Thursday, January 18, 2007

Right to Life

I'm posting today because tomorrow morning I depart for Washington, D.C., where I will participate in the March for Life. (See below for other noteworthy pro-life sites.)

The entire current issue of Touchstone revolves around the right to life and includes many excellent articles. Among them is "The Silent Witness Speaks: Abortion & Richard Hays’s Moral Ambiguity" by W. Ross Blackburn. The nub of the article is captured in the following selection:

In Scripture, people are distinguished (or categorized) in a number of ways: as Jew or Gentile, master or slave, male or female, and even in terms of their stage in life, as children, young men, men, widows, elders, young women/virgins, and so forth. However, nowhere in Scripture is the unborn child distinguished from other children. Nowhere is he set apart as a separate category.

In other words, there is no word for “fetus” in the Bible. The observation is crucial, for this imposition of the category “fetus” upon the Scriptures is the foundation of Hays’s [pro-abortion] position.

Also noteworthy on abortion and politics is an article in The Atlantic Monthly, "Closing the God Gap" by Hanna Rosin, which traces the electoral success of Democrats who are Christians to a firm called "Common Good," headed by Mara Vanderslice and Eric Sapp. The basic idea, as expressed in the concluding paragraph, is good:

At the very least, such a change [shift of religious voters to the Democrats] might take the sting out of the culture wars. If religious voters come up for grabs nationally, both parties will have to try to win them over the old-fashioned way: using substance and politics instead of just rhetoric.

I wholeheartedly endorse this sentiment, but it rings rather hollow, given the content of the article, in particular:

Vanderslice and Sapp helped the candidates create a new language to use in talking about faith and values, aimed in part at neutralizing hot-button issues. On abortion, for instance, they banned the word choice and pushed reduction, going one step further with Clinton’s idea that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”: “We must work together across our differences to reduce the need and numbers of abortions by reducing unplanned pregnancies and helping women and families get the support they need when facing a crisis pregnancy,” read a brochure for Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio.

(Say, empty rhetoric like repackaging "choice" as "reduction"?)

Given the whispered report that many people who claim to be anti-abortion have a secret desire to preserve the "right to choice" as an escape plan for their sexually promiscuous lives, it seems tragically plausible that Christian voters will let themselves be seduced by such insincerity.

Tomorrow I'm flying, which is to say, entering the maw of the national-security apparatus (ah, the joys of the TSA sock hop!), an Atlantic article on the past-glamour of flight hit close to home, and contained a penetrating insight into the chimerical nature of glamour:

Today air travel is just a more or less enjoyable way to get from place to place, not an emotionally resonant symbol of something greater than itself. We frequent flyers forget how unnatural it is to zoom through the air in a metal tube, and we imagine that airline glamour was all about real silverware and perfectly coiffed stewardesses—the experience on the plane. But glamour is always an illusion, an imaginative picture with the blemishes removed. With experience comes disillusionment, no matter how luxurious the reality may be.

I'm reminded of the question in the renewal of baptismal promises, "Do you reject the glamor of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?" The attraction of glamour, like that of evil itself, is an illusion. Evil has its day, but it too will pass. The laws of this nation will not forever sanction the killing of the unborn.

W. Ross Blackburn, "The Silent Witness Speaks: Abortion & Richard Hays’s Moral Ambiguity," Touchstone (January/February 2007), 39.

Hanna Rosin, "Closing the God Gap," The Atlantic (January/February 2007), 39. [subscription required for full text access]

Virginia Postrel, "Up, Up, and Away," The Atlantic (January/February 2007), 161. [subscription required for full text access]

Noteworthy pro-life sites:
Silent No More
Black Genocide
Canadian Center for Bio-ethical Reform

Note:I apologize for not having a more original post this week. Next week my post will be substantial and on the subject of Christian unity, the octave dedicated to which we are celebrating now.


Anonymous said...

God bless you MJ!

Andy Rowell said...


I thought I would post here my comments to Touchstone about the Hays article you mention above.

Dear Touchstone,

We are about to enter a national election with a Christian church-going Democrat who is pro-choice and a non-church-going Republican candidate who is pro-life. Thus, there is likely to be continued scrutiny of the abortion question for Christian voters. Vote for a Christian or vote pro-life?

A friend referred me to the article in the January/February, 2007 issue of Touchstone entitled

"The Silent Witness Speaks: Abortion & Richard Hays's Moral Ambiguity"

by W. Ross Blackburn
I am sad to say that Blackburn grossly misrepresents Hays's firm opposition to abortion. I am flabbergasted that Touchstone would not be more careful about publishing such an article. I have attached Hays's chapter 18 on "Abortion" in The Moral Vision of the New Testament so you can read it for yourself. In his chapter, Hays carefully shows the New Testament evidence against abortion. Blackburn again and again quotes Hays out of context and misrepresents him. I was wondering if you could put a response on that webpage with the Blackburn article or a link to Hays's chapter if Harper would agree to post it online like it has his chapter on homosexuality. That just seems to me to be the responsible thing to do since Blackburn so grossly misrepresents Hays. Again, I just think it is sad that Touchstone is teaching its readers to dislike Hays when he is one of the most respected New Testament scholars in the world and agrees with Touchstone on every theological issue. For example, Hays is well-known for his chapter opposing homosexuality in the same book. I think it would be fine for Blackburn to have said, "I wish Hays would have gone farther here. I think he doesn't give enough weight to this argument." Or, "I disagree with Hays's Anabaptist hesitation about getting involved in politics." But to call the article "Richard Hays's Moral Ambiguity" is a poor display of moral judgment by the author and publisher.

Here are a few selected quotes from Hays if you don't have a chance to read the whole chapter.

"As God's creatures, we are stewards who bear life in trust. To terminate a pregnancy is not only to commit an act of violence but also to assume responsibility for destroying the work of God." (Page 450)

"Although the New Testament does not mention abortion, the Christian tradition from a very early date bears strong and consistent witness against it. Among the factors regularly claimed by early Christians as marking their distinction from the pagan world was their rejection of abortion and infanticide . . . The recent shift in some branches of liberal Protestantism to advocacy for abortion rights is a major departure from the church's historic teaching." (Page 453).

"My own judgment in this case is that the New Testament summons the community to eschew abortion and thus to undertake the burden of assisting the parents to raise the handicapped child. In the actual situation, however, Bill and Jennifer never brought the decision before the church, believing - perhaps rightly - that their local church was not in fact the sort of community that could meaningfully take responsibility for such a matter. Left alone with the decision, they decided to have the abortion. While I believe that the witness of the New Testament should have tipped the balance the other way on this decision, I respect the difficulty of their situation and the moral gravity of their action. In a case where the New Testament offers no clear instruction, it is perhaps inevitable that Christians will in good conscience reach different conclusions. Bill and Jennifer did what they believed was right, seeing abortion as a tragic but necessary choice. If such a choice is necessary, the tragedy is primarily the tragedy of a church that has abdicated its calling to 'bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ' (Gal 6.2, AA). The New Testament envisions a more excellent way." (Page 457).

Andy Rowell

Andy Rowell
Th.D. Student
Duke Divinity School
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations

Lawrence Gage said...

Thanks for your note, Andrew. That article was over a year ago. Did you submit this letter to Touchstone? If so, when?

I don't know: that last paragraph you quote sounds rather "pro-choice" to me, as in, "As long as it's not expressly prohibited by Scripture we cannot condemn the choice." Sounds like a rather legalistic stance besides.