What is Pro-Life?

The selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's VP has the Conservative Christian (i.e. Pro-Life) base excited. She may not know much else, but she's pro-life and that's good enough. But enough about Sarah Palin. The question I want to raise has to do with the definition of pro-life.

I am a Democrat and supporter of a presidential ticket that is pro-choice, though both are devout and professing Christians. There are those in the Christian community that insist that unless one is anti-abortion one is not only not pro-life but beyond the pale as far as being a Christian. How can I be a pastor and support pro-choice candidates, they ask?

In answer to the question I pose a few of my own.

1. When does life begin?

The easy answer is at conception, and while that may be technically true, is that when human life begins? This is important not only for the debate about abortion but also stem cell research. Beyond this, on what basis is this decision made? Is this based on science? Philosophy? Theology? On this question I don't believe that Scripture is clear and unambiguous (but more later).

2. Is there more to being pro-life than being anti-abortion?

I think this is an even more important question than the previous one. Being pro-life has been equated with being anti-abortion, but shouldn't we expand the definition? What about life after birth? What responsibility do we as society have for a person after birth? Doesn't being pro-life relate to such issues as poverty, education, immigration, capital punishment, war, torture? Again, on what basis is this definition made?

3. If we broaden the definition of being "pro-life," then which major political party is more "pro-life?"

I, of course, have a good idea as to what the answer should be. I believe that if we allow the definition to be expanded -- in a way that I think is faithful to the biblical text and especially the teachings of Jesus -- then I would claim to be pro-life (while also being pro-choice -- but that's another discussion).


Mark said…
Pastor Cornwall,

This post is the typical dodge and point elsewhere game played by Christians who support democrats. You answer a simple question with three questions, and promise to explain why the Word of God isn't clear on these issues later, while implying that the current pro-life crowd is just not compassionate enough.
1. Life does start at conception. That decision is made by the Word as the sole rule and norm of life. You state that it is far from unambiguous, so citation wouldn't change that, but I would suggest a closer reading.
2. Of course there is more to being pro-life than abortion, but it all starts there. If one is not born, it is hard to care about the rest. The church has a very big concern for poverty, etc. Local communities should be very concerned about themselves. It is a huge stretch to figure out why the federal government of 300M people should need to be involved in any of that.
3. With this question you are just being delusional. The party that support abortion on demand. Taking the sword from the hand of the state to enforce laws. Expanding the ability to kill youself while co-opting a doctor. Economic policies that hurt not just the US but the world. And the entire laundry list.

If you are willing to bend the Word to say it is not clear on the beginning of life, why should anyone believe you on want Jesus says?

I would hope you have a much larger filter for you politics before you step into the pulpit. Or that you just haven't done the exegetical work here...
steph said…
Thank you for this interesting post. I am not clear about when human life begins and I don't believe the bible is either. I think maybe it is before birth but perhaps not actually at conception. I do not approve of abortion but I am not opposed to it for certain individual cases. I find it contradictory that Palin is both "pro-life" as in anti abortion, and an active gun toting member of the NRA. I also find it contradictory that "pro lifers" won't support a universal healthcare system because it is "too expensive".

If I was American I would of course be a Democrat. We have free national healthcare in the UK and inexpensive national healthcare in NZ and Australia. All these commonwealth countries like the US also run on crippling deficits but we pay for our health system out of our taxes so those who can't afford to pay get good healthcare. I think this is about being pro life.
Anonymous said…
Psalm 139:13
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.

--I would argue the Bible is actually pretty darn clear on this one. While I appreciate the confusion on NRA and anti-abortion, I also have the same confusion for the party that wants to kill the unborn, but keep the criminals alive.

There is NO WAY you can justify pro-abortion with the Bible.. NO WAY! You can dump it in with social justice, etc.. but its complete dodge and weave.

NOW.. I would give credit to an argument that says the anti-abortion crowd should create better adoption rules/support. I would agree.

What I find so bad in this discussion is how a candidate says "ITS ABOVE MY PAYGRADE" on the issue of when life begins, yet is willing to allow abortions in every circumstance. If you don't know, wouldn't it be smarter to err on the side of keeping the child alive, rather than killing it off?

Personally, I know so many families that want to adopt and have to go overseas to adopt. This is such a manipulated conversation thanks to the media.
roy said…

Thanks for raising some good questions.

when does life begin? At conception? But even conception is not a single defined moment. Even that can take hours or as much as a day as the sperm penetrates the egg or multiple sperm penetrate the egg and some material is discarded.

Exodus 21:22 is clear that causing a woman to lose a pregnancy is not the same as murder. That would lead you to conclude, as the rabbis have for centuries, that a fetus is not the same as a person.

pro-abortion? I don't know anyone who is pro-abortion, but I know many who are pro-choice, that is they trust the moral agency of a woman to make decisions for her body and her future that are not simple or without lifelong impact regardless of what the decision is. I have never met anyone who takes that decision lightly or as one without moral import.
steph said…
A slight correction to my comment. All commonwealth countries enjoy free national healthcare for surgery, hospitalisation and emergency service. There is a minimal charge in NZ and Australia to visit a private doctor but all specialists are free. UK is free across the board. I think this is pro life.

I'm not pro abortion although I don't really like the term pro choice. It sounds too simple and casual like a contraceptive pill. That's not what abortion if for in my opinion. Here, you're either anti abortion or you're not and if you're not it comes with a qualification.
Anonymous said…
Sorry.. but you have to go by the rules of english. If you are anti something, then the opposite is pro.

Pro-choice is such a "rigged" term. I am pro-choice.. if you go to a restaurant, I am for you choosing whatever you want. Heck, you can even choose to sin or not. When it comes to abortion you either for it or against it. If you think women can have abortions, then you are pro-abortion as an option to have a child. Pro-choice fails b/c one party, the baby, has no choice in the matter.

Ok, lets say we all agree conception begins after 48 hours, double your suggestion. Most abortions happens weeks after conception, when the child has a heart beat, spinal cord, etc. Therefore, the conception argument is rather a moot point.

PS - your Exodus situation does have a MURDER caveat, you left off the next verse. Based on the following verse, its life for life, how would that play out today?

22 "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
steph said…
Anon: Language is interpreted, words are defined. When using "apocalyptic" a scholar must define what they mean by it. Nothing is plain in the "rules of English" or any language. If I say I am not "pro abortion" I define what I mean.
Anonymous said…
When does human life start? At conception? at the point if fetal survivability? at live birth? Contrary to what Mark says, Scripture says that God knit us together in the womb but God knew of us long before we were knit together in our mother’s womb. Of course if you accept the last understanding then all birth control, as well as all murder, as well as all forms of medical sterilization whether intended or incidental are just as sinful, as they interfere with the unseen will of God. It is a very slippery slope with no clear place to break one’s fall. If it is a bright line you seek then I guess you must pick one of the above. Even so, is secular law required to observe the mandates of Scripture as interpreted by any one group? I think the more interesting question is whether people of faith can disagree without one side or another risking a forfeiture of their claim to Christianity?

Anonymous said…
Is there more to being pro-life than being anti-abortion? Of course. Being truly pro-life encompasses a wide range of beliefs and actions which speak to and uphold the sanctity of life and the dignity of each life. Or at least it should. But the broad compass of being “pro-life” doesn’t eliminate the discussion about abortion. The rhetorical device of topic shifting cannot ultimately prevail. Abortion is an evil and it is to be avoided as all sins are to be avoided. For some it is an evil which they cannot avoid, but it is no less an evil.

Christians from the very beginning stated their position that abortion was not a part of the Christian Way. But early Christians did not seek to legislate for everyone, just for those who chose to follow the Way. Of course there were practical reasons for not seeking to legislate for the Greek and Roman masses, but I think there were spiritual reasons as well. Jesus called his followers to go beyond the requirements of the law, to conform to a more demanding and yet more compassionate set of moral laws. To follow the laws as they are written is no more than pagans do. To merely abide by the formal requirements of Scripture is no more than the Jews do. To go a step further and decide on a course of action based upon the constraints of compassion and love for each and everyone affected by the decision - that is the choice Jesus calls us to make.

I have to believe that the choices that Jesus calls Christians to make include the decision to embrace a life gifted to a woman by God, as well as embracing a woman whose circumstances prevent her from choosing life for her unborn child. The choices include seeking wider availability for health care for women, children (and men) whose financial circumstances place our much praised health care system outside of their means. And it means that Christians stand not just in favor of saving lives, but in favor of improving the quality of those lives. It means opposing the death penalty for even the most vicious sociopathic killer. An eye for an eye, and a life for a life, while biblical, is not mandated where a lesser penalty will be sufficient. A child of God is a child of God. One who kills a child of God in the name of the state is still one who kills a child of God. The Christian choices include opposing preventative war. Destroying a nation to prevent it from threatening its neighbors is not within the range of choices permitted to a Christian. To cause a war based upon a surmise is unquestionably evil.

Being pro-life means just that, to act personally, sacrificially, and always, on the premise that every life matters to God, no matter how much you disagree with their choices, and no matter how reprehensible their conduct. And as God weeps for the sinners among us, so should we, regardless of the depth of their depravity.

There is a cost to all these pro-life choices, emotional and fiscal. Good stewardship requires wisdom in establishing priorities - but the price must be paid, and even if one cannot afford the cost of the pro-life choice, at the very least, the pro-life choice needs to be lifted up for all the world to behold. Shifting the topic to avoid responding to the issue is not good enough.


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