A Simple Pro-Life Theology

Andrew P. Porter, aporterccnet.com
1996 July 15

1. Fortunately, a few of the churches have been clear about abortion. I do not know how the debate about abortion in civil law will turn out, but one thing seems clear to me. As important as the lives of the unborn are, they are not the only issue that appears in abortion. Mostly we tend to think of abortion as just an ethical issue. It is that; indeed, it is the gut social issue of our time. Abortion is also more than that, it is a window into a broader and more radical question of faith, of what people are committed to in the end. The slogan "pro-life" names the issue: are you pro-life, even when life is hard or difficult or inconvenient or painful? This question appears all the time, for women and men, not just when a woman has to make decisions about children.

2. Are you pro-life? When life hurts? Are you pro-life when life catches you red-handed, leaves you exposed, and people can see you for who you really are, not the person you would like to appear to be? Are you pro-life when life has you up against the wall, when its limitations leave you without the choices you would like? Are you pro-life when life is someone else in need of your help, when you had other plans?

3. Exposure, limitation, and need. These are incidentally the reasons why most abortions are performed: The unborn child, if allowed to be born alive, would expose what the parents have been doing, or would impose limitations on the parents that they would rather not bear, or would bring its needs to them when they had other plans.

4. Exposure, limitation, and need. The disappointments of life. What does your heart cling to and rely upon? Avoiding them? Avoiding them in favor of some definition of happiness? In favor of the devices and desires of your own heart? Or do you embrace all of life, pains included, as good, as created by God, as bearing blessing, even when that blessing cannot be seen now? I first learned these things from Edward Hobbs, in the Graduate Theological Union, and he tumbled to them from reading H. Richard Niebuhr.

5. Joshua said, "Choose, this day, Israel, choose whom you will serve." If you choose to embrace all of life, its pains included, we can tell pretty clearly what lies in store for you when you embrace exposure, limitation, and need.

6. If you embrace exposure, if you admit the truth about yourself, you may have to make some changes in your life. But you will get freedom, freedom from hiding the past. Your concealment will turn to remorse and then to relief.

7. If you embrace limitation, and accept it, you will find the opportunities that lie in it. (This is called creativity.) Your grief will turn to gratitude.

8. If you embrace your neighbor's need, with open hands, open eyes, and open heart, you will get community. Your loneliness will turn to fellowship and celebration.

9. If you reject exposure, limitation, and need? In the end, you will get falseness, stubbornness, and hard-heartedness. But mostly, in the meantime, you will succeed in covering it all up and looking respectable. Choose.

10. Is there a reason, why you "should" embrace all of life as good, including its pains? Something more basic than this choice itself? I don't see that there is; people reason from this choice, not to it. It is in the pains that people choose for or against life. They are clearings, places where you can see what people are doing with their lives. If you ask me why should we embrace the pains as good, I cannot give you a reason. The most that can be said is that in the end, you will see those who rejected the disappointments of life next to those who embraced them and found blessing in them, sometimes at great cost to themselves. Those who have rejected exposure, limitation, and need can see the comparison, too, and they don't like it; so they won't like you, either, if you choose to look for the blessings in exposure, limitation, and need. When you are faced with the pains of life, when the blessings are not yet apparent, they will say to you, as they said of old, "Israel, where now is your God?"

11. What makes life this way? What is it that makes all of life good? That brings blessing even in its hurts and suffering? That dooms to frustration every effort to find life only in the easy parts, the fun parts, the satisfactions? Whatever you call it, it is, as Niebuhr has it, "the last shadowy reality, the secret of existence, by which things come to be, are what they are, and in the end pass away. Against it there is no defense. What it is we do not know, save that it is, and that it is the supreme reality with which we must reckon." Strangely enough, we have been enabled to say of this reality, Though it slay us, yet will we trust it. Some call it God.

12. Today, in America, abortion is a symbol, a symbol of the choice between embracing all of life and permission to reject parts of it. There was a wisecrack some years ago, that if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament. But the Federal Judiciary treats it in important ways not like a medical procedure but exactly as a sacrament, as is shown by the reluctance to let parents decide for minor daughters as they would in any other medical procedure. It is a sacrament of the religion that rejects the hard parts of life, and rejects people who have "insufficient quality of life," people whose lives are "not worthy to be lived." It is in the issue of abortion that we choose whether all of life is good, or think we can separate it into the fun parts and throw away the rest. (That is why abortion matters so much to all the so-called "pro-choice" men who can never have abortions: it's a sacrament for them too.) But life cannot be split up into the fun parts and the rest; if it is a coherent whole, to reject part of it is in the end to reject all of it.

13. The God of the Bible is peculiar -- different from all other gods, for the other gods promise to deliver the fun parts of life, and they are not there when pain comes. That is why God said to Israel, "You shall have no other gods before me." Pain comes, and God is there, often silent and hidden -- but still there. Pain comes, and we pray that, "walking in the way of the cross, we may find it none other than the way of life and peace."

14. On the Jewish side, the phrasing is a little different; as Joseph Soloveitchik has it, the transcendent God is to be welcomed into the world, not fled to from the world. And that creative halakhic process is one of tikkun -- repairing and completing the blessedness of the created world. Whether Jewish or Christian, the labor of tikkun can become affliction: but the one who chooses to bear the pains of life trusting in life's goodness even when he can't see it knows that he has embraced life in its wholeness. In that choice he has forever changed what he is, and this cannot be taken away from him -- or her. By anyone.

15. Whatever happens in civil law about abortion, the issue in Biblical (call it covenantal) religion is far more important than merely one more issue in social ethics. For to choose -- and covenanters are tempted, just like everybody else -- to choose to tolerate abortion within the Covenant is to choose the other gods. What is at stake is nothing less. To cave in on abortion is to exchange the God who is our glory not for the image of an ox that eats grass (cf. Ps. 106), but for the image of a coat-hanger, for the image of a suction machine. To cave in on abortion is to abandon the God of the Bible and convert to polytheism or gnosticism, a change sold, of course, under the still-fashionable trademarks of the God of the Bible. A clever marketing strategy, but not truth-in-labeling.

16. In the end, we all have to choose: "Choose this day, Israel, whom you will serve." We are all pro-choice -- for somebody. Some people are pro-choice for everybody, including the unborn. It is true that abortion is a religious choice, but it is a religious choice for the unborn, too. They have a right to choose, too, and a right to be born alive in order to do so.

17. It is never too late to choose life. The man whose woman has had an abortion is in some ways in a worse position than she is, for he has led her into temptation. But even he can choose life. Most emphatically, the woman who has had an abortion can still choose life. Rachel weeps for her lost children, and never weeps more bitterly than when she was abandoned or talked into choosing an abortion against her better judgement. Hard as it is, it is still possible to choose life. Consider the alternatives.