In 1989, all across Greenville County in South Carolina, white crosses were standing on church lawns to commemorate the deaths of fetuses killed by abortion. There were enough pro-life supporters in the county to lead protest marches in Greenville. There were enough people holding to a system of moral values, with strength of conviction, sufficient to speak out in a public demonstration about the sanctity and dignity of human life. Our country is now led by those holding to pro-choice positions.
How did we lose our voice? Could there have been something inadequate in our cry for sanctity and dignity of human life in the anti-abortion rallies of 1989? According to Dr. David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., “Sanctity of life is the conviction that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, nationality, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as sacred, as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity.”
Did we lose our voice because we did not look deep enough into the cry of the sanctity-of-life rallies in 1989, much less Roe v. Wade 1973? At the time we were nailing white crosses on the lawns of churches, had we ever grasped the sanctity-of-life issues embedded in human slavery that came with the founding of this country?
Slavery was abolished in England in 1811, to the credit of God’s hand on William Wilberforce. The supporters of slavery in the United States lost the Civil War in 1865, but it was not until 1965 that voting rights were given to African-Americans.
Something is just not right about this picture. If God’s commands are unchanged from the beginning of time, how did we get so far off track? Why would we settle to deal with the symptoms and never deal with, or become informed about, the root issue?
From the slavery issue, the denial of voting rights, the abortion issue, we now embrace embryonic destruction for stem cell research. I am wondering if the next issue may be related to the shortage of organs for donation. Will someone come up with the idea that because prisoners on death row will be dying anyway, we can go ahead and euthanize them and harvest their organs to meet the demand for organ transplants?
With rising numbers of older persons in our society using large amounts of health-care resources in the later years of life, a dilemma is looming. Will our leaders want to move toward age-based rationing of health care, assisted suicide or euthanasia for those who are consuming too much of a limited resource? Will society move toward withholding health-care resources from those who are not economically productive?
When you review Dr. Gushee’s definition of sanctity of life, it may open our eyes to the bigger picture. Sanctity of life is about more than abortion and stem cell research. It includes weeping for the children dying in Darfur, the genocide, racial injustice, domestic violence, human trafficking of today, and much more. It is a challenge to self-reflection, with a desire to become informed enough to recognize when leaders in today’s society are crossing the line.
Where are the Christian leaders of today? Are they crying out about the injustice all around us? Could it be they cry out to audiences that are not listening? Wilberforce began his cry against slavery in 1787. It was a 20-year battle before slavery was abolished by the British Parliament.
It was 1797, 10 years into Wilberforce’s cry against slavery, that he wrote a biting critique of comfortable Christianity that became a best-seller. (The original title: “Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians,” now titled “Real Christianity.”) Wilberforce related in 1797 that cultural Christians were those that were filled with the business and vanities of this life and had a weak understanding of the facts of the faith.
Have Christians of today lost their voice on the sanctity-of-life ethic by hibernating into a comfort zone where they do not want to hear the facts? Becoming reality-bound can disrupt comfort zones. Wilberforce said in 1797, “We have been conditioned to accept things in much the same way a frog learns to accept ever-warming water, until eventually it is boiled to death without ever noticing the change in temperature.”
Placing white crosses on the lawns of churches in 1989 was an incomplete picture of the sanctity-of-life issue.
Sybil Smith, a registered nurse, lives in Lyman, S.C., and is an independent consultant for ministries of health. This column first appeared in The Greenville News.