Good intentions underlie the desire to be more than merely “pro-life.” People with that desire have likely encountered a phrase that broadens the life arena, perhaps through the correction of another person who said something like, “I’m not pro-life, I’m comprehensively pro-life” — or perhaps “consistently pro-life,” “holistically pro-life,” or “pro-abundant life.” At Churches for Life we use the word “life-affirming” to show that we’re passionate about life issues beyond abortion.
Sometimes pro-life groups are criticized by other groups that want the pro-lifers to embrace and champion their causes. For example, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and other racial dialogue, the pushback has been to include racial issues under the umbrella of pro-life. Ministries and leaders in the pro-life movement have taken notice, and whether the language shift comes as a response to criticism, as a desire to be more inclusive, or both, it is nevertheless unfolding before our eyes. For example, the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, DC, in January featured various issues alongside abortion, including adoption, foster care, dignity in disability and even refugee care. In the wake of recent school shootings some people have accused pro-lifers of caring more about unborn babies than about kids in school. The criticism sharpens to say that school shootings are also a pro-life issue. The same has been said about sex-trafficking, poverty, and pornography as well. So, what do we think? Should we have any pause to allow all issues to become pro-life issues under the pro-life umbrella?
What is perhaps the best motivation behind this language adjustment is the desire to be less single-faceted. As Christians, we should definitely care about more than just unborn babies. But are school shootings really in the same category as abortion? Do racial issues warrant being spoken about in the same breath as a baby torn apart in his or her mother’s womb? I’m not convinced they do. But rather than double down on the “pro-life” label (I prefer the life- affirming label, myself), I’d like to introduce two new criteria that I think will prove helpful in shaping our thought and subsequent discourse. I think these criteria will help the pro-life movement both to become more comprehensive and also to recognize the differences in magnitude between various issues. The first of these criteria is priority, and the second is relationship.
How do we prioritize among pressing issues like abortion and refugee care? We can speak of priority in a few different ways. What I imply here is not that an issue with a higher priority is more important but that the greater the immediate threat is to a life, the greater precedence it receives. In the pages of scripture, particularly in the case law in the Old Testament, is that some actions required greater penalties than others. By recognizing that the law is a reflection of the lawgiver, we as Christians can reason that God considered some actions as more heinous than others. For example, Exodus 21:22–25 specifies the punishment for men who accidentally hit a pregnant woman while fighting: If she prematurely gives birth, but neither the mother nor the child is harmed, the penalty is a fine. However, if either the mother or the child is harmed, those responsible should be punished according to the seriousness of the injury. The penalty could even be death if the child were killed. The value of that unborn child is so great that death is required! This measure of life for life is an acknowledgment of human dignity and of the worth of the unborn child. By considering the prescribed penalty, we can measure the relative importance of other actions and issues. It is wicked, for example, to treat someone as inferior because of their ethnicity. It is absolutely wrong to steal. It is beyond awful to ignore refugees. But such offenses aren’t punishable by death. Friends, abortion is not the accidental or reckless life-taking of an unborn child; it is the premeditated, intentional murder of a child fully made in the image of God. While other issues are important, no other issue targets so many vulnerable human beings. Babies at risk of abortion are judicially innocent and are in imminent peril. It is wrong for us to ignore other issues related to abortion. It is even worse to say that failing to care for refugees or failing to resolve racial strife is as serious as killing the unborn. It is not. We fail to give each issue the respect it is due when we consolidate too much under the heading of “pro-life” without appropriate qualification.
When we prioritize in the way I suggest, it is not to say that we ignore other issues or suggest they are less important. That’s why we need to consider the relationship of various issues in the life arena. Here’s how that works. All of these various issues connect to each other. Pornography is often directly upstream from sexual infidelity, which is subsequently upstream from many abortions. Adoption, though downstream from broken families, divorce, and so forth, is treated as a way to address the abortion issue. Consider this: While abortion has a greater priority than many racial issues, abortion and racial issues are integrally connected. Many socio-economic disparities disproportionally affect minorities. In turn, those minorities are disproportionally affected by abortion. So how do we apply this criterion? What does it change?
On Mission for God Wherever You Are
Not every Christian is able to be involved with the pro-life movement beyond occasional voting. But all Christians are on mission for God wherever they are. That includes where they live, work, worship, rest and play. Those who are not able to do sidewalk counseling can still engage in discussions about sexual purity at their work, for example. While these people may not be considered by others — or even by themselves — to be under the pro-life umbrella, their missional presence, and their compelling witness about God and sexual purity, may very well lead someone to change their sexual behavior or may even keep someone from having an abortion. Other people may be so entrenched with adoption work that the issue of abortion never comes up. Should we force those people to be obnoxiously pro-life? Of course, not. They are involved in one of the many places where we need more Christians involved. This, friends, is part of the gears of war that turn as a church on mission for God expands its work and influence in the world, pressing back the domain of darkness. Indeed, the gates of Hell will not prevail in defending against the right confession of Christ as He advances and builds His church (Matthew 16:17–19).
So what do we need? Is it more apologetics classes on abortion? Is it more people involved in refugee care? Is it more pregnancy resource centers, poverty alleviation, foster and adoptive parents, racial reconciliation? How about a resounding “yes” for all of it! What we need is more Christians on mission for God where they are — more Christians with a compelling and attractive witness for the author and giver of life. More Christians setting their priorities by recognizing that some issues put people in imminent peril and some do not. More Christians realizing that they don’t need to choose between issues. And lastly, we need more Christians to move beyond mere political involvement and voting — and to set about God’s missional work.