Prioritize, Don’t Equalize, the Right to Life

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It burdens me greatly that there is such a seemingly eager willingness among certain pockets of the current Christian community to lower the priority of working to stop the continued and tragic devastation that is occurring to the most vulnerable among us: the abortion of unborn yet living children. What is going on and why is it happening?

Admittedly, those contributing to this effect, whether intentionally or not, still say they’re pro-life, and go on to expand pro-life issues to include poverty, lack of accessible health care services, smoking, racism and climate change, asserting these “are all pro-life issues.”1 Also referred to as womb to tomb issues, they are suggesting abortion is no different in effect than other “life-issue” sins. This is proven by their own admission that what is needed is a “faithful evangelical civic engagement and witness [that] must champion a biblically balanced agenda.”2  

I disagree.

I don’t disagree that there actually are other “life” issues, but I don’t believe they are all equally balanced. Nor should they be. As Kristan Hawkins aptly notes, “Roe should be the floor, not the ceiling.”3 In other words, there is a front door issue in our country, one to which every other issue is hinged. There is a foundational issue, one on which every other issue stands. It’s the right to protection from murder while in the womb.

This ideology that all “life issues” are equal, which I don’t think holds up under close scrutiny and frank evaluation, has been, unfortunately and lately, promoted by professing Christians across a wide spectrum of platforms. I’ve read several 140-word defenses on Twitter, seen links on Facebook to longer opinions, and reviewed officially supportive statements from evangelical leaders and organizations on their web sites and in their books and podcasts. Frankly, this realization forms the real core of my great burden. Too many of our leaders seem to be minimizing the foundational issue of every life by trying to equalize it—“balance it”—with other issues of certain lives. To me, reason demands that until we settle what could be unthinkably enacted upon any of us at conception, we can’t solve what may unfortunately come upon some of us in various situations.

A False Assumption

One of the reasons the “equality of life issues” rationale gets traction is the false assumption that those who prioritize the abortion issue don’t care about other life issues. Plain and simple, that’s false.

Matt Anderson notes, “An emphasis on embryos in the womb is nothing more than that: a focusing of our attention and energy. It is not a denial of other urgent social causes.”5 I agree. In fact, to see the abortion issue as a front door issue is in no way discounting the other issues we face. But it is recognizing it as the only issue where the victim has no voice at all. None. I realize some will disagree with this, so let me remind all of us that in abortion, no avenue for even the smallest personal exercise of agency exists for those in the womb. That is a deathly scenario for the baby, a scenario that I contend doesn’t exist in other arenas of injustice.

This isn’t saying injustice doesn’t occur in other places and areas. Yes, it does, And yes, we should stand against it and fight to end it. In all humility, I and our family do. Not perfectly by any means, but hopefully willingly and consistently. As those who prioritize the abortion issue, we participated in the fight against abortion when we lived in Atlanta through Right to Life Marches, and have done so here in metro Des Moines as well by partnering with Alpha Women’s Center’s Baby Bottle fundraising annually, as well as helping shut down Planned Parenthood through prayer watches and peaceful protests when they opened in Ankeny. But we also are part of the weekly 30 Minutes of Prayer for Racial Unity held in Des Moines each Sunday night, support orphans financially, and were the sending church for Steve Christiansen’s multicultural church plant in east Des Moines. Should I mention one of our greatest joys—personally investing in missions to many ethnicities globally? Our small actions aren’t a lot, and there’s more we can do. But they definitely aren’t single sided.

That may sound like I’m posturing, even boasting. Before God with a clear conscience, I assure you I’m not. I only tell you this because the message being propagated about single-issue people—prioritized pro-lifers—is that they are issue-blind, unconcerned about other life matters. But that is a false narrative. Don’t assume we, and others like us, don’t care for other injustices. We do. But there is only one injustice that eliminates life—i.e., murder—without even the slightest opportunity for the victim to have a voice or some sort of appeal. That’s abortion, and in our opinion, it is the most pressing injustice of our time.

To say abortion is equivalent, not paramount, to other issues of injustice is, in my estimation, at best misguided and at worst deceitful and cowardly. Putting it into a common category of “womb to tomb issues” only further diminishes focus, not only towards what I believe is the beginning and greatest injustice, but toward all of the other issues. Focus and priority bring a host of benefits, and they typically work in sequence with one another to see all the other issues gain attention and solutions.

Truthfully, prioritized pro-lifers are quick to act as foster parents, lead adoption efforts and give to charity, and many “fight for family leave policies or reforms on campus to help pregnant and parenting students.”3 The critique that those who prioritize the abortion issue, especially in relation to adoption practices, are not concerned about other life issues “is increasingly out of date.”4

The Fear of Man

Why this equalizing? I believe the root reason there is a drift towards downplaying the priority of the abortion issue is the fear of man. Solomon said “the fear of man lays a snare” (Proverbs 29:25), and that’s exactly what is being laid for us: a trap. If we allow a sort of neutrality towards the preeminent injustice before birth— abortion, at least in comparison to other injustices—we’ll find ourselves further removed from the necessary meaning and practice of life after birth. Oddly, we think we are moving towards a better understanding of it by equalizing all “life issues.” But therein lies the trap. In doing so we are actually being lured away from a clear and distinct understanding of life’s general meaning when we minimize life’s specific beginning. A prioritized pro-life position sees abortion as “a paradigmatic form of wrong that reveals and shapes how those of us who are walking about treat each other. Emphasis is not an exclusion, but it is not a leveling, either.”5 We are not careless or inconsistent to recognize that some injustices, especially the one of abortion and the Roe v Wade decision that legalized it, are peculiarly detrimental and destructively cementing, and to respond accordingly.

This generalizing and equalizing, and the apparent desire among some Christian leaders to be approved by those who hold and herald this view—i.e., the fear of not being considered “in” or “woke”—, seems to be driving many of them and their organizations below their ship’s deck, their usual prophetic voice suddenly silent. They should be, instead, at the helm, humbly helping people navigate this front-door issue with gospel clarity, biblical conviction, and personal courage. And that means helping people understand there is a priority to the issues, both in the venue of life and in the voting booth. To undermine the continued pursuit of the fundamental right to life—protecting the unborn—by voting for anyone who isn’t unashamedly pro-life is a decision that, quite frankly, lacks sound logic, scriptural support, and cultural fortitude.  

I’m well aware this probably places me in the cross-hairs of others who will now assume I’m not anti-racist enough, against equal opportunity, pro-poverty, and a patriarchal misogynist. All of those are wholly untrue. Fortunately, not too long ago I became “okay” with being misinterpreted; it comes with the territory of leadership. I don’t seek it, work hard with language to avoid it, invest in diverse relationships to gain a variety of perspectives, and intentionally spend time with unbelievers who don’t agree with me because I truly care for them and their God-created soul and body.

In the end, however, no one can avoid disagreement forever; no one can run from the risk of misinterpretation endlessly. Truth exists, and views matter. If you’re a leader and find that you’re not up for that task and risk, and have chosen instead to minimize the continuing, horrific, and “approved” 47-year holocaust in our own country, please reconsider your decision to lead in that manner. Now is not the time to weaken our language or cloud our commitment regarding abortion. It is imperative, instead, that we continue to convictionally stand for the one issue that precedes all other issues—the right to life from the very beginning. Stand up and speak up for the ones who haven’t any ability or opportunity to do either.

Some leaders reading this will disagree, and for those who do, I welcome a two-way conversation personally if you’re open to it. I don’t think snarky comments or one-way remarks accomplish much, so this post is not only a challenge to my “professional” brothers and sisters in ministry, it is also a sincere invitation to any of them who wish to dialogue. In full transparency, I’m not sure how that works out practically in time and space; but I’m sure willing to try.

Furthermore, I commit to dialoguing as someone who seeks to be, in the words of Bobby Jamieson, “a positive pleasure to disagree with.”6 Civility and clarity are both necessary, and this means carving out time to engage in some manner beyond one-liners and sarcastic jabs. So for any who are willing, I’ll do what I can. The trial-and-error of what’s ahead is well worth it for the sake of the millions of babies who continue to be murdered each year.

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1 A New Group of Evangelical Leaders Forms in Support of Biden. Sarah Baily, Oct 2, 2020.

2 https://www.prolifeevangelicalsforbiden.com/

3 I’m a Single-Issue, Pro-Life Voter: What’s Wrong with That? Kristan Hawkins, Jan 24, 2020.

4 Christians are Pro-Life After Birth, too. Naomi Riley, Jan 13, 2019.

5 People Criticize Pro-Lifers for Focusing So Much on Abortion. But There’s Reason We Do. Matt Anderson, Feb 3, 2017.

6 How To Master the Art of Disagreement—In Church and on Social Media. Bobby Jamieson, Oct 13, 2020.

One Comment on “Prioritize, Don’t Equalize, the Right to Life”

  1. Pingback: Yes, I Really Admire Pastor John, and I Still Disagree with Him: A Short Response to His Probable Decision to Not Vote | Todd Stiles

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