel story. Sometimes following Christ has strangely looked like following an elephant or a donkey.
We need the hope, optimism, and willingness of a new generation of evangelicals to get dirty serving the poor, fighting for justice, and eschewing party labels. Their wide-eyed engagement has awakened new interest in bipartisan horrors such as human trafficking, environmental degradation, the orphan crisis, and child poverty in underdeveloped nations.
And yet, in our rush to justice, we cannot forget the prophet Micah's haunting words:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, ESV)
These words motivate our desire as God's kingdom people to pursue justice where we can and pray for it where we cannot. But what about causes that push against the culture? Surely God's intention for his church didn't simply include only a portfolio of chic causes.
And that leads us to the pro-life movement, dating back to the 1970s. Being pro-life was missional, incarnational, and radical way before those terms became evangelical buzzwords. And yet, caring for and advocating on behalf of the unborn remains controversial.
Thankfully, its controversial status may be a thing of the past if trend lines continue. Younger generations are markedly more pro-life than their parents. We're observing a rising generation of pro-life Americans, many of whom (though not all) identify as Christian.
But sadly, among progressive evangelicals, there's a reflexive hesitancy to tout or raise the banner of human life as a preeminent justice issue. You'll hear individuals in this camp dance around the sanctity of life—writing it off as "political" or "complicated."
One of us had a conversation with a leading Christian ethicist, who denied a consensus around the personhood of the unborn, muddying the moral clarity of the abortion discussion. This same scholar rightly chafes against the industrialization of abortion, but then focuses their energies toward mitigating the social factors that lead to abortion. It's a noble effort, but it lacks the moral force needed to give justice its proper due.
That's where a lot of progressive evangelicals are. They're against the circumstances of teenage poverty that lead to abortion. They're against sexual abuse. They're against a libertine sexual ethic (though many of them also ridicule sex education that upholds abstinence as the best model). But when questioned about whether the value of changing laws matters in reducing abortion, you'll often hear a harrumph, brought on by the awkwardness of extending Christian ethics and justice to its proper conclusion.
We're not asking Christians to be engaged solely on the legislative level, but we're asking progressive evangelicals who desire justice to remove the log from their eye.
We've heard well-meaning, but cautious lovers of the gospel say that the cause of the unborn is too political, that it casts a harmful pall over the church, damaging gospel witness. To be sure, politics has not always brought out the best of God's people. A renewed embrace of the grace-truth tension is needed. And yet, can we really claim to be social justice warriors if we ignore the millions of unborn children silenced and snuffed out in America at the altar of convenience? Can we overlook the corporatist worldview of Planned Parenthood that has industrialized abortion? No, we cannot.
And so today, we see a two-pronged front in the struggle advance a humane ethic of life: Ministries and activists give support to those considering abortion. In these places of refuge, you won't find a donkey or an elephant, but ordinary Christians serving as the hands and feet of Jesus. They offer hope and healing for women who find themselves on the margins of society. They offer a cup of cold water in Christ's name, meeting physical and spiritual needs, and offering a better choice than the cold and dispassionate choice offered by abortionists.
Meanwhile, we're also seeing real, but incremental steps taken in our state legislatures to peel back the abortifacient mindset.
Work on both fronts should continue. Evangelicals are taking a long view of this struggle, and our concern isn't that we'll just "win," but in league with the historical Christian social witness, that we'll be judged a faithful witness to God, the giver of life. This isn't politics; this is the church's social witness that necessarily entails political implication.
Christians and non-Christians can and should partner together around such initiatives as clean water and poverty relief, but if man is indeed God's unique creation, if the blood of the innocents cry out to him from the ground, then surely abortion is as much a moral evil as anything else that motivates our generation to activism.
In fact, the denial of human life is arguably what triggers all other forms of activism. If we don't get our witness right on life, how can our witness on any other issue seem anything other than pyrrhic? A Christian approach to social engagement cannot be calculated through the grid of popular appeal or mass approval.
Misguided opponents on the other side of this issue would have the public believe that being pro-life is a right-wing political cause drawn up by Machiavellian political strategists to elect Republicans or worse—a conspiratorial effort motivated by patriarchy and a repressive conservative agenda to roll back the rights of women.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Being pro-life is about justice. And justice is blind—blind to color, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, or socioeconomic status. Justice is standing up for what is true, good, and beautiful; and on the issue of life, we insist that every child is a uniquely good and beautiful creation of God, and therefore deserving of life.
So we're calling all Americans and our fellow evangelicals who wince when the "A word" is mentioned. We call them to bear witness to the God of life. We call them to envision an America that no longer violates the sacred proposition on which it was founded—that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, first among them life.
Daniel Darling is the vice-president for communications for the Ethics and Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is the author of numerous books, including his latest, Activist Faith. You can connect with him on Twitter: @dandarling.
Andrew Walker is the director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. You can connect with him on Twitter: @andrewtwalk.