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Being COMPREHENSIVELY “Pro-Life”

December 10, 2020

NOTE: Since this blog was posted, a very important piece on the same subject was published on Easter Sunday, 2021, in The New York Times. It was entitled, “What Has the Pro-Life Movement Won?” I commend this material – https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/opinion/pro-life-movement-14th-amendment.html?smid=url-share


I may be wrong.  And I respect the many Christians – evangelicals and Roman Catholics and others – who link the term “pro-life” exclusively to the matter of abortion, seemingly neglecting many other matters which seem critically important “pro-life” matters, at least as I read Scripture.

I do believe that abortion is the taking of a human life and I further believe that any action – or lack of action which results in the destruction of a human life without clear biblical justification is wrong.

As an evangelical (and even “Orthodox”) Presbyterian, I take the Westminster Larger Catechism’s statement about the Sixth Commandment (“You Shall Not Kill”) very seriously.  Similar statements can be found in the official documents of other Christian traditions such as the Heidelberg Catechism (of the Dutch and German Reformed Tradition).  [They are even found in documents like the Baltimore Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church and papal exhortations.]

Here, for example, are two of those statements:

The Westminster Larger Catechismhttps://opc.org/lc.html

Q. 135. What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?

A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defence thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labour, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behaviour; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succouring the distressed and protecting and defending the innocent.

Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defence; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

The Heidelberg Catechism http://www.heidelberg-catechism.com/en/lords-days/40.html

105.  What does God require in the sixth commandment?

I am not to dishonour, hate, injure, or kill my neighbour by thoughts, words, or gestures, and much less by deeds, whether personally or through another; rather, I am to put away all desire of revenge.  Moreover, I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself. Therefore, also, the government bears the sword to prevent murder.

106.  But does this commandment speak only of killing?

By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder, such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge, and that he regards all these as murder.

107.   Is it enough, then, that we do not kill our neighbour in any such way?

No. When God condemns envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves, to show patience, peace, gentleness, mercy, and friendliness toward him, to protect him from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.

In light of the above (and many other examples that could be provided), I believe that the Bible teaches that abortion is wrong and, if I were king, I would outlaw abortion.

But I would not do JUST that.

In fact, that would not necessarily be the FIRST thing I did.

I would first act to make sure that ALL children born in the country were guaranteed adequate post-natal care. Surely they need to be protected before they are born.  But if they are guaranteed birth and then left without guaranteedafter-birth care, a different but just as real and possibly even more tragic and traumatic form of death might await them . . . and that would be at least as egregious a violation of the biblical commandment as abortion is.   

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, one out of every six children in the USA currently live in “food insecure households.” See https://www.childrensdefense.org/policy/resources/soac-2020-child-hunger/ .  In the USA in 2019 alone, that would have been more than 600,000 children!  As I read the above interpretations of the Sixth Commandment, each such child is being imperiled by violations of that Commandment, sometimes unintentionally, to be sure, but the violations are just as real.    

But hunger is not the only danger non-aborted children face.  According to the National Children’s Alliance, nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S each year. See https://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/media-room/national-statistics-on-child-abuse/ Again, as I read the above interpretations of the Sixth Commandment, each one of those 700,000 children is being imperiled by violations of that Commandment.  

And I could go on. 

But I think the point is clear – getting children safely “here” is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT but it is just the first step required by the Sixth Commandment and by SO MUCH of the rest of Scripture.  My sense is that EVEN BEFORE making abortion illegal, thus assuring the births of many, many more children, likely a large percentage of them unwanted, societies absolutely MUST have in place the kinds of services that assure that they will receive all the care they need once they get here.

That’s what a COMPREHENSIVE pro-life perspective requires.

I understand that some evangelical Christians may regard the approach I am recommending as “socialistic” in character. Whether that is the case or not, I believe that numerous Scripture passages and many of the official documents of WRF members make it clear that this is the way of biblical obedience. 

If anyone advocates a comprehensive pro-human-life perspective up to the point of birth but not after birth, that individual is, in my opinion, on a path to violations of the Sixth Commandment that are as great as those who advocate the easy availability of abortions but insist on comprehensive after-birth affordable care for both mother and child.  Neither approach is fully biblical.

I suggest that we make SURE that we are caring for the children who are now being born EVEN BEFORE we advocate and support actions which are likely to add unwanted children to the tragic numbers cited by the Children’s Defense Fund and the National Children’s Alliance.

In this regard, I strongly commend two extended discussions of these issues.

The first is this exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” delivered by Pope Francis on April 9, 2018, in which this statement is made:

“Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”  

The full document is available at https://www.ncronline.org/news/spirituality/francis-new-exhortation-call-become-holy-serving-others-especially-migrants

The second and more recent is the article by Jason D. Bradley which appeared on October 16 of this year on the Patheos website.  The title of the article summarizes its argument, “Four Reasons Why We Should Focus on Poverty Instead of Abortion.” While I would have preferred words like “In Addition to” rather than “Instead of,” Mr. Bradley’s frequent blogs have been featured or linked to by Relevant, Christianity Today, Leadership Journal, and Sojourners and I believe that his points are worth considering.     

This full document is available at  https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jaysondbradley/2020/10/4-reasons-we-should-focus-on-poverty-instead-of-abortion/  

When the Westminster Larger Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, a papal exhortation, and Patheos make the same point, it probably would be good for all Christians to listen and heed.

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