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Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I will delve briefly into the realm of electoral politics to set up this topic. This is not an endorsement of any party or candidate, merely an observation that I think is relevant to the topic. Neither am I opining on abortion as an issue for Christians, only making some observations.

In 2004, Republicans made an impressive, and perhaps successful attempt to use social issues like abortion and what they called gay marriage, as wedges to help them win elections. This year, Republicans seem to be running away from these issues like the plague, and Democrats can't wait to talk about what they call "women's health choices," and "marriage equality."

What this suggests is that we have reached a tipping point in electoral politics on these issues, which now work to the Democrats favor. This is a stunning change in our national life and, no matter what our opinion on these issues, those of us in the church should take notice.

The dramatic shift in opinion on marriage equality over the last decade has gotten quite a bit of attention in the media, but not so much abortion, which may be the more interesting of the two from the standpoint of Christian ethics. Polls indicate that the public has gotten more conservative on the abortion issue, in that more people indicate a belief that abortion is wrong, and are willing to accept more restrictions on the practice. So, if the electorate has become more conservative on the issue, why is it playing into the hands of the Democrats? Here is where it gets interesting in terms of Christian ethical thought.

While the public has by and large moved to a more restrictive view on abortion, it does not accept that abortion is equivalent to murder, that is that human life at conception is equivalent to human life at birth. One example of this is the failure of the "personhood amendment" in Mississippi last fall, which tried to make it part of the state constitution that human life begins at conception.

Christians have always found abortion wrong. In the early centuries of the church, Christians rejected abortion, even as it was practiced by non-Christians around them. It became a distinguishing mark of the church, along with a repudiation of infanticide. But is abortion equivalent to murder?

This is the case that some Christians, and some Christian groups make. Human life begins at conception, therefore abortion is murder. If one believes abortion is murder, then certainly it should be outlawed with no exceptions. But what if abortion is a sin, but not equivalent to murder? I believe adultery is sin, but I do not believe our society should imprison adulterers. How are we to think about abortion as Christians?

The current Mennonite Ministers Manual describes historic Christian funeral (or lack thereof) practice around miscarriages. "It has been longstanding tradition for the whole Christian church to hold that miscarriages and still births are not deaths because the person has not lived outside the womb." In other words, from a practice standpoint, if not a doctrinal standpoint, Christians have distinguished between life inside the womb and life outside it.

The pro-life and pro-choice labels are easy handles with which to understand positions, and perhaps some of us find these labels fit. My guess is, if we are like our fellow citizens, more of us are in the gray area. And that is some space for some interesting and fruitful conversation.