I do often write on abortion, but during this time of quarantine I took the time to read Michael Gorman’s outstanding book Abortion and the Early Church. I am disappointed that I am just now discovering this book which I think should be near the heart of Christian debates on life. Gorman gives a wonderful summary of how the Church dealt with abortion and creted an ethic of life during the first five centuries after Jesus. His major theme is that Christians developed an ethic of life which led Christians to stand against abortion. Near the end of the book Gorman makes an especially profound statement.
Claims to individual freedom of conscience are no substitute for conformity to the will of GodMichael Gorman
Within the context of the book Gorman wants Christians who would fall on the “pro-choice” side of the modern debate on abortion to recognize they do not reflect “a responsible Christian attitude toward freedom but a secularly informed libertinism.” Obviously, then his inference is that those standing up for a “pro-life” position are in fact more closely aligned with our freedom in Christ which aligns us to God’s will. Gorman is spot-on to suggest that for the New Testament authors, Christian freedom is a freedom to choose God’s desires over our own and to remove selfishness. He is also right that applying such systems to society inevitably means that at times individual’s must give up “person liberties” to protect human life.
Much of our Western culture is founded on the Enlightenment ideal of personal liberty, but at its core this ideal is often only a cheap parody of Christian freedom. This concept of liberty is isolationistic at best and anarchist at worst. Christian freedom espoused by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 encourages believers to maintain there freedom with one eye on how their life choices impact their family. Put simply libertinism is, “I’m going to do what I want” and freedom is “I’m going to do what I want as long as it is good for the family”.
We have been confined to our homes for multiple weeks now and we’ve heard many people talk about government restricting liberty. There have been protests by individuals saying they have the right to live their lives as they see fit. And while the relationship is not one-to-one, there is definite overlap between the “pro-life” argument against abortion and the case to protect others during a pandemic. These protesters are often using an ethical system similar to that of the pro-choice argument, “I get to decide what I do with my life, let others protect themselves.” This is not compatible with Paul’s picture of the body, where every individual member looks out for the rest of the body.
Part of the pro-life argument is that a woman has an obligation to protect a life other than her own (the child’s). The mother has a responsibility to another life dependent on her for its health and well-being. Today, many older individuals and many with compromised immune systems are dependent on me making wise decisions in my own life. Some might say that these individuals have the obligation to protect themselves, I think Paul’s words to the Corinthians apply to this situation as much as to food sacrificed to idols, if my liberty is going to cause harm to another I need to seriously rethink exercising my liberty. It is my obligation not to push my liberties to a point where they negatively impact the lives of the vulnerable, whether those are people struggling with idolatry, the unborn, or those most at risk to a disease.
I know in saying this I am leaving myself open to the attack that I do not care about the economy and that others will die if the economy doesn’t reopen. I stand with numerous others who have written articles showing that society’s fixation on “the economy” is itself a disease. I also would answer that deaths caused by the closure of businesses are eminently more preventable than those caused by coronavirus. For too long our society has been built upon the economy, it is time to change the foundation. I would love to see our society founded on an ethic of life. I recognize that such a change is not likely to happen any time soon, but underneath all those memes about underpaid teachers, about poverty, about being safe at home, and about corruption in government is this fact our society is built on around money rather than caring for people. I would also say that strict shut-downs are only a temporary solution, providing time to put measures in place which are more long-term solutions. Right now much of our societal focus is on people, completely reopening for business means that much of that focus will shift away from people and toward business.
I recently wrote asking people to consider their ethical priorities; in Western civilization the ethic life takes a backseat to money. I am asking Christians to remember what it means to be pro-life, it means prioritizing life. We are not pro-life by simply allowing babies to be born, we become pro-life as we foster life and allow people to flourish. Pharaoh would not have been pro-life if he had ceased to drown infants and yet still maintain slaves. Prioritizing the quality of life of all people over having the largest economy is necessary for us to live out the message of Jesus. Does this mean we shouldn’t reopen our businesses– not in the least. What I am advocating is that people recognize that our claim to be pro-life means we must sacrifice our liberty in other areas to uphold life. This means the decisions to reopen businesses should be made, not based on how much money America is loosing, but on whether society can provide a reasonable degree of safety to all people. We must being willing to loose money, or help those who are loosing money, in order to protect life. It is a dangerous libertinism that pushes the burden of safety on the vulnerable.
Christians who claim to be pro-life must stop restricting that claim to one issue which will not impact most of them; rather Christians need to consider what it means to make life a key element of our ethical system. Gorman rightly points out that christian attitudes on abortion have gone hand-in-hand with a desire to protect the vulnerable who cannot protect themselves. I ask who are the vulnerable today, and how does our commitment to being PRO-LIFE demand we protect them?