When I was a pastor, one of the most difficult parts of my job was to settle quarrels between good people. Countless times, I have sat and watched as two friends, whom I deeply admire, fought bitterly. Often, I tried to get them to see how much they held in common.
This is exactly how I feel about the seeming tension between some of those who advocate for human dignity for the unborn and those who advocate for human dignity for minorities. I’ve spent considerable time and effort in both causes and it pains me to see one tribe warring against another.
In recent months, we’ve seen a civil rights leader address an evangelical conference and clumsily call out the pro-life community for a failure to address racial injustice. And we’ve seen, when issues of racial injustice flare up, vocal pro-lifers wonder why civil rights leaders don’t seem as concerned about the injustice of abortion.
Why this tension between two groups fighting for human dignity? I think much of it is owed to our increasingly tribal and fractured culture. The coalitions assembled to fight abortion often have little overlap with the coalitions assembled to fight racism. Many who have spent their lives working for racial justice may have little interaction with those who have spent their lives working to end abortion on demand.
This is where the church of Jesus Christ could show a more excellent way. As the outpost of the Kingdom of God, the church should, in some ways, reflect the diversity we see at Pentecost and the diversity we see in John’s vision of the future Kingdom in Revelation 5 and 7. When God’s people intentionally cultivate multi-racial, multi-cultural environments, people from different tribes, giftings and causes learn from one another. The civil rights activist might be in the same small group as the pro-life champion. After all, evangelicals who fight for racial justice and evangelicals who fight for the life of the unborn draw from the same uniquely Christian theology of the imago dei.
This doesn’t mean there still won’t be differing callings, but we should commit to learning about and sympathizing with other fights for human dignity. This helps us strengthen our advocacy and learn to speak in language that may reach beyond the amen chorus of our own constituencies. It also unites us, in purpose, with other members of the body of Christ pressing the Gospel story into the brokenness of their world.
Back in January, those of us in the U.S. celebrated both Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and Sanctity of Life Sunday. What would it look like for the church to lament both the abortion industrial complex and systematic racial injustice, to confess the sins of abortion and racism, and to offer, for recovering racists and post-abortive women the freedom offered only in the cross of Christ?
We need a fully orbed pro-life vision that fights for human dignity wherever it is compromised, whether in the womb, on the streets of Baltimore, Cleveland and New York, at the nursing home, in the halls of power, or at the border. We should speak out, with whatever power and influence we possess, for those who cannot speak for themselves. And we should do this, regardless of the political costs. If we advocate only for those in our tribe, if we pit one pro-life cause against another, we give passive acquiescence to assaults on human dignity.
We should resist this impulse, because the fight for life is not a zero sum game.