An Ironic Month
In recent years I’ve come to associate the middle of January with theological ironies—and theological potential.
In the US the third Monday of January is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, spotlighting the importance of civil rights and the evil of racial discrimination. In addition, on the third Sunday of the month—close to the January 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision—many churches observe Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, drawing attention to the value of the unborn and the evil of abortion.
Historically, the civil rights movement was heavily associated with more liberal political ideologies. For various reasons many conservatives held back from the movement, and some opposed it. On the other hand, the pro-life movement is a hallmark of American conservatism. In fact, it was President Ronald Reagan who proclaimed the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day in 1984.
As I consider these matters, I see three ironies in the intersection of the civil rights movement and the pro-life movement.
As it relates to racism, here are some key points that the biblical worldview teaches us:
- All human beings are equally created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–28), having all descended from Adam (Acts 17:26).
- After love for God, our second greatest duty is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:34–40). There is no limitation on this duty based on skin color, ethnicity, or the like. In fact, in expounding on love in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus indirectly challenged ethnic prejudice in his day (Luke 10:25–37).
- In Christ all believers have been reconciled to God. On the same spiritual footing, we have also been united to each other in one body, irrespective of ethnic or cultural differences. Consequently, we are to love fellow Christians fervently despite these differences (Gal 3:27–28; Eph 2:11–22; Col 3:9–15).
- God’s plan aims at the redemption and unification of people from diverse origins for all eternity (Rev 5:9–10; 7:9–10).
- Both Testaments prohibit socio-economic discrimination (e.g., Deut 24:27–18; Jas 2:1–13). We have every reason to extend this prohibition to other forms of discrimination.
It is sadly ironic that Christians who held tenaciously to Scripture and who painstakingly applied it to many areas of life nevertheless failed to see or to apply the clear biblical truths listed above. Even if they had legitimate concerns about the movement promoting civil rights, the basic idea of human equality remains solidly biblical and requires implementation. How should we respond to the failures of our forefathers? Lament their inconsistencies and insist that they should have found some way to lead the charge for equal treatment of all peoples? There’s certainly a place for that kind of historical reflection, but maybe the more pressing point is this: let’s humbly try to discern our own blind spots.
Today many who celebrate Dr. King’s legacy are secularists. But if there is no God and if human beings are just advanced animals, what is the philosophical basis for civil rights? Life is about the survival of the fittest. So if one group of people wants to look down on, discriminate against, and dominate another group, why shouldn’t they? Here secularists are being as inconsistent with their worldview as Christians have been with theirs. Actually, as Cornelius Van Til would say, what is happening with civil rights happens in other areas as well: secularism is borrowing philosophical capital from Christianity without realizing it, or without admitting it.
Secularists are inconsistent in another way: they’re selective in their application of civil rights. The Christian worldview upholds the unique value of human life from its very conception. This reflects biblical data such as the following:
- David was a sinner from the time of his conception (Ps 51:5).
- God tenderly cared for David as he shaped him in his mother’s womb (Ps 139:13–16).
- John the Baptist experienced joy in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44).
But the pro-life position reflects common sense as well: if not at conception, at what other point in time would human personhood begin? On what scientific or philosophical basis can one prove that life begins at some other point? And with something as fundamental and valuable as life itself, wouldn’t it be reasonable at least to give the unborn the benefit of the doubt?
If anything is a matter of “social justice,” the pro-life position is: defending and protecting the most vulnerable and helpless members of society, standing up for the marginalized and the oppressed. And as Dr. King wrote from his Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” To the degree that we devalue any human life, to that degree we are devaluing our own and contributing to the degeneration of society.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
So what to do? Here’s one small step. Each January provides the church a choice opportunity to address with God’s truth the important issues that are on people’s minds and hearts. It gives us a natural opening for helping them to connect the theological dots between the civil rights movement and the pro-life movement. It gives us a platform for proclaiming biblical anthropology and for applying it to both racism and abortion.
Many preachers follow the same logic when they preach about motherhood on Mother’s Day and fatherhood on Father’s Day. Some have criticized this as an inappropriate accommodation to culture. I grant that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can easily introduce cheesiness into the church and distract from the gospel. Yet having some recognition of these days can actually be strategic. The Bible has gospel-centered things to say about motherhood and fatherhood—some of them countercultural. Why not proclaim them when people are thinking about these topics anyway?
And why not proclaim the equal value of all human life at a time of the year when people’s attention is turned to that subject, pointing out that human beings are equal regardless of “race” or age? Why not help people see that the biblical worldview satisfies their longing for value and respect and reconciliation and peace? Maybe we should consolidate MLK Day and Sanctity of Life Day into a theologically unified “Image of God Sunday.”
Photo Credit: Brooke Lark, unsplash.com