23 October 2008

The politics of abortion: The Moral Minefield

Matt Stone has asked for an informal synchroblog on the politics of abortion -- Glocal Christianity: Abortion, Politics and Christianity:
Is abortion the only political issue that should count for Christians as we decide who to vote for in elections? Should the church be a single issue community?

Beyond that, what does it mean to be pro-life? I am pro-life, but I ask, is there a broader way of looking at the issue, one that includes care for the lives of 'born' children as well as 'unborn' children?

And Janet Woodlock writes in Secret Women's Business: The Moral Minefield:
debate has raged over the U.S. election on Alan Hirsch’s blog, a fascinating glimpse into the passionate and divisive world of American politics. I’ve been reminded of this passage because it is the closest thing to an abortion in the biblical record. (ripping babies out of the wombs of mothers would cause the death of mothers in a world without surgery or antibiotics, so I don’t think those passages count).

I noticed that a lot of Americans who were anti abortion said they were going to vote Republican in the last couple of elections for that reason. It seems that they were conned by slick political rhetoric from politicians who were unable or unwilling to fulfil their "anti-abortion" promises. Has the number of abortions in the US diminished significantly over the last 8 years?

If I were American, I would regard abortion as a non-issue in the election. Regardless of what politicians may promise, you can rest assured that if elected, they are not going to do anything about it.

And as for wars, when one party was in power the US bombed Baghdad, and when the other party was in power the US bombed Belgrade. So both the major US parties are bloodthirsty warmongering abortionists.

"Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them" (Psalm 2)

In the Christians and Society forum we recently had a straw poll on "How pro-life are you?" and found that few people were consistently prolife.

The thing that most agreed was immoral was reckless or negligent driving.

On the question of the morality of killing, whether in war or by abortion, it seems to me, as an Orthdox Christian, that in these matters Western theology is legalistic. In Western theology "justification" seems to be central to debates about salvation, and everything else. Is homicide justified or justifiable? Is a war "just" (and theologians have laid down criteria of a "just" war). Are we "justified" by grace? And if so, is it through faith, and if so, is it through faith alone? Is the grace imputed or imparted?

While "justification" is not absent from Orthodox conceptions of salvation, it does not seem to be as centraql as it does in Western theology.

And similarly, Orthodox theology does not seem to have any conception of a "just" war. All wars are the result of human sin, and no killing is justified. The Orthodox Church, however, is not a "peace church", in the sense of the Quakers or Mennonites. Many Orthodox saints were soldiers. But killing in war is not thereby "justified". It's not OK. A soldier who kills in battle cannot say "It was a just war, and therefore that killing is not a sin I need to confess, because it was justifiable homicide and therefore a righteous act." The canons of the Orthodox Church require soldiers who kill in war to confess that as a sin and do penance.

We live in a sinful world, a world in which wars happen. Wars are part of the fallenness of the sinful world and cannot be "justified". Killing in war is a sin to be confessed, no matter how "just" the cause for which the war was fought.

And so with deliberate abortion.

One can come up with all kinds of rationalisations, in order to try to "justify" it -- to "save the life of the mother" or for some other reason. But none of these rationalisations make it OK. It is still a sin that needs to be confessed. But there is also no sin so great that it cannot be forgiven. Abortion is a sin, but it is not the only sin, and it is not the worst sin. Perhaps "single issue" voting on this kind of thing is just as sinful.


Anonymous said...

Just war theology degenerates into theological justification for war, all war, all too easily. The prrof of the pudding is, how many cases can you think of where a government pulled back from war on the basis of this theology? Same with rationalizations for abortion. Yes, we can all think of mitigating circumstances, but do we really think this would belong in a perfect world? Life ain't that simple.

Janet Woodlock said...

I think one of the reasons this discussion gets so messy is that not all that is sinful should be illegal... this is utterly impractical. Much that is sinful is "in the heart" anyway... lust, greed, selfishness etc... you cannot "legislate" against such things.

Part of the intriguing thing about American politics is a stream of thought that seems to imply one can legislate for Christian values... you can achieve righteousness by banning abortion, or homosexual acts, etc. If public prayer can be introduced into schools by force of law, God will be pleased and bless the nation. (Perhaps a caricature, and perhaps inaccurate... American friends can correct me on this). The U.S. is perhaps the last bastion of such Christendom thinking (Christian emperor who forces the people to live as Christians)... and it's a mindset that seems quite entrenched in the Christian right.

No wonder there's something of a culture class between the emerging church and the religious right... and a culture class between the religious right and the religious left. An interesting situation indeed.

Steve Hayes said...


Yes, I can't think of any recent war in which the "just war" criteria have been met, even if you do accept them.


The question of legislating morality is linked to the distinction between law and gospel. Justice is congealed love. The law cannot force people to love each other if they are determined to hate. The best it can do is to mitigate the consequences of our lack of love.

Anonymous said...

Janet, liked the way you phrased that.

"Not all that is sinful should be illegal."

There seems to be a fear in America that if you loosen up on legislation you're somehow condoning sin. That unless you criminalize sin all hell will break loose. Well, that stance is really working for them isn't it (he says cynically).

I think the real issue here is one of power. Christendom thinkers assume the church should be in a place of power in society. Yet Jesus showed us love is the true power in the universe, and love has more to do with empowerment than with power.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

My name is Tia and I'm an editor at OpposingViews.com, the debate website. Since we both cover politics, I thought I'd drop you a note. I would've e-mailed you but I couldn't find an address.

See, we're currently having a discussion about whether South Dakota should ban abortion. Measure 11 will decide just that, and South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families is debating Vote Yes for Life. You can see it here:

Although vetted experts are the ones doing the debating, anyone can contribute by choosing a side and posting comments about the experts' arguments.
Check it out and, if you have the time, let me know what you think at tia@opposingviews.com

Anonymous said...

While I recognise the problems with the just war theory, I am hesitant to jettison it entirely. Matt asks when a government pulled back from war on basis of this theology. I can't claim that it did, but I do know that it was just war theology that influenced some of my white, male friends of conscript age to become conscientious objectors in apartheid South Africa and helped to undermine the legitimacy of the system they were supposed to be defending.

Steve Hayes said...


I've never been anywhere near South Dakota in my life, and I'm the last person who should participate in such debates.


Related Posts with Thumbnails