By Deborah Hollifield, PPL Executive Director
Presbyterians Protecting Life is a Christian organization with a Christian mission: “Compelled by the Gospel, PPL equips Presbyterians to champion human life at every stage.” What is unsaid in our mission statement, but which is true by extension, is that “every stage” includes every developmental point on the spectrum of life from conception to natural death, regardless of any particular attribute or ability possessed by any human life on that spectrum. We have published extensively on matters involving all methods of conception, contraception, circumstances of birth, varieties of adoption, birth anomalies, suicide and end-of-life issues. We have addressed matters of race surrounding the eugenic beliefs and methods of Planned Parenthood in communities of color, highlighting the disproportionately high number of black children eliminated by abortion, which is rightly deemed genocide. Whatever the topic, we have addressed it scientifically, ethically and theologically, particularly regarding the image of God borne by all human life.
PPL has watched the developing worldwide violence and racial strife following the death of George Floyd with dismay, but until recently we were not led to address race relations specifically from a pro-life perspective for several reasons: many articles have already been written by others, addressing many of the same issues; our audience is limited and our ministry is narrow; and there is widespread resistance to the Christian ideal that “all lives” matter equally (because some perceive that to do so diminishes the validity of the individual’s or community’s experience).
However, PPL has become increasingly aware that bright lines can be drawn from most – if not all - of our current social and civic dysfunction directly back to the commodification of life, exhibited in the past by institutional slavery around the world, and in the present nearly-half century of population reduction, contraception and legal abortion. It is a bold claim to compare slavery and abortion, and one that is not always well-received or sufficiently appreciated. Nevertheless, when it comes to valuing human life, denying the image of God and imposing worth on human beings according to the arbitrary standards of others, the parallels are obvious.
The denial of the right to life – a right embedded in our Constitution – is as much a denial of civil rights as any other such denial when based on race, sex or orientation; and perhaps more so, since the denial of life to preborn human beings is a denial based not on an inherent characteristic or preference, but on mere existence.
Even as America struggled through legislative efforts to influence social change and ensure protection of equal rights and opportunities for advancement for minorities, women, the economically deprived, the educationally disadvantaged and the LGBTQ+ population, many of these efforts have had the unintended consequence of placing disparate values on human lives. Nearly every move to “equalize” a community or group by placing a greater value on it has resulted not in a simple step up to a “level playing field,” but in a step beyond, causing concomitant losses as lower-valued groups and communities are sidelined. Whole books are written on this single topic, but most readers will be familiar with the unfair competitive edge imposed on female athletes, and the coercion of religious orders, organizations and believers to purchase items and endorse or participate in matters that violate the conscience and free exercise of their religion and association, that result when groups with opposing interests are favored under vague rubrics of equal rights.
Please stay with me: I am in no way writing to disparage the need for civil rights, equal opportunity or to encourage unfair discrimination. What I am attempting to illustrate, is that in the way of all humanity for all of human history, when we try to impose our human values to effect a certain personal end, instead of using God’s values to facilitate God’s end, we gut value altogether. In so doing – as manifested by the commodification of unborn human life through IVF, surrogacy and especially abortion – we have brought society to the mental and ethical state that has an embedded delusion that no lives matter.
Today no life matters until someone else says it does. “My body, my choice,” has a much wider application than valuing the life of the woman and devaluing the life of her unborn child on the basis of her personal desire alone. Various activists and movements within the black community look to the privileged white population for reparations as recompense to restore and increase their sense of personal value; those in the guilt-ridden white community are moved to kneel and pay to purchase personal redemption from the black community; violence against persons and property is justified by those seeking to increase their sense of personal value by assuming someone else’s wealth and status are ill-gotten and unearned, or if earned, the profit must have been enabled through devaluing the lives of others.
Generations of uncritical acceptance of Darwinism has produced a social construct of race that implies there is such a thing as a “sub-human.” Indeed, the full title of his work is, “On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” Individuals and social groups are objectified, sorted by skin color and ethnicity, labeled as sub-human and then scapegoated by those who live by the maxim, “I choose to increase my personal value by decreasing your value according to my measure.”
God identifies these human impulses as coveting, lying, stealing and murder (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5).
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” James 4:1-2
No life matters when any human life can be bought or sold at any stage of development, in any condition for any purpose.
No life matters, when infertile couples can spend thousands of dollars to fertilize enough eggs to conceive a child – simply because of a deep human desire to parent one’s own offspring – and later to dispose of the “excess” embryos.
No life matters when any human of either sex – both adults and children of any age – can be purchased, sold and traded as merchandise, because someone’s desire for sexual gratification justifies the dehumanization of the victimized.
No life matters when women and men both are reduced to a collection of miscellaneous body parts and sex organs – and whose personal value is ascribed according to someone else’s visual or sexual desires and preferences.
No life matters when female athletes have a lifetime of sacrifice and training and a future of potential achievement eliminated in a single race or wrestling match, because their lives and efforts are deemed to be of lesser value than the mere participation of any single transgendered competitor in order to gain validation of their personal desire.
No life matters when the desire of a parent for a child with particular physical characteristics – whether sex, eye color or any other attribute – can be inflicted on any child, whose human worth is believed to be of lesser value than the parent’s (either before or after the child’s birth).
No life matters when medical care is triaged according to age, physical ability or mental competence, with a higher value being placed on the young and healthy at the expense of the elderly or infirm.
When a human child in the womb can be ascribed - or denied - humanity and personhood because of the personal desires of any other human being, or the capricious opinions of legislators and secular ethicists - then no lives matter and all human beings are put at risk.
If Christians are to be true to the Gospel, then we must stand with our hurting black brothers and sisters – while at the same time rejecting the creation of false communities according to race, wealth, social position, sex and developmental status; and the use of the politics of power and violence to advance any human agenda counter to God’s impartial view of the right to life – indeed, an abundant life – for all human beings.
In an episode of the historical drama series, Poldark, Ross Poldark and his wife, Demelza, are still in the first weeks of grief following the death of their infant daughter from the plague, as well as facing dire financial straits, when Demelza discovers she is pregnant again. Demelza hesitates to tell Ross about the pregnancy because, when speaking out of his grief, he had told her that he didn’t want another child. When, by accident, Ross learns of her condition, he rebukes Demelza’s reticence by telling her that his earlier words were voicing “just a thought,” but that the child she carried was “flesh and blood, and that is a very different thing.” Just so, our human desires are vacuous thoughts – unsuitable foundations for life-and-death decisions and actions in the presence of the realities of the desires and movements of God.
This is not a message the world wants to receive - the forces now are wanting to create false communities based entirely on physical appearance or ethnicity as defining characteristics of personal worth. This stems from the culture of death and the wide acceptance of abortion that sends the message that others can be summarily dispatched – in today’s popular lexicon, cancelled - if they interfere with or hinder another’s narrative of personal desire or expected life trajectory.
The Apostle Paul said, “From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.” He saw other people as present or potential members of the “new creation”: “The old has died and the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:16–17). In the Revelation of Jesus to John, John wrote that the New Creation is made up of people “from every nation (ethnous), tribe, people, and language” (Rev. 7:9). Nations (ta ethnē) in the New Testament world were often multiracial, as is the United States, but were typically united by a common culture. The early church recognized that culture was rooted not in skin color but in religious cultus. The culture of the world created by God is diverse and inclusive, but not divided. The image of God – Imago Dei – was imprinted by God on every human being at the creation of the world (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-2). There is only one race – the human race – because all humans share a common ancestor (Acts 17:26). There is nothing that anyone can do to diminish the value of a human being in God’s estimation: God wants everyone to have abundant, eternal life and paid a high price, (yes, using the language of purchase and ransom), for each one who believes (Isaiah 43:1; John 3:16; I Cor. 6:20; Ephesians 1:7; I Peter 1:18-19). Every member of the Body of Christ is vital (Romans 12:5; I Cor. 12:12-27). God shows no partiality (Deuteronomy 10:17; Job 34:19; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11) and all are equal in God’s sight (Galatians 3:28). As believers live their lives, they are expected to love their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:31), elevating all. All of these things are real – they are sourced in God - and are not the product of the human imagination or human desire.
Ultimately, there is only one life that matters: the life of Christ Jesus. Only the God-man Jesus was worthy to satisfy God and save us from death through the sacrifice of His life. Only Jesus enables us to embrace and experience eternal life in the presence of God. Only Jesus cares enough about us to continue to intercede for us, enabling and empowering us to become fully human. Only by seeing ourselves and the world through the eyes of Christ can we hope to achieve a realistic and healthy love of self in order to offer genuine love to our neighbors.
HOW CAN CHRISTIANS COMMUNICATE THESE PURPOSES OF GOD TO AN ANGRY, FEARFUL WORLD?
First, check your heart – not for “unconscious bias,” but for anything that calls for personal repentance. At different times all of us have been alternately victims and victimizers. Both behaviors are sourced in fear, anger and shame. Identifying the sources of those emotions in our own lives can help us to think more realistically about our own perceptions and act more generously towards others.
Next, put on the full armor of God. “Our battle is not with flesh and blood but … against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12). Preface your encounters and conversations with prayer.
Then look for the right person and find the right time. Some people we meet will be seeking peace and reconciliation themselves. Some have been wounded and are still hurting. Others are either activists or tools. Nothing will be accomplished in the heat of a potentially violent confrontation, whether in front of an abortion facility or at a street protest. Personal safety matters. This calls for discernment.
Treat people with respect and dignity. Once you are engaged in conversation, see the humanity in others. Listen to their stories and allow them to vent their pain and frustration without judgment. When you speak, acknowledge their experience before contributing to the discussion.
Be conscious that the Enemy wants to dilute our efforts at reconciliation by dividing our efforts among multiple causes. Instead of working to end the symptoms that manifest as promiscuity, abortion, human trafficking, euthanasia, suicide, racial and economic divides, going for the common roots of these symptoms will have a more immediate and lasting effect. Work on refining your ways of understanding how to apply God’s view of the value of human life in any situation (which is the same in every situation). You need not learn several counter-arguments, only one.
Be open to the real possibility that policy and practice changes may be necessary to reduce abuses and effect meaningful change going forward.
Having done all you can, stand. There is no need to capitulate the truth of God. Say what you know to be true as clearly as you are able, do what you can to help, and leave the results to God. (Eph. 6:13-14).