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.


Ken said...

I'm going to comment, I promise. I'm just trying to work through some thoughts.

Ken said...

The focus of the pro-life movement needs to shift away from merely overturning Roe to working on ways to truly reduce the instances of abortion as a form of birth control. All overturning Roe will do is throw the issue back to the states.

True counseling needs to be provided. This means providing honest options. It means providing for proper pre-natal care for birth mothers. If the mother opts to raise the child, making sure that she KNOWS there will be a support system that will help provide proper early childhood nutrition.

So, basically, I agree with you. That being said, it will be interesting to see how this ( goes.

Matt Guerino said...

Ken, I think our views overlap to a large extent on the practicals. We may also agree to some extent on the philosophy behind the practical actions - I'm not sure, as you didn't mention it.

Reading some of the comments on the Time blog post you linked to, I have to say I think some readers are missing the point by advocating a purely pragmatic view of abortion. Pragmatics apart from morality is dangerous, as history so often attests. Of course, if a majority of us can agree on something practical that will reduce abortions, then by all means we should proceed to enact it.

But that larger question remains, like the proverbial elephant in the room. What motive does society have for seeking to reduce abortion at all? Leaving aside the 3% of cases where rape, incest, or a serious threat to the mother's health or life exists (since those are thorny issues where I believe the real debate should be taking place) and focusing instead on the 97% of cases where abortion is used as birth control, why does everyone seem willing to say that number should come down, even by a lot? Is it because an innocent human life is being snuffed out? If not, why reduce the number at all? If so, why wouldn't we make it illegal, except perhaps in extreme cases?

While I do not believe changing the law is the whole battle -- not by a long shot -- I do believe the law both reflects and helps perpetuate social norms. No one would favor making, say, rape legal regardless of what measures put in place to reduce the number of rapes, because it sends the wrong message to people. Similarly, if abortion is fundamentally wrong, and damaging to women as well as (obviously) children, then we're sending some terrible messages to young women.

Either way I think the question of what abortion is morally needs to remain on the table even as we all work together to reduce the number of legal abortions. In fact, that question has a way of not being denied a hearing. To wit, the president: to the extent that President Obama's efforts actually help reduce the number of abortions, I'll applaud him and support those efforts. But even as he freed federal dollars to fund overseas abortions a couple weeks ago he reaffirmed his belief that, as he put it, "government should not intrude on our most private family matters." The obvious problem with that statement is that government does intrude on private family matters all the time, when a person's health or life are in danger. So try as he might to avoid the question, he was really saying abortion isn't one of those instances.

BigOfficeMan said...

O, this one is interesting. I know you like questions for which there are no answers, so hear goes.

First of all, are we biblically sure that this is a sin? Many pull the Psalm that says God knew us in the womb. As you taught us the Psalms are a collection of songs and not necessarily theology of the law and the prophets. Also it seems to me this passage speaks more to Gods omnipotence than our actions as people with free choice.

Secondly, you get Christians lathered up to fight the political fight and carry signs and march on the capital. To me this just seems to say to the whole world “I would never commit that sin, therefore your sin is worse than my sin”. Why don’t we march against the sin of Greed? Why don’t we march against the sin of Pride? My bible says if I look with lust I have committed the sin in my heart, don’t want to march on that one. My bible says guilty of one sin guilty of the whole law. So what is it we are supposed to get a full head of steam about? Our creed or God’s creed?

One more thing. You know we have eight adopted kids and my wife and I have much experience in this arena. Man, for a woman to give up in adoption is like morn in death for a birthmother. It takes more strength and stamina and constitution than you and I will ever know as men to make this most difficult choice. I do not expect you to understand this until you have walked through it. It is more emotion that you thought humanly possible. Just making a point that I have the utmost respect for a woman who had to make any of these choices, because they all take guts, shame, and guilt for basically the rest of your life. There have been women in your congregation who have had abortions and women who have given up in adoption (everyone talks to my wife), so you know this is most sensitive subject. Not sure I would use heinous evil in my blog.

That’s my reaction. Lots of words for a beancounter!

Matt Guerino said...

Thanks for your input Dave! I appreciate where you're coming from. But I think your extensive experience with being frustrated at the pro-life movement nay have clouded your read of my post. I'm actually saying a lot of what you're driving at. Let me take your points in order:

1.Yes, we are biblically sure abortion is a sin. So are scads of other things to be sure, but to voluntarily take the life of a child is murder, as it would be to take the life of a 2-year-old. You correctly point out that the reality of such choices is usually way more complicated than that for the woman making that choice, and I agree. The church has a ton of work before it in terms of caring for these women who feel abortion is the only choice, which is essentially what my post is all about. However none of that changes the fact that killing a child is wrong. The moral wrong of abortion is only part of the abortion picture - but it is part of that picture. Slavery was the same: it was a messy, complicated problem (just how were those southern plantation owners supposed to feed their families if all the slaves were freed?) but that didn't change the moral repugnance of making a man your property.

2. I think you may have mis-read my point about more action. I didn't mean more marches on Salem and Washington DC. Actually, I discussed more adoption, more support networks for pregnant women, more sex education especially for young people, etc. I envision armies of compassion, not armies of protesters. Again, the abolition movement serves as an excellent example - there were rallies and marches, but they weren't the heart of the movement. The appeal that slaves were equal was. Or take segregation - again rallies and marches. But what really moved people was a little black woman on an Alabama bus refusing to give up her seat.

BTW, you correctly point out that Christians go after some sins more than others. I agree. But the answer isn't to take one sin like abortion and call it not sin. The answer is to get more consistent with how we live out our faith again all sin. Starting with our own lives, though this doesn't preclude our obligation to contend for truth in the public square too.

3. I think it's important to distinguish between an evil at a society-wide level and the people engaged in it because they've believed the lie. Abortion as a fact of our society is a heinous evil: that we as a nation would voluntarily end the lives of 45 million of our own children is sick. But when considering an individual young woman who's been lied to and who thinks abortion is her only choice so she gets one... I feel compassion for her. She has done something terrible, but she did it because she thought she had no choice. The root problem here is we've built a society where she ended up thinking that a destructive evil was her only option. That's the society I want to see change. So I don't rail against her. I appeal to my fellow citizens that putting her in that situation is wrong - and we need to change it.

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