The Roots of ChristianityÕs Pro-Life Stand
How Christian concern transcends political chatter.
Today, the Center for Medical Progress released a third video in what’s become a series of undercover videos spotlighting unethical practices by Planned Parenthood. This one appears to be the most graphic yet. The first two videos reveal high-level Planned Parenthood employees discussing—often in shocking detail—the use of body parts from aborted babies.
This most recent video depicts the discussion of aborted babies, whose dismembered bodies the organization apparently uses for medical research.
The sting-type operation by the activist group falls in line with similar efforts by pro-life activists to shed light on abortion practices—and in so doing undermine the credibility of groups like Planned Parenthood. Even with PP executives decrying the campaign as concocted with “wildly false stories through selective editing,” these videos are at least pushing the topic of abortion into the national spotlight.
So far, the videos prompted the United States Congress to open investigations into Planned Parenthood. And it now appears that some of Planned Parenthood’s highest-profile corporate sponsors are distancing themselves from the nation’s largest provider of on-demand abortions.
Yesterday, The New York Times noted that even though it’s unclear exactly what the videos show, “What is clear is that Republicans and anti-abortion groups are giving no signs of letting the issue fade quickly.” And that’s probably true. Though, notably, the Planned Parenthood scandal may be shifting political lines, too. The Times report cites democratic representative Gerald Connolly saying, “Democrats will not abandon their support for women’s reproductive rights, but ‘nor are [they] going to defend the indefensible.’”
Regardless of reasons or ends Republicans may claim, for Christians, this issue surrounds a central concern within Christian teaching that transcends politics: life and human dignity.
Followers of Jesus promoted a culture of life a long time before abortion became such a partisan issue. And the Christian concern for life neither begins nor ends with strictly “legal” concerns. Rather, our concerns are rooted deeper than political chatter, and our authority is higher than D.C.
The Christian Roots of Pro-Life Conviction
The Christian heart beats for justice, because justice is in the heart of God Himself. In his excellent primer , Generous Justice, Timothy Keller writes, “From ancient times, the God of the Bible stood out from the gods of all other religions as a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor.”
Among various causes and concerns—from environmental care to animal protections—human dignity takes center stage. In the Christian vision, we as humans are endowed with the image of God, making us the prize of His creativity.
“All human beings owe their ancestry to a set of common parents, according to the Hebrew Bible. These parents, Adam and Eve, were made in the image and likeness of their Creator (Genesis 1:27), and thus all their progeny bear that image (i.e., the imago Dei),” write the editors of the influential treatise, Legatees of a Great Inheritance. “From these beginnings we inherit the concept of human exceptionalism—the belief that human beings are unique, possessors of inalienable rights.”
The Christians Scriptures are clear that God’s love extends to all humans, including those not-yet born (Exodus 21:22-25; Psalm 139: 13-16; Psalm 51:5; Judges 13:3-5; Luke 1:35 [cf. Hebrews 2:17-18]).
This belief fueled the earliest Christians who, beyond simply condemning abortion, provided alternatives, adopting children who were destined to be abandoned. Legatees points to Callistus who took in abandoned children by placing them in Christian homes and Benignus of Dijon who offered nourishment and protection to children, including those disabled by failed abortions.
Of course, since the Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the Christian response took a different, more political tone. But, like Russell D. Moore points out in his book Onward, “The pro-life movement, however, was not a merely reactionary posture, fueled by culture wars.”
He continues: “The pro-life movement was connected intrinsically to the Church’s witness to human dignity going back all the way to the Church’s emergence in Jerusalem in the first century. Christians who object to the violence of abortion are in continuity with a long tradition of Christian teaching against the oppression of the vulnerable and against the disposability of human life. The Church, made up of fallen sinners, has done so imperfectly, and some bearing the name of Christ have sometimes stood on the wrong side of human dignity, but the great movements against bloodshed and slavery and exploitation have often come with the prophetic, moral grounding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
A Pro-Life Legacy
Among the most famous Christians who stood against bloodshed was German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who represents a figurehead of modern-day social justice. Bonhoeffer, who famously conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler because of his gross anti-human actions, saw the Christian fight for justice extending to abortion, too.
“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life,” he said. “To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life.”
From our earliest days to 2015, Christians see the lives of unborn children as valuable creations by God. And as such, they deserve protecting.
Quite possibly, the Planned Parenthood scandal will fade sooner than later. And you can bet that the talking heads jockiing for political high-ground will eventually squawk off to some other subject.
The ethics of how the CMP videos sparked recent discussions—whether Christians should endorse sting-like deception—will continue to be debated. And eventually prominent political discussions will likely shift to other issues. But, for the Christian community, moving on from human life and dignity isn’t an option. Even 2,000 years in, the Christian conscience (and voice) against abortion isn’t going anywhere.