Sunday, April 29, 2007

On Being (Pro-Life)

Tomorrow the sports pages of newspapers all across the country will carry articles announcing the death of Josh Hancock, a 29 year old St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher.

Two days ago, on Friday, April 27th, we buried my wife's uncle, George Rektenwald. He was 60 years old, and died of complications related to his pancreas. We thought he was getting better.

Eleven years ago, my wife and I buried our stillborn daughter, Hannah. She died before she ever saw the light of day; before we ever knew her. Our hearts still ache every March 31st, her day of both birth and death.

People will mourn Hancock, just as those who loved George are mourning him and as we still grieve for the loss of our daughter.

People all over the world are grieving over the shootings at Virginia Tech just over a week ago.

I didn't grieve much over the VT shootings, nor will I spend much time grieving over Josh Hancock. Those losses were tragic, but they were not mine. I do hurt for and with the families who are grieving -- knowing a little of what they're going through.

I grieve a little (!) for the babies that are aborted in the US (et al.) each day, week and year, and I grieve a little also for the US soldiers that are being killed each day in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I grieve a little for the Iraqis who are killed each day -- and the Afghans and the Palestinians, etc., etc.

But one person can only do so much grieving. There are only so many tears one can cry. Tears and grief have to be saved for those we are closer to, and it's much easier to ignore all the others.

Perhaps this partly explains an inconsistency in the way most people think about what it means to be "pro-life." In the US, to be "pro-life" generally means to be "anti-abortion" or "against choice" in regard to abortion.

However, I've never met a "pro-choice" person who was also "PRO-abortion," i.e., who was in favor of killing babies. (I'm ignoring the issue here of whether a fetus is a baby.) The "pro-choice" people I know are folks who see that abortions should be a last resort, and that they should be rare, but who believe that there are occasions when it should be a woman's right to choose to abort a fetus. So, in some sense they are also "pro-life" -- abortion isn't usually seen as a casual or cavalier "choice" that one can make, on the level of deciding which soft drink button to punch at a vending machine.

On the other hand, most of the "pro-life" folks I know are only "pro-life" when it comes to babies, and American babies at that. Most "pro-life" folks also happen to be in favor of a large national defense. This is consistent with the politics labelled "conservative" in the US -- we're all about protecting what's ours! And if protecting it means bombing the crap out of Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan and North Korea -- and killing lots of non-American babies in the process -- well, them's the breaks.

For several years I kept track of the voting records of members of congress on issues that affected life and quality living. Actually, I did this by taking advantage of the research done by Sojourners. There was precisely 1 (ONE) member of congress who was consistently pro-life: Senator Mark Hatfield from Oregon. Hatfield was against abortion, but also against a large national defense and the exhorbitant spending necessary to maintain it; he was for health care for everyone, also (if memory serves).

All other Senators and Representatives were inconsistent. If they were against abortion, they were in favor of dropping bombs on innocents (or would at least allow for it in national interest) and against most social-welfare programs. If they were pro-life in regard to war and social-welfare issues, they were pro-choice on abortion.

I am decidedly pro-life. I hope to be that consistently. That means that I treasure ALL human lives -- including the Iraqis and the Afghans and their babies, and including American babies. I think being pro-life means we have to be against war, against capital punishment, and in favor of issues that raise the quality of life for those who are disadvantaged in our society.

In other words, being "pro-life" means much, much more than simply being "against abortion." That's way too easy and frequently way too self-centered.

There is a Jewish Midrash (commentary) on the text in Exodus where the Israelites have passed through the sea on dry ground, then turned around to see the Egyptian army in hot pursuit only to have the walls of water crash in on them, drowning every last soldier. The Midrash tells of the angels in heaven breaking into loud shouts of praise to God for this great victory he had wrought over the enemies of his people. God hears the shouts, and asks the angels what they are doing. They reply (I'm paraphrasing from memory here): "We're praising you for your great victory! You are a great God! You have utterly defeated your enemy! We rejoice and praise you for your great power and might!" To which God responds, "How can you rejoice when my children are drowning?"

You see, I can't be "pro-life" only for American babies. To be truly PRO-LIFE means that I must be against the forces of death wherever they are to be found. I must be against ALL powers of death and of hate that leads to death. I am in favor of life -- for American soldiers, Iraqi soldiers, Afghans, Palestinians -- and the list goes on and on. "Pro-life" isn't just about abortion. It's about LIFE!

Maybe if I really valued life -- ALL lives -- I would grieve a little more for those we kill (or cause to be killed) so that Americans can continue to burn fossil fuels. Maybe it means . . . loving my enemies?


1 comment:

Amanda said...

You raise some interesting thoughts. I feel like if you claim you are a "conservative" Christian, there are expectations about the values you must have: pro-life in regards to abortion, pro-war in the interest of national security, etc. You gave me some things to think about.