Face it. Culture warriors get battle fatigue. That's why organizations that energize the culture wars on both ends of the spectrum use inflammatory rhetoric and constantly search for fresh sources of outrage.
A new statement from the group informally known as ECT (for "Evangelicals and Catholics Together") offers a decided contrast to this culture-wars-on-amphetamines approach. In "That They May Have Life," ECT calls us to renew our commitment to the "culture of life," without "resign[ing] ourselves to unremitting warfare." While "many despair of finding any commonalities by which warfare can be replaced, or at least tempered, by civil discourse," the statement's authors write, "we refuse to join in that despair."
They write of "our common humanity" and the fact that we share with those who hold opposing worldviews "a God-given capacity to reason, to argue, to deliberate, to persuade, and to discover moral truths regarding questions related to the right ordering of our life together." Come now, let us reason together.
This statement will not likely persuade its political and social opponents. But to the extent that the document is primarily addressed to culture-of-life Christians, it may help some of us change our tone and become both more persuasive and more patient.
The Unbreakable Connection
Here's the key idea of the new ECT appeal: "[I]t is of the utmost importance that everyone involved in the public discussion of these questions understand the unbreakable connection between a Christian worldview and the defense of human life."
That statement has two dimensions. First, the ECT statement argues, life issues are inherently public and cannot be relegated to some safely private religious realm. Second, it argues that to be a Christian is to be committed to defending human lifeif one is honest with our sources in the Bible and historical church teaching. Therefore, if Christians are to be active participants in our political life, they must be allowed to participate as Christians and not be forced into a secularist mode of discourse.
The bulk of the statement's 6,000 words is devoted to outlining the connection between a Christian worldview and a commitment to life. This is a good refresher for those who may have forgotten (or who never really knew) the reasons for a pro-life ethic. They are, briefly:
The gospel itself is about God sending his Son so that those who believe in him might have life.
"Every human life is intended by God from eternity for eternity."
The Bible's message of life is addressed universallybeyond the human race, even to the whole creation.
The Christian "love thy neighbor" ethic "begins with respect for the neighbor's right to be, by honoring the gift of God that is the neighbor's life."
Christianity, from its earliest days, was a "way of life" that contrasted with the pagan culture's "way of death."
These are theological points that cannot be fully known apart from God's revelation in the Bible and in Jesus the Messiah. But they are not irrational beliefs. Almost every thoughtful person recognizes that a societyto be a societymust protect the weak. The difficulty is that, apart from revelation, very few can articulate just why we owe the weak and vulnerable special protection.
Those who do not share our biblical commitments should at least welcome biblical insights because of their high ideals and altruism. Whether or not we claim to have gotten our insights from God, they should be recognized as ideas that can energize efforts to build a safer society.
"That They May Have Life" mentions both disturbing developments and signs of hope. The authors are rightly disturbed by the logic of court decisions about abortion. These decisions have created a confused jurisprudence that can be used to justify the killing of "those who are too young, too small, too handicapped, too burdensome, or for whatever reason, not 'wanted.'"
"When this 'right' and the lethal logic that supports it is established in law," the statement reads, "there is no principled reason why it should not be applied to the 'unwanted' at any point along life's way, as advocates of eugenics, euthanasia, and assisted suicide logically contend."
The document also points to the way assisted suicide, euthanasia, and abortion have threatened the very soul of the healing professions. Medicine has been reduced to technique, and its fundamental healing goals have been subverted.
On the hopeful side, the document spotlights the increased interest in the defense of human rights. "Especially heartening is the involvement of Christian communities in the defense of religious, political, and civil rights around the world." The writers quickly connect rights to duties, and they state: "The right to be protected entails our duty to protect." Thus the statement avoids the typical conservative reaction that simply rejects "rights talk," but instead shows that rights are qualified and grounded.
The document also asserts that concern for human rights is based "on the conviction that all human beings are created equal with respect to God-given rights. " This is true of the foundations of the modern human rights movement initiated by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Malik. Unfortunately, high-level international discussions of human rights today avoid the transcendent origin of human rights, and human rights abuses in some countries are frequently given a pass because they are grounded in indigenous cultures.
The document gives a respectful nod to evangelicals and Catholics who oppose capital punishment and killing in war. But it fails to consider these as part of the "seamless garment" of life articulated by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. That charismatic leader influenced the thinking of both Catholics and evangelicals, and it would have been helpful to acknowledge that Christian opposition to capital punishment and war is often part of a larger attempt to weave a comprehensive pro-life vision.
One further concern: At several points, the document uses strong language that may undercut its intent to promote calm dialogue. Abortion, assisted suicide, and embryonic stem cell research are called "murder." And our society's blindness to the fact that widespread abortion is a moral atrocity is blamed ultimately on the Devil. Now, it is essential to remind Christians of the spiritual warfare dimension of these life issues, especially in a political culture so permeated by scientism. But blaming the Devil can have political fallout.
Also, any willful taking of innocent life can justifiably be called murder. But political opponents will surely grasp such language and use it as a bludgeon. Furthermore, citizens who have close family members who have made difficult (though wrong) choices may find that such language is a barrier to their ability to hear this document's otherwise temperate message.
"That They May Have Life" is a protest against an unremitting polemical posture, even as it is a testament to the power of reasoned discourse. But the document finds its high point in its message of grace for the repentant sinner, emphasizing that while political and legal advances are essential, the true goal of any Christian pro-life movement must be transformed lives that embody a new culture of life.
David Neff is editor of Christianity Today. "That They May Have Life" can be read online atchristianitytoday.com/go/ectlife.
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The full statement, "That They May Have Life," is also posted today on our site.
More on Life Ethics is available in our full coverage area.
Christianity Today's previous coverage of Evangelicals and Catholics Together includes:
Churchly Holiness: An Evangelical Response | Even as Jesus loves all human beings, he will judge all human works. (Oct. 10, 2006)
Sticking Points | Despite recent rapprochement, evangelicals and Catholics remain far apart on key issues. Collin Hansen reviews Is The Reformation Over? by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom (Dec. 10, 2005)
What I'd Like to Tell the Pope About the Church | Responding to the main criticism Catholics have against evangelicals: that we have no doctrine of the church. (June 15, 1998)
Does "The Gift of Salvation" Sell Out the Reformation? (Apr. 27, 1998)
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: A New Initiative | "The Gift of Salvation" A remarkable statement on what we mean by the gospel. An Evangelical Assessment by Timothy George (Dec. 8, 1997)
Betraying the Reformation? | Two responses to R. C. Sproul's critical assessment of the ecumenical document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." An Evangelical Response by Donald G. Bloesch (Oct. 7, 1996)
Should Catholics and Evangelicals Join Ranks? | By Kenneth S. Kantzer (July 18, 1994)
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