As we cross into October, we again find ourselves observing Respect Life Sunday in this country. In this contentious election year, and in the context of another heated national conversation over the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice, the issues surrounding the sanctity of human life are “front and center.”
Much of the emphasis on Respect Life Sunday tends to land on the very important topic of abortion and all that goes with it. This is a bit unfortunate because, for as fundamental and critical as opposition to abortion is from a personal and public policy perspective, it can at times keep us from seeing the broader set of issues that go along with rightly understanding personhood and life.
Opposition to abortion is one logical component of a larger perspective that seeks to understand human nature according to the fullness of God’s design. As one understands the dignity and meaning of humanity as God created it, one realizes that respecting life means honoring and upholding a consistent set of ethical and behavioral principles that have a wide reach. Respecting life means respecting personhood, which is not merely about the beginning and ending of biological life, about life in the womb and life in a Hospice. It is about how one treats those who are vulnerable, and about how one seeks to uphold justice, equality, and the meeting of basic human needs for all members of society. These are questions of poverty, race, compensation for wages, our criminal justice system, and the financial protection of stable family life, just to name a few. In short, if one is imbued with a deep and sincere sense of wonder and awe over what a person is, as God has created us, then we do not treat people as disposable commodities. That is true in the womb, it is true in the factory, it is true in the hospital, it is true in the jail.
There is more, though. These days respecting life means respecting the boundaries of what we can and cannot tamper with in the realm of God’s plan for the human body and God’s plan for our human vocation. Respecting life means opposing artificial contraception, in vitro fertilization, same sex marriages and activities, any type of gay sub culture, swift divorce processes, transgender sexual reassignment surgeries, any theory of gender that denies we are made as male and female, and any attempt to manufacture/ create life outside of the womb. Respecting life means opposition to pornography, masturbation, fornication, and adultery. Respecting life also means respecting our fundamental right to worship and practice our faith publicly, and our right to give expression to our faith by creating public policies that regulate all of the above practices so that humanity can be fully and adequately protected.
All of this has to do with the correct understanding of the dignity and meaning of the human person. If the last few decades have taught us anything, it is that all of the above stands and falls logically as a whole. If a person or society begins to rationalize or justify a departure from God’s plan in even just one of the above concrete areas, it leads inevitably to the demise of the rest of them. We have rampant abortions in our era because we have justified a whole host of other behaviors and factors that lead to them, all of which undermine life and humanity. It is not enough to merely oppose abortion. One must oppose a whole host of behaviors that violate God’s vocation and plan for humanity if one is going to be truly pro-life.
All of this is why election years and supreme court picks can pose such challenges for us. Americans these days are a people of divergent and contradictory allegiances, and our two-party political apparatus is a reflection of this chaotic fact. It is not possible for a candidate or party that is in favor of abortion to respect human life. That is a fundamental contradiction. At the same time, even if a candidate or party publicly and rightly opposes legalized abortion, they must also be committed to opposing all of the other social forces that denigrate humanity and frequently give rise to abortions in the first place. That is a tall order these days.
Our fervent prayers for the respect for life are very important. Prayer does lead to the transformation of hearts which ultimately must lead to public policies that do protect the human person in its fullness. We will continue to pray, and we will continue to commit ourselves to the total creation of a comprehensive culture of life.