Will the Pro-Life Movement Sink or Swim?

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Learning to swim is a terrifying experience. You are thrown into a body of liquid that could fill your lungs and kill you within minutes, and you’ve got to figure out how to stay on top of that liquid or die. This fun, summertime activity really is a life and death struggle.

I remember when I learned to swim in a pool full of still, over-chlorinated and temperature-controlled water. I felt like I’d done it. I was a swimmer! I could doggy-paddle around the pool that was surrounded by semi-attentive teenage lifeguards who were at least mildly concerned with my safety and survival. It was a controlled environment with one task: don’t sink into the still and easily navigable waters.

Then I went swimming in the ocean. Well, I went sinking in the ocean. Aside from my imagination telling me that a Great White Shark was lurking just inches from the shore (a huge thank you to my parents for letting me watch JAWS at four years old), I figured swimming in the ocean would be like swimming in a pool. It’s not. Every wave is different. There are, in fact, sea creatures to be aware of. There are no lifeguards, and the sand underneath your feet moves. The first time I walked more than thirty feet from shore and began to swim, I immediately sank and was caught under the waves. I could swim in a pool; why not the ocean? For one, the ocean is not a controlled environment. Two, it is a complex environment. Three, the ocean requires more than a doggy-paddle style stroke in order to survive.

Being pro-life isn’t a political plank; it is a gospel indicative.

The Pro-Life Movement Gets Thrown in the Ocean

The pro-life movement learned to swim in a controlled environment. Our leaders could tell us abortion is infanticide and we must resist it, fight it, use every legal means available to save the lives of the unborn. We had one thing we had to learn: how to resist the advance of abortion on demand.

Now the pro-life movement has been plunged into the ocean, and we clearly do not know how to swim. At least not in an environment that requires more from us than the one thing we know: resist, fight, stop abortion on demand. The waves of culture are hitting us hard, we do not know what to do and so we are grabbing hold of everyone and anyone who is promising to get us back to the pool where we know how to swim. We are believing every politician, national leader and cultural voice that says abortion is our only pro-life concern. They may not say it that plainly, but the binary argumentation they are using is just that: pro-life ethics simply have to do with abortion.

Pro-Life as a Gospel Indicative

For the Christian, being pro-life isn’t a political plank; it is a gospel indicative. Gospel people must be consistently pro-life. We are pro-human flourishing. That certainly has political implications and cultural ramifications, but it is primarily a theological conviction. Because we have allowed our movement to become primarily a political talking point, we’ve lost the ability to apply our theological and ethic conviction outside of seeking political power. This is why we are having so much trouble swimming in a complex environment.

The waves that are pummeling us include questions as to how pro-life ethics inform our response to the poor, to the immigrant, to the abused, to those suffering under the actions of racists. What the pro-life movement was clearly unprepared for was consistently applying a pro-life ethic (the promotion of human flourishing for all of life, for every life) to issues outside of abortion.

Now we must grapple with the fact that poverty is a pro-life issue. Sexual abuse is a pro-life issue. Racism and systems of racial oppression are pro-life issues. Fixing the systems leading to mass incarceration is a pro-life issue. Human trafficking is a pro-life issue. Rectifying our broken immigration system is a pro-life issue. Adoption is a pro-life issue. The foster system is a pro-life issue. And, of course, abortion is a pro-life issue.

The danger before us is that we would allow national leaders and politicians to reduce the pro-life movement to being about abortion. In so doing, other pro-life issues can be ignored and pro-life ethics violated. When politicians and national leaders reduce the pro-life ethic to abortion alone, they are deluding us into thinking we are back to swimming in the temperature-controlled swimming pool — when, in reality, we are being pummeled and we are drowning in the waves of the ocean. Being pro-life is no less than being anti-abortion, but it is far more than fighting abortion on demand.

We are not in the swimming pool any more. Pretending like we are will lead to compromise and ultimately our movement’s death. The waves are crashing, the ocean floor is shifting, there are no lifeguards. Pro-life Christian, it’s time to for the pro-life cause to swim in an increasingly complex environment or we will drown.

Image Credit: nikko macaspac / Unsplash

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  • abortion
  • culture
  • pro-life
Dayton Hartman

Dayton Hartman is lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He has a PhD in church and dogma history from North-West University (South Africa), and serves as an adjunct professor at both Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Columbia International University. He is the author of Church History for Modern Ministry: Why Our Past Matters for Everything We Do. Learn more at daytonhartman.com.

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