Pro-life Christians: Condemn abortion, or “turn the other cheek”?

Priests for Life leader Father Frank Pavone tweeted this week encouraging churches to speak up about abortion. The picture he attached features a church sign with a message that is anything but sugar-coated. It’s a rather indignant message, in fact, calling abortion and infanticide what they are: murder.

That is not a pleasant word, and the tension it creates can be divisive. And yet, it is surprisingly refreshing in the face of the reality that, while Christians themselves tend to be the most active pro-lifers, Christian churches and their leaders are inclined to keep a safe distance from blunt statements like the one on that sign. In light of the command to love our enemies, what attitudes should Christians assume in their pro-life endeavors?

In a pro-life blog post that emphasizes the command to love our enemies, Donald Miller suggests a number of bullet points meant to redirect pro-lifers who express anger about the reality of abortion as murder to a more tepid, peaceful demonstration of their position. Miller gives a list of don’ts that suggest that Christians are too judgmental in their approach, but his solution is essentially to be nicer, and turn the other cheek. According to the blog post:

 … I think the only way to take advantage of the opportunity this tragic case [Gosnell] brings is to come back to a turn the other cheek, Christ-centered methodology of communication.

And later, he says:

This is a tender issue and, as I’ve said, few people are able to think rationally about it. But we must. We must be able to communicate and understand every side of the issue and we must be able to do so with compassion.

The Gosnell case is tragic but it’s also an opportunity to engage in a public dialogue. It’s time for Christ-like leadership.Jesus died praying for the forgiveness of His enemies. I don’t think it’s too much of Him to ask that we simply have a conversation with ours.

While these points are valid, the post leaves the reader unsure of where biblical righteous indignation vs. turn-the-other-cheek should come into play when dealing with the evil of abortion. The reality of abortion is that it is spiritual warfare – a battle between good and evil. Miller argues that the pro-life movement has many a Malcom X, but no Dr. King, citing King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and arguing that King’s love for his enemies is an attitude Christians in the pro-life movement lack because they tend to become indignant about the abortion issue.

The problem with citing Martin Luther King’s Birmingham letter to defend his point is that King suggests that his followers do exactly what Miller is cautioning against: that is, create tension. King – while loving his enemies – called his followers to call evil what it is, and continue with their organized demonstrations until they reached the point wherein peaceful dialog could be carried out. King recommended a creation of tension to wake up America to the reality of racial injustice during the Civil Rights movement. According to the letter (emphasis mine): 

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half- truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The question we may need to ask is whether and in what circumstances so-called “righteous anger,” like that of Christ overturning money-changers’ tables in the temple, has a part in the debate about human life. It could be argued that, as long as public opinion is not decidedly pro-life (although it seems to be heading in that direction), we remain in the same predicament as Dr. King, needing to create tension until we reach the point at which peaceful dialog is more likely to lead to a consensus about the evil of abortion and our country’s need to retract it. Perhaps the graphic image displays, marches, protests, and rallies that the pro-life movement sees today are the stand-ins and marches of Dr. King’s time. Eventually, those events led the way to civil discussion and a change in the law. But it took the demonstrations to wake America up to the reality of civil rights and the need for peaceful discussion.

Miller also believes that the pro-life movement has struggled to gain any traction because of judgmental Christians. If that were true, however, pro-abortion leaders like former NARAL president Nancy Keenan would not be shaking in their boots at the sight of a pro-life movement that has grown to such proportions that there may be no hope for pro-aborts to gain the youth back, ever. The disdainful attitude of some Christians will likely turn some people away from the pro-life movement, but at the end of the day, it is not attitudes, but the undeniable truth that abortion is murder that will keep the pro-life movement thriving until one day the nation restores equal rights to the pre-born.

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  • Robert the Undaunted

    This post reflects my thoughts exactly. I think that pro-lifers need more anger and that this anger should be fuelled by developing within each of us a better practice of the virtue of justice – one of the major virtues of the Church. By expressing a fierce sense of justice on the abortion issue in creative, non-violent ways, we can inspire others inside and outside churches to grow in their appreciation of the genocide of the unborn (and to do more to end it). The reference to Dr. King’s work is right on target.

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