Imago Dei

This post is a bit long-ish, but the topic warrants some thought I think, so I hope you'll bear with me. Thanks to Kimberly, Jerry, and Ann who all left excellent comments on my recent post regarding evangelical fatigue and angst with respect to the pro-life movement. You guys brought up some important points, actually stealing some of my thunder in some cases, which is great! I particularly appreciated the recognition that the movement early on focused perhaps too much on the overturn of Roe v Wade, and that some of the current fatigue comes from seeing the Roe decision still standing.

Francis Shaeffer and many others have correctly pointed out that politics is downstream from culture, meaning that the collective view of the population shapes the law much more than the law shapes the collective view. An important implication is that attempting to change the law first is a really tough proposition -- swimming upstream, as it were -- as pro-lifers discovered in the 70's and 80's. This is true despite the fact that changing the law at first appears to be the less daunting task. After all, a law change is a concrete goal, whereas shaping the hearts and minds of fellow citizens is a much larger and more amorphous task. But law change turns out to not be so easy at it might first appear, and is of more limited value than heart change even when achieved.

History speaks volumes...
In preparing for this weekend's message I've spent some time refreshing my memory on one of the world's greatest subjects: history. I combed back through many of Western civilization's greatest human rights advances and saw again how Christians were almost always at the heart of these efforts. I will briefly share 4 examples in the service tomorrow: infanticide in ancient Rome, slavery throughout Europe's history, poverty in 20th century India, and segregation in the American south (seems appropriate just after MLK day, eh?).

But there are dozens more I could share if time permitted. Consider that the 19th century's suffragettes, and actually the whole roots of the feminist movement, were Christian. Or consider how Christian missionaries and nationals were the impetus behind stopping the burning of widows on their husband's funeral pyres in India. Or how, beginning with the efforts of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint, Christians helped transform native Waodani culture in Ecuador from a genocidal violence that nearly wiped the entire tribe out. Or how Christians opened weekend schools (the original Sunday School) to educate slave children in colonial America (I wrote my undergraduate thesis in college on such efforts). The list goes on and on.

What do all these examples have in common? One phrase: Imago Dei. That's Latin for Image of God, one of the core tenets of Christian theology. These Christian efforts were all driven by a passionate belief in the inherent value of all human life regardless of age, gender, health, socioeconomic class, ethnicity, or any other distinction people tend to draw in order to justify treating others inhumanely.

But these efforts all teach us something else too. They were hugely successful - indeed they shaped western civilization itself - because they were multi-faceted efforts. Government forces were almost always complicit in the injustice in question, so each effort had a political component which pursued just laws. But the verve - the real fire - of these movements in each case came from a virtual army of unknown "soldiers" of compassion, who labored in obscurity and sacrificed personally to meet the needs of the downtrodden; comforting them and helping materially while drawing the unwilling attention of reluctant societies to their plight. It was this action and attention - this faith lived out (hmmm... sounds like James 2:26 doesn't it?) - that gradually transformed the hearts and minds of people, and often enabled just political solutions to follow.

Where do we go from here?
Which brings me back to Roe v. Wade and the current struggle we have with rampant, no-cause abortion in our beloved country. I greatly appreciate Ann's comment on my previous post, which I thought very honest and accurate. We often have a zeal for the truth, which is outstanding! Never let anyone tell you that's bad, because not one worthwhile thing in this world has ever been accomplished (including our redemption) apart from zeal for truth. But this sometimes leaves us fighting feelings of frustration, fear, even hate (hopefully directed toward the current state of affairs, not toward people, which is never justified). We have much better uses for our energy than fear and angst! I think the pro-life movement going forward needs (and will in fact pursue) two major things:

1. More action Because a thousand mundane acts of genuine compassion are far more potent than a big flashy campaign of any kind, I see an even more energized pro-life movement at the grassroots level engaging in a myriad of mom-supporting and baby-protecting activities that will save thousands of lives even before the law changes. From supporting unmarried single moms and Pregnancy Resource Centers, to adoption and working to make adoption more affordable, to starting and/or supporting ministries like The House of Ruth or 5 Rock Ranch, to talking openly and honestly about the sanctity and seriousness of sex, marriage, and fathering. Think about it: if we conservatively assume that only 5% of Americans are evangelicals, that's 15 million people (and more than that are pro-life). How would our culture be impacted by 15+ million Jesus-lives in our midst?

2. Better reporting of the action that's already taken place
And while much more can be done if we put our hearts and minds to it, the truth is a lot of this action already takes place. For example, I know many people in my personal circle of relationships who have adopted children (even though they had their own biological kids already), taken in pregnant teen girls who feel they have nowhere to turn and given them a place to live, volunteered countless hours counseling and emotionally & financially supporting them and their babies, and in hundreds of ways made a huge difference in the lives of women. But how often do you hear their stories? Honestly, this is the question that has haunted me this week because the answer is "not enough." And those of us who have communicative abilities and who don't mind rattling a few cages and swimming against the cultural current as graciously as possible had better get more busy trumpeting what the heroes of compassion are really doing. Sorry, that last line is directed at myself more than anyone else, but hey: this is my blog, right? :)

None of this is to say that legal/political efforts should be abandoned. Quite the contrary, there is already widespread public support for laws that limit the availability of abortion, which is why full disclosure and parental notification laws get passed successfully (I'll comment on FOCA under another heading - this post is already long enough). But as we petition our political leaders, let's also ask God how he would have us use our talents and abilities to make a difference in the lives of moms, dads, and babies in our own community to the end that not only are innocent babies' lives spared, but the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens can be moved by seeing a Jesus-life in action.

After all, when we put faith into action in this way we're carrying a torch that has been passed from one generation of Jesus-followers to the next for over two thousand years. That's some cloud of witnesses.

Some thoughts on Dubya

I'll get back to the abortion/sanctity of human life discussion I started a couple days ago shortly. But first, I want to offer some thoughts on the Bush presidency as it enters its final days. And how appropriate -- without knowing it I started drafting this post on the very day president Bush gave his farewell speech.

My conclusion after reflecting on eight years of George Bush in the White House is that a lot of positive came out of his administration, and the world is better for his two terms. I know that puts me in the minority as of right now, but I suspect that the current hostility toward Bush will cool, perhaps with the passing of the current generation, and that looking back many of his positives will be more evident than they appear to many today who have grown so accustomed to reviling the man on sight.

In fact, president Clinton said something in the waning days of his administration that I think applies to Bush as well. I'll paraphrase Clinton since I don't have the direct quote, but the effect of it was 'I'm not nearly as bad as my worst detractors have portrayed me, nor am I nearly as good as my staunchest supporters have claimed.' Considering that the scuttlebutt on Clinton ran the gamut from "He's the Antichrist!" to "he's the best president this nation ever will have!" I thought it a well-grounded way for him to look at all the talk. Which brings me to Bush: man, I thought the anti-Clinton jargon was heated (and it was) but I've never seen anything quite like the irrational, spiteful vitriol that has been hurled against W. All presidents have political enemies, but the Bush hatred seems to have blinded many people, especially in print and television news, to much of the good that Bush used his office to accomplish. I'll mention just a couple of the things that are most significant to me.

First, Bush's entire presidency was marked by a dedication to human dignity and human rights. And I'm not only referring to his opposition to abortion, but also to things like his standing firm against the current irrational mania to pursue embryonic stem cell research when non-embryonic stem cell research offers much more promise and has produced more real results (that's the subject of a whole post unto itself). Bush also listened to a bipartisan coalition of activists who were working against human trafficking (a safe, sterilized way to say sex slavery) and passed some of the most robust legislation against that evil to date. He also became extensively involved in pressuring the government of Sudan (where I have traveled 4 times) to stop its genocidal war on civilians in the south of that nation, helping broker a ceasefire that remains tenuously in place to this day. And when Darfur erupted later and Khartoum sought to weasel out of responsibility for it, Bush sent his top diplomat (Secretary of State Powell) to the region, signaling the seriousness with which the USA was taking human rights in a nation in which we had no large security interest. On the home front his faith-based initiatives were intended to partner with groups that make a real difference in the lives of prisoners, the poor, and the outcasts of our country rather than merely opening the bureaucratic checkbook and calling it compassion. But he did open the checkbook for good causes too, typically in the aid of the forgotten, such as helping cure thousands of Africans from malaria (a curable disease that still kills millions each year, usually amongst the poor) and treating AIDS on the continent. Sadly, most of these efforts got little press.

The common theme behind all these efforts is a simple and yet profound one which resonates deeply with me personally: that strength exists for the defense of the weak. Not for their exploitation, as happens in so many nations. I believe that honors God's intentions in creating strength. The president of the United States, while far from omnipotent, is probably the single strongest person in the world in terms of influence, and I think Dubya understood that and sought to use his position for purposes that went beyond himself and petty partisanship.

And then there's the War on Terror... I don't want this to get too long but one can't comment on the Bush presidency and leave out perhaps its most identifiable facet. I'm mixed on this: on the one hand there's the glaring absence of WMDs in Iraq (though this exposed gaping holes in the intelligence networks of all NATO nations as much as it reflects on the Bush administration, despite what the vitriolic Bush bashers screamed) and there's 4,000 dead American soldiers which is never a good thing. Yet the War On Terror is bigger than just Iraq, and while I have mixed feelings about our involvement in that nation I also recall that in 7 1/2 years since 9/11 Al-Qaeda's ability to sow chaos and death has been severely curtailed through the military, diplomatic, law enforcement, and financial coalition of nations Bush put together. Many terrorist attacks in Europe have been discovered and thwarted before they happened, and significantly not a single attack has taken place on American soil since - a fact that no one even dared to dream might be possible in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, when we felt so vulnerable to terrorism. Though Bush must bear responsibility for the failures and missteps particularly in Iraq, surely he deserves credit for what has gone right.

To be sure he has had his major blunders. Underestimating the aftermath of toppling Saddam Hussein is certainly one. And on the home front, I have nearly pulled my own hair out more than once as I've watched him spend more government money than many "big-spender Democrat" presidents ever did. This was another miscalculation on his part: I think he sought to take issues away from his political opponents by championing their own causes, but in the end he only earned the ire of his own supporters by doing so. Still, many today seem all too happy to blame Bush for other people's misdeeds; an example being the current economic crisis, which in reality began long before Bush was in office (and when, incidentally, the White House and Congress were both controlled by his political opponents). I realize that getting blamed for everything bad and credited for everything good comes with the Oval Office territory. But that dynamic also explains why I'm still part of the 30% or so of people who have an overall favorable view of George W Bush's presidency: he's been too easy a target for the angst of a nation.

And I'm not alone. A very well-written reflection on Dubya can be found here, and another one here. I recommend reading both of these short articles, regardless of your opinion of the Bush presidency. Even if they don't change your mind, they at least provide food for thought.

So as the prez makes way for his successor and prepares to glide into the Texas sunset, I bid him an appreciative farewell, remaining mindful of my disappointments with him, yet convinced that history will remember him better than his contemporaries do.


An unashamed member of the 30% (or whatever we're down to nowadays...)


I'm back in the "blogging saddle" after a Christmas season break! And there's something on my mind for which I'd like your input.

In a couple weeks Harvest, like many churches around the nation, will spend a Sunday emphasizing the sanctity of human life.

Now here's my question: what was your first reaction to that sentence?

I ask because I'm sensing that there's a wide variety of reactions today to Christianity's historically pro-life worldview, particularly within evangelical circles. First off the phrase "sanctity of human life" seems to have become a euphemism for fighting abortion (even though it refers to something much broader) since that's been the main focus for the past few decades in our country. And I see evidence of mixed feelings about the fight against abortion amongst evangelicals.

Some seem to be experiencing "abortion fatigue," for lack of a better term -- becoming emotionally worn out from a long fight that seems to have produced few gains. Others appear to have become frustrated at such fatigue amongst fellow evangelicals, pounding proverbial tables and becoming shrill in their efforts to "rally the troops" and keep up the fight against this heinous evil. And then there's a palpable anxiety some evangelicals are experiencing, stoked in no small part by the fact that we're about to inaugurate a president with 100% approval ratings from some of the most pro-abortion organizations in the land.

Fatigue. Frustration. Anxiety. Not a real great mix of emotions.

Interestingly enough every evangelical Christian I hear or read still says they're 100% convinced of the evil of abortion, even those in the "fatigue" camp. This intrigues me: evidently evangelical Christians are not re-thinking their theology (despite what some in the "frustration" camp might believe) as much as they're re-thinking its application.

Of course the question is, where do we go from here? I have some thoughts (no surprise, I know!) and I'll share them soon both on this blog and with the church. But first I want to hear from you.

When it comes to the sanctity of human life, what is your sense of where evangelical Christians are at? Why do you think this is so?

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