Thursday, September 22, 2005

Completely Pro-Life, or Why I Sometimes Think I'm Partly Mennonite

As I take a moment and meditate on the millions of unborn children who were "evacuated" from their mother's womb, I am filled with heart-breaking sadness. How many of those children would have been a Mozart, an Einstein, a Jonas Salk, a Rembrandt, or a Mother Theresa? When I consider the deaths of the millions killed by war, whether soldiers or civilians, I wonder which one of those who died might have discovered the cure for cancer? When I hear that 40,000 children die daily of malnutrition in developing countries, I ask which one of them would grow up to be a Gandhi or an Aung San Suu Kyi? We have slaughtered ourselves into impoverishment - a poverty not of things, but of possibility.

Here's a confession: I never know who to vote for, so I usually don't vote. I consider myself "completely pro-life" (to borrow a Ron Sider title, from an important book), which means I consider abortion a heinous evil, the destruction of a human life. It also means that I object to the death penalty, euthanasia, nuclear fuel and weaponry, war as a policy option, and the neglect of the poor, which results in starvation (and death by drowning in New Orleans). It means that I believe that God is a God of life, who commands us to keep good stewardship over the earth and its creatures - even creatures without economic value. Being pro-life means more than being anti-death, it means adopting a position that advocates for quality of life for all people, and a meticulous, vigilant care over creation.

I deliberately avoided saying that I am consistently pro-life, because I am not. I fail miserably to live up to my rhetoric. I remain a dedicated consumer who purchases things he doesn't need, and I often fail to speak prophetically for those without power or voice. I daily contribute to the mountains of trash we collect. I recycle, but sometimes not as thoroughly as I should, and I don't consistently practice peace-making. I allow ego, anger, and selfishness to guide my behavior all too many times.

This is why I so thoroughly respect the "peace churches," especially the Mennonites. I don't plan on becoming one (I like my IPod and Xbox waaaay too much), but I do love their prophetic resolutions. The Mennonite social witness offers an alternative vision between liberalism and conservatism, and between Democrat and Republican. Check out the Third Way Cafe for more on this. Mennonites show a lot of courage by their completely pro-life positions, a courage that comes from taking seriously Jesus' call to radical discipleship. When I read Mennonite literature, I begin to see just how much I have accommodated myself to the world. I see just how much material things mean to me, and how complicit I am in participating in systems of oppression and neglect. I don't look or act all that differently from my unchurched neighbor - do you?

{Here's a link to Mennonite Resolutions}


Blogger Steve said...

There is a very simple answer to how a Christian against abortion can be for the death penalty.

There is this thing called guilt and innocence.

When a man murders a baby, the baby is not guilty of any crime justifying this. It is injustice.

When a man murders another man, he is guilty and God tells the state to execute him (Gen 9:6; Rom 13:4). This is justice, by God's standards, not ours. Will we do what we think feels right by allowing life, or will we follow God's Word?

Given the Bible, I think there is a serious parting of the ways between being completely pro-life, and being completely pro-God's-will...

4:42 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

I must disagree, Steve. The issue is not one of punishment or whether one deserves the death penalty. The issue is human fallibility. So many innocent men are on death row, put there by a sin-broken legal system which allows the rich to avoid capital punishment, and condemns the poor (mostly black & hispanic) to be sentenced to death. So flawed is this system, a REPUBLICAN governor of Illinois commuted ALL of the death sentences before leaving office. So many mistakes, profound legal ineptitude by public defenders and pro-bono lawyers; so many wrongful accusations ("they all look alike..."); and now so many men freed by new DNA technology, all point to the impossibility of establishing a system where capital punishment is doled out fairly.

I would go even further than this. State execution brutalizes the government, traumatizes workers in the prison system, and sends a message of violence back to the community, which has proven to be no deterrent to crime. The woman caught in adultery was not stoned by the crowd, because Jesus intervened with a word of condemnation to those who believed they were righteous. We are not righteous, but sinners, and as sinners we should be wary of making ultimate decisions with permanent consequences. I would not wish to base 21st century criminology on Gen 9:6. That is the road to theonomy, and to the codification of iron-age law in modern life - which is absurd. Romans 13:4 is not a proof-text for execution, but rather a general principle of the right of government to execute justice. It is not just to execute the wrong man, nor is it just to establish a system which rewards the rich and powerful and mistreats the poor. It is not just to tolerate a system which functions so poorly. "An eye or an eye make will make the whole world blind."

6:01 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Whether the system is flawed or not does not touch upon the legitimacy of the death penalty.

I partially agree with you as to legal system flaws, though I would also say part of the truth could include racially disproportionate executable crimes committed. I don't we need to assume one way or another, and I don't think this has any bearing on whether one is for the death penalty or not.

If God gives civil gov't the right to execute, as I believe he does in Rom 13:4 (see next paragraph), who are we to be wiser than God, claiming our fallibility as an excuse to not do what God gives us the authority to do? This is like the husband who won't lead his family, because, he reasons, he's no better or less fallible than his wife. That's not the point. The point is, God has established society this way, with these roles and functions. There is a difference (I think) between actually obeying God's Word out there in the world and theonomy.

The phrase "bear the sword" in Rom 13:4 had a specific historical context within Paul's Roman Empire, referring to the right of a city mayor, regional governor or whatever subordinate ruler, to take life on behalf of the state/emperor, as civil punishment for crimes. It is precisely this that the Jews did NOT have when they brought Jesus to Pilate. Pilate bore the sword. Sound historical exegesis does not allow this phrase to be watered down to exclude the death penalty.

4:09 PM  

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