A bumper-sticker slogan I have seen more than once proudly declares that “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” This slogan is the cornerstone theological statement of many in western evangelical movement, and it is the problem. Many Christians believe that their sins, no matter how great or small are of no matter because they, being Christian and all, are forgiven. However, at the same time those same Christians are cruelty unforgiving of any who sins in their eyes and is not a Christian.
Christians can divorce at will and still be “stalwart defenders” of traditional marriage. They can also be “staunchly pro-life” when screaming for vengeance and war that kills thousands of children. They can be greedy and hoard up wealth and still attack “godless” forms of economy. The duplicity is mind boggling. In a way, it can appear that what these Christians really want is a world where the non-Christians act better than them. They want the unforgiven to live by “biblical” standards while the forgiven celebrate their freedom to do as they please. Followed to its logical conclusion, Christians want a world where Jesus finds all of those he is about to send to Hell being good people, and his chosen few sinning as they please and boasting of their forgiveness.
If you are deeply entrenched in the Christian culture of America, let me assure you, this attitude looks amazingly and illogically hypocritical. Case in point: Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais. Like many politicians who claim the conservative Christian label and its accompanying political support, he is a complicated man. During the election season, a scandal arose regarding the congressman and his mistress. The staunchly anti-abortion candidate, while practicing as a medical doctor, had impregnated a patient and then pressured her to have an abortion. Conservative Tennessee voters elected him on his promise to “defend traditional marriage” and “protect unborn life.” This was despite the knowledge that the same man cheated on his wife, abused his position as doctor, and pressured a woman to have an abortion so that he would be spared “embarrassment.” This is what some in the Behavioral Science field call cognitive dissonance.
After his reelection in November the scandal began to widen and it was learned that when he divorced his earlier wife he had also pressured her to have two abortions. If this were anyone but a “pro-life” Republican congressman, Christians would call him a serial killer. Yet support for him has barely diminished. When asked about all of these things he has done, while at the same time restating he is against them and will fight anyone who thinks they are ok, he answered in a typical Christian manner. “I’m human… I don’t think I ever put myself out there to be somebody that was perfect.”
It his clear from his statements that the congressman from Tennessee has decided it is not his place to be hard on himself, it is his job to be hard on others. His record will prove as much.
Thus we have an illustration of the problem. Christians have convinced themselves that they can be as absolutely wicked as they want, and by some measures worse than the rest of the world, yet remain at peace because of God’s grace. Any sin committed by the in-crowd can be rationalized away as a “simple mistake,” a “stumble,” or dodged completely by blaming it on an attack by Satan.
The world on the other hand, is ripe for judgement. Their sins are deliberate and premeditated. When the world fails to do right; it is because in their evilness they can do nothing but violently attack God and his way. Remember Bill Clinton? He did far less than DesJarlais, yet every Christian leader of note called for his resignation. They claimed that his personal failings proved he was morally incapable of leading.
Ironically the Apostle Paul in his letters, James in his letter, John in his first letter, and at many times the Lord Jesus himself all indicated that they believed the exact opposite. The clear teaching across the New Testament is that Christians are supposed to be better. Yes we are forgiven, but our response to that forgiveness is that we are better. We do not judge the world for the precise reason that we do not believe they can do better without the grace of God. Our view toward the rest of the world should be a sharing of the gospel message of God’s love for them. Our forgiveness should not be an issue of pride on our bumper stickers, but of humility in our prayers.
There are few more controversial labels than “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” Although abstract in their nomenclature, these labels always refer to the same issue, abortion.
In the America we are obsessed with this issue, and why not? How can you not be enraged by the thought of a cute little baby being snuffed out at the beginning of its life? or an entire gender’s right to self-determination cast aside by the other sex? The issue is always framed this way, usually because one of those aspects will resonate with half the country more than the other. It creates a righteousness to each side, while at the same time demonizing the other. This dichotomy is politically useful, but over the past 40 years has proven to be practically useless.
The choice between these two positions is a false in and of itself, as we are told the only battleground this is to be fought on is the legalization of abortion, oversimplifying the issue to the degree of hopeless quagmire. The issue of abortion and women’s’ rights are part of a deeper issue, and unless that deeper issue is addressed, a resolution will never be achieved.
The real issue is this: do we really honor life?
Ask the poor, uneducated, single mother of three if she really has a choice when she finds herself pregnant. Ask her in her moment of decision if she feels that any really cares about her or her children’s’ life. The truth is, neither position is a position of truth.
Advocates on both sides of the divide project a poor understanding of people caught up in the middle. Those who seek to make abortion illegal have little problem watching a poor girl have a child, and that child grow up without parents because one is in jail and the other must work long hours to support him or her. That child grows up without the support of family or community, and only choice for an education is one that doesn’t even provide the basic skills needed to survive. When that “saved” child becomes an adult they are told that they are not qualified for anything but the most menial jobs that pay insufficiently to support themselves let alone family. Eventually the person does have choice, stay in a state of poverty, unable to support a family of their own, or turn to crime and possible rise out of their situation, usually destroying what little life they had.
How is that honoring life? How does that give anyone a real choice?
I am constantly bemused by the Christians who call themselves pro-life and can never understand why anyone would choose to kill a baby. How can you kill an adorable little baby whose parents will one day watch him take his first steps and record the even on their video camera? How can you kill that child before he smiles and gets on the bus for the first day of school, or piles out of the mini van for soccer practice? How can you not want to sit there on graduation day and watch your offspring take their college diploma? Why would you want to prevent yourself from sitting at thanksgiving dinner while your child cuts the turkey for the first time in his own house, while his wife watches with pride as she nurses your grandchild?
The sad truth for many of the children who never make it to birth is that they are not missing any of those things, because they would not have happened had they lived. Few of the women forced to make such a heart wrenching decision would say they had much of a choice.
You may argue that any life is better than no life, however to stand before a woman in such a context is cold, unloving, and definitely not “life-affirming.” A person who screams, “this is your problem, now you deal with it!” while providing no help or love to a woman in crisis has no right to say such things. Only when we bear one-another’s burdens can we rightful give our input.
I have a modest proposal, let’s eliminate abortion, but let’s do it in a truly pro-life way which provides women with real choices. A pro-life way honors life not just from conception to birth, but all the way to the hopefully long-off grave. As a follower of Jesus, I believe his command to me to “love my neighbors as myself” means I have to love not only the unborn child, but the mother as well.
Here is how you do it: Provide medical care and support for a pregnant mother to be, let her know she is loved and cared for. Provide a world where children born to mothers that cannot handle them will not rot away in the foster system, but every child be given a chance to succeed. Give children opportunities to thrive no matter where they are born. Create a culture that never views other human beings as a burden or an enemy, but as valuable children of God.
If we do these things, I predict that abortions for otherwise healthy babies will drop to nil even without legal prohibition. As a Christian, I believe that all these things should be done anyway, because that is the embodiment of loving others. If you want a world where we do not do these things for others, I’m afraid we will never rise above a contentious debate where both women and children are cast aside. I may be wrong, but until we try it we will never know.