Sunday, July 10, 2005


My Big Problem With “Progressive” Christianity

For the last several months I've felt a sort of calm, a sense of peacefulness for the most part. It's been very nice... and it's ending. Cue the resurgence of that one big issue. The one that keeps me up at night at times once it re-enters my mind and I begin (reluctantly) to engage it once again.

The issue to which I am referring is the big A-bomb. It's enough to desecrate any semblance of a rational conversation, dialogue, or even a relationship. That issue is, of course, abortion. Exaggeration? Well, perhaps, but then again maybe not. If we are to talk of a difference in worldview between God-fearing folks and secularists, this issue encapsulates it. (Read Francis Schaeffer's Christian Manifesto for an elaboration of this vast dichotomy in underlying beliefs.)

Okay so far - just very different worldviews. I don't like it, but I understand it. But when followers of Christ begin debating the abortion issue, I do not get it… at all. (Understand I'm not referring to exceptions in rare instances such as rape, incest, and danger to the mother's life.)

Generally, I am a big fan of the lively debate of issues. But I also know that we can twist ourselves in knots at any given moment with tortured logic or random scriptural referencing. And the idea that Christians are advocating abortion rights amounts to a most bizarre twist on the religion I believe. I’m sorry if my saying this angers some people, but I honestly can't fathom being a believer in Christ and equivocating on this issue.

So what's wrong with me and other pro-lifers (oh, I meant 'anti-choice women haters')? Well, Public Theologian explains with his post at the Christian Alliance For Progress Blog. It turns out that we are “very conservative Christians, who have grown up with a very limited perspective both historically and biblically”. Gee, thanks for the kind description.

Now I want to say that I would not bother to address this issue if I did not respect some of the leading proponents. Public Theologian seems to be consistent in his ideology, backs up his opinions through scripture, and typically comes from a sound intellectual basis. As well, the other bloggers at CAP are generally pretty fair-minded folks with whom I may disagree often but still can respect... until we get to this issue.

There are all sorts of arguments I could make to defend the rights of an unborn child, and especially when we get in to theological reasoning. If you believe in God, the miracle of birth and creation, and God's will, what sort of arrogance do we need to espouse to believe in our having "veto power" over the decision of who gets to live or die?

But setting that whole realm aside for the purpose of this post, I think Info Theory asked the two biggest questions that need to be addressed in the abortion debate:

1. In our democratic society, do all persons have equal intrinsic rights (we are especially concerned here with the right to life--the most fundamental of all rights)?

2. When is a person a person?

Assuming most folks are not yet morally callous enough to answer "no" to question number one, I'd like to consider the second question.

When is a person a person? Can a mother flush a baby down a toilet or throw it in the trash immediately after it is born? No? Okay. What about an hour before it is born? Doesn't happen? Yes it does. Okay, well assuming you answered 'no' to those questions. Then when is it okay? Day 40? Day 52.5? But why quibble? Think of the horrible life the baby would have... the inconvenience to the mother... besides, how do I have the right to say anything anyway?

Please don't make me puke. If it's human life - a person - I have a right (indeed an obligation) to care. Hopefully, we as a society are not so far down the road to ruin that we don't even care about the answer to the question of whether we are systematically ending person-hood out of reasons of inconvenience.

Of course, this issue is a huge deal right now because of pending Supreme Court nominations. And it's the one issue I would have hoped Christians could rally around (assuming the term means something more than appeasement or something other than just acquiesing to cultural relativism).

Some good news: There may be signs that pro-abortion activists losing their resolve. fears that to be the case. Pro-choice activist groups “need young people to replenish their aging ranks”. Anyone else find this statement rather ironic? (Hat tip: Bush vs. Choice Blog)

I understand that we can't solve this issue by simply passing laws. We need to change people's hearts. But we should not be okay with having laws that condone the disregard for human life. There are ramifications to this disposability of life sort of mindset... and they're not good.


What I was trying to point out in my post is that most Christians have no perspective on this issue other than what they get from the big Christian media today and cannot even imagine that there are other people of faith who have thought and who continue to think differently about this. How many Christians know that abortion is allowable in Jewish theological ethics o protetc the safety--not just the life--of the mother? How many Christians know that the Catholic position of abortion was not made canon law until 1869, and that theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, who is perhaps the most influential thinker ever outside of the New Testament, believed that ensoulment took place months after conception and that abortion was permissible until then? Having discussed this issue with my mostly evangleical college studnets for the last ten years, I can tell you not many.

And because they do not know things like this, they question even the basic Christian faith of anyone who believes that there are circu,stances i which a woman can morally choose an abortion, which is not just divisive of the body politic, but also the body of Christ.
PT, I agree that it's instructive to learn more about this issue historically, particularly the beliefs of someone as brilliant and influential as Aquinas. But I'm fairly certain that Aquinas would be appalled at abortion as it is being practiced in America currently. Particularly regarding an abhorrent procedure like partial birth abortion and anti-parental notification statutes in most states - what's even to debate?

I would not go so far as to question the faith of someone who is pro-choice, but I'm very curious as to the rationale for it. I'm just not persuaded by your citations of verses in Isaiah or attempts to justify abortion by making some loose association with miscarriages.

Are you conflating doctrine with dogma? You say, "I honestly can't fathom being a believer in Christ and equivocating on this issue." Do you really believe that outlawing abortion in our civic society is crucial to the Christian Gospel? You seem to be tying the two positions together that makes them inextractable.
You say that we can't ever know when a fetus becomes a baby, so therefore the clump of cells is a baby. I can accept that line of reasoning as long as you can answer me this simple question...

When does thread a sweater make?
I happen to think that life begins at conception, as we are all mere "clumps of cells" just in bigger proportions than those of a fetus. But for those who do not believe that, I believe the onus is on them to answer the question as to when it does begin. (As Lance had argued effectively here.) To me, that seems a very arduous task and that we MUST error on the side of caution considering a life will be taken if we are incorrect.

The amazing thing to me is this is not a line of reasoning that most proponents of abortion rights are willing to confront. Instead it deteriorates into rationalizing why the baby is better off not being born in the first place. That seems to imply to me that their side is practically conceding the point that a life is being taken. Just look at the myriad of inconsistencies in law on this issue for further proof. Double homicides are routinely charged (and rightly so) in cases involving a pregnant mother being killed.
But for those who do not believe that, I believe the onus is on them to answer the question as to when it does begin.

I don't think this is so tough: minimum condition for personhood is a functional brain. For example, a parasitic twin doesn't seem to have an effective claim to a right to life, and it seems to be because of its lack of a brain.

Unless, of course, you think the soul is in the liver or something.
Not so fast, JPE - it isn't that easy. First, what does the term "functional brain" mean? -- independently control life-sustaining functions? communicate? imagine? reason? do rudimentary math? Second, once you pick your definitive characteristics of a "functional brain," how can a fetus be measured against this standard, given that brain wave activity is present at a remarkably early stage of development?

That's why I think the whole "when is it a person?" debate is a fruitless, diversionary waste of time. The better question, in my mind, is this: when in doubt, what choice we will make?

Thanks, Chad, for the tip to my post on this.
Ella's Dad-

Why not make it brain waves? Lack of brain waves is when people are generally considered dead (i.e. not alive).

That is very easy to measure. It would stop most abortions, but still allow morning-after pills.
Very brave of you Chad...I don't know if I have the stomach for this fight. And I know I don't have an open mind for it. I am set as a rock in cement on this issue. Very good post though. I wrote a ditty on "right to resist" which talks about our responsibility to obey God's law first...resisting man-made laws against God. For what it's worth.
There are some who think the Terri Schaivo case was about nothing. Somehow, the thinking is people were interfering, that Congress had no business, that it's no big deal!'s a very BIG DEAL!
Some people may not like to hear this, either, but while I'm in the process of angering/alienating people in this post... I'm not a fan of the parallels consistently being drawn between Terri Schiavo and the abortion issue. I get the whole sanctity of life theme that runs through both, but yet they are different situations with very different considerations. The logic does not necessarily flow from one to the other.
You won't alienate me. I know the Church is even more split on Terri Schaivo's euthanasia. This isn't the place to get into it. Thanks for your honesty.
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